Have PRs been too slow to adopt SEO?

Have PRs been too slow to adopt SEO?

Christian Sharp

Christian Sharp

One of the things that keeps our industry interesting is the vast plethora of skills you can learn under the golf umbrella of public relations. Copywriting, media relations, people management, crisis communications, messaging, media training and analyst relations are just the tip of the iceberg; in the last decade, this has expanded to include content creation for owned and shared channels, as well as the promotion of this content through organic social media channel management and paid campaigns.

I was disheartened to read an article implying that the PR industry is not focusing on SEO, based on pretty cast-iron statistics from the PRCA. I consider myself fortunate that the last two agencies I’ve worked at have placed SEO high up the list of skills that PRs should know about.

Is SEO hard?

It’s not just about content for the website. Everyone I work with here at Firefly is pretty comfortable with Wordpress and Yoast, checking that content is readable and optimised for major search engines. But they’re also aware that Google is getting smarter, so whilst you have to stay focused and know about customising slugs and meta-descriptions, you’ve also got to talk like a real person and not ‘over-optimise’. We’ve all had a good laugh at the ‘chocolate donuts’ example, which litters the page with keywords, but for a time, this was the SEO gospel!

However, apart from producing the occasional web page or downloadable content, the majority of our clients and prospects have their websites sorted, so the real opportunity for PRs is offsite SEO.

As the CityAM piece mentions, Google increasingly looks at relevant backlinks, as well as social ‘signals’ to provide results which are specifically relevant in time. This makes complete sense – Google tries to provide geographically-relevant results, especially to mobile users, because they’re likely to be looking for stuff close to them – so providing results which are relevant right now also makes sense.

The Firefly team makes no secret about using Moz to see which websites are contributing the most authority and ‘Google juice’ via backlinks to websites. For as long as I’ve been here, they’ve been assessing media lists in three ways: those most read (by prospects / target audiences), those that best contribute to search rankings, and those relevant titles most likely to provide a backlink (for Google). The weight given to each part varies depending on the focus of the campaign and the objectives, but the same general structure features in many.

PR’s involvement in SEO is also becoming easier than ever – with Google evolving to answer search queries more like a human would, it’s less about splattering keywords over a page, and more about writing in natural language for terms that people will search for, as well as placing articles online that link back to client websites.

Show me the margin

So why have PR agencies been slowing down on SEO services? Well, the slow ‘revolution’ of content marketing has made many agencies shift gear to look at marketing automation and either managing the engines, or producing content for it. Moving into social media has meant that many agencies are producing high levels of content for both organic and paid social channels. Many – in an effort to escape the event horizon of the ever-shrinking media landscape – have moved away from earned channels entirely, to focus purely on consultancy services and the aforementioned owned and shared channels.

Of course, SEO can and does have a material impact on sales, as organisations featuring higher up the SERPs (Search Engine Results Page) will be found before their competitors, conceivably shifting more sales. But unlike content marketing, which promises the allure of MQLs (Marketing Qualified Leads) to sales teams, it’s not as tangible. Google, Bing and Yahoo remain tight-lipped about how their algorithms work, which makes quantifying the impact of SEO tough. And if you’re the CEO of a PR agency looking at future proposition strategy, I can well understand focusing on content marketing or another service rather than SEO.

In time, I hope that it becomes part and parcel of what we do as a matter of course, much like social media has. It’s easily added to the (rapidly widening) PR’s portfolio of skills, and is an important skill for our clients – and if we don’t do it, those SEO types will be doing it instead!

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