Today, in digital marketing, the once separate entities of search engine optimization and public relations have merged to form a new, hybrid model. As Google’s standards on quality content evolved, so too did the link-based strategies digital marketers relied on to achieve strong search rankings.
Google’s adjustments, starting with the Penguin update, evolving into an authority-based algorithm, shook the SEO world. It quickly became evident that PR professionals were best suited to fill the void. Today, PR and SEO have integrated their efforts and skill sets so thoroughly, it is increasingly difficult to distinguish one from the other.
In the last two to three years, close to 85% of our clients have integrated their PR and SEO efforts. At Brilliance, our content marketing efforts are leveraged by our PR team. While our PR team pitches to media partners, our SEO team pitches to bloggers and influencers. PR is tasked with acquiring high-quality, authoritative links while SEO uses PR contacts to generate authoritative links and mentions.
From link building to link baiting
Before the content marketing revolution, link building was the strategic foundation of SEO. The teams that did the work were largely made up of back-end technologists. As Forbes contributor John Rampton points out, this all changed when Google altered its algorithm to put a much higher premium on relevant, high-quality, authoritative content.
The old rules, which relied on massive link-building tactics, suddenly no longer applied. The purpose of SEO was no longer to build links, but to make content so compelling that it served as bait for credible, established sites to link to it voluntarily.
This new SEO strategy grabbed the attention of large media companies, which public relations professionals have been practicing for generations.
PR and SEO: A perfect match
As previously mentioned, SEO experts historically came from technical backgrounds. Their skills involved back-end operations and analytics. Meanwhile, PR professionals have always been relationship people. The most highly-coveted (and best paid) PR experts were those who could foster bonds with publishers, reporters and other media players. However, results were hard to measure and ROI was difficult to quantify.
Backed by the metric-based analytics of SEO, modern PR professionals can now reliably gauge the effectiveness of their campaigns. On the other side of the coin, SEO teams can leverage their PR partners’ relationships to earn the links that Google favors so heavily.
In fact, the individual skill sets of PR and SEO are so complementary that even their tools are starting to overlap.
Hybrid PR and SEO tools
As Forbes also points out, content calendars, which were once exclusively used in PR, are now widely adopted by SEO teams.
Platforms like HARO pair journalists and content creators with experts eager to lend their credibility in exchange for a thought leadership, reach and coveted backlinks. Squarely in the middle sits both the public relations professionals who manage those relationships and SEO teams that use the links to gain ground with Google. Both SEO and PR teams work with platforms like HARO, PressRush, and Cision PR (formerly Vocus).
How to merge PR and SEO efforts
Our experience integrating our PR and SEO teams taught us some valuable lessons:
PR and SEO teams should create and share interdepartmental editorial calendars to avoid conflicts or work duplication.
Treat social media as an offshoot of search
Just as the line between PR and SEO becomes increasingly blurred, so too is the line between search and social media. Search engines were long the domain of technical SEO professionals, and social media was the playground for bold, catchy PR campaigns.
As a larger audience now uses social to search for products and services, SEO pros must apply analytics to social campaigns. SEO must also leverage social platforms for content marketing. For example, we’ve had great success with Facebook Ads to amplify content shared on social, which in turn generates powerful media mentions.
Links from large, well-established blogs and publications are the ultimate reward. A few links from top websites are far more valuable than lots of low-quality links from questionable sites. The problem is, however, that everyone is vying for their attention. So it is difficult to get many platforms to notice your brand.
Instead of targeting high-profile outlets directly, PR can focus on more readily available influencers in social media and the blogosphere. A top publication is far more likely to take notice of a mention from an influencer than they are to respond to even the best direct pitch or press release. SEO can focus on medium and lower quality publications while PR hyper focuses on higher end publications.
Respect the value of mentions
Jonathan Long, founder and CEO of Marketing Domination Media, suggests that “implied links” will soon be as important as SEO. The best way to chase implied links, or frequent brand mentions that aren’t necessarily accompanied by actual links, is through PR campaigns.
Google’s love of compelling content has quickly created a hybrid PR and SEO workflow. Once Google started to penalize virtually all automated SEO strategies, the value of public relations as a complementary discipline became evident.
Today, public relations and search engine optimization are two sides of the same coin. Although they will always retain their unique identities, they should no longer function as separate units. One depends on the other to spread content, drive branding, and of course, keep Google happy.
This article has been edited.