I talked in my last post here at Econsultancy about whether the PR industry had missed the boat on SEO. Although there were some differing opinions in the comments, I think the consensus was that the public relations firms could have done more to get into search engine optimisation.

Despite this reticence to get going I think there’s a scary truth that the search firms need to wake up to: If and when the PR industry gets its act together a lot of the link development tactics search companies are delivering could be delivered by someone with a public relations background.

PR is built on relationships

The best PR people generate and sustain great friendships and relationships in the world of publishing. Some are no better than press release spammers; but the best genuinely have a little black book of contacts built up over the years, and this is where their value comes from.

Search marketing link builders just don’t have this type of network. They’re far more likely to see link request as a one night stand, and even if they have taken a longer term view, they just don’t have the years under their belt.

Vertical specialism

There are a few search marketing firms which have great experience providing services to a particular type of business, but this is more by fluke than design.
Sensibly PR companies tend to work with certain types of clients which means they are even more likely to have built up the relationships with the journalists who also specialise in that area.

If you’re building links to financial service clients, IT customers and an entertainment brand you’re not going to gain much vertical specialism.

No lack of talent

Search marketing as an industry is still a very young sector. Ask many graduates what they want to do when they leave university, and not many will say SEO, even if they are taking a digital marketing degree.

This doesn’t mean that they are not well-qualified, or that they wouldn’t necessarily enjoy the work. It’s just simply the fact that they don’t know the industry exists. Compare that to PR where demand for roles is so high, long term internships are the norm. That competition for work really drives up standards and instils a hunger in young PRs that serves them well throughout the rest of their career.

Once PR firms get their head around link building, we have an industry with the cream of the crop in terms of graduates up against a career that most people happen upon by accident. That doesn’t mean link builders are hugely gifted individuals, they are, but there aren’t many of them who set out to be a link builder.

Offline contacts will soon be online contacts

The little black book of journalists any good PR has used to only be able to get them offline coverage. The online team was separate and siloed.

Not any more.

Most publishers are integrating their teams. People from newspapers are moving to pure-play online publishers. B2B experts are starting their own specialist websites aimed at micro-niches. Suddenly there aren’t online journalists and offline journalists, there are only journalists, and those working in public relations have a huge head start.

What does it mean for search agencies?

Most are recruiting from PR firms, and many are taking graduate recruitment seriously to get the strongest applicants.

The best link builders are building relationships as well as links, but those who take their eye off the ball could quickly find they are only left with onsite technical SEO, which, while essential, is only part of the business models that’s been working so well for most SEO companies.