The Future of PR Cares about SEO (and the past did too!)

The days of waking up and picking up a newspaper off the front porch, turning on the AM/FM radio or watching the news are fading. Instead, the majority of us roll over, grab our smartphone off our nightstand, and catch up on what we missed in those six hours we weren’t checking feeds.

With content marketing teams (and the media) working non-stop, you’ve likely missed a lot. So how can you get your clients into those streams and onto the top of search pages?

You might say PR. I usually call it SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. To be honest, it’s a bit of both, and they’re fields that are going to continue getting closer as PR moves past traditional sources toward more digital-first campaigns, while SEO escapes the dark confines it was born out of.

Wait a second. What’s SEO?

Great question! A brief history of SEO for those who aren’t familiar: In the late 90s, many search engines judged websites by what was on them, looking solely at the content that webmasters provided. For those of us that remember Lycos and Dogpile, we may forget just how bad those search engine results were. Simply put, this is because it’s incredibly easy to adjust your own website, so webmasters would manipulate their own content however they’d like to get it to rank high.

Google came around exactly 19 years ago today, with no advertising, to crush all those much bigger companies with a simple idea (the founder’s senior thesis, actually) which led to far more effective search results: instead of judging websites based on what they said about themselves, judge websites by what others are saying about them. It turns out, it’s much harder to manipulate what others say about you, than it is to change what you say about yourself. This won’t be a lesson to anyone that’s changed from an advertising campaign to a media relations campaign. It also won’t be surprising to anyone who has heard, just how much more effective your “marketing” becomes when an authoritative source (whether it’s the media, or Google’s algorithms) are saying “This is the company to go to!”

Nearly two decades, billions of dollars, and hundreds of different variables being added to search algorithms, links from other websites remain the top factor for getting to the top of Google.

My background is actually in digital marketing before PR, so the first time someone explained media relationships to me, I immediately said, “Oh, so they copied that from Google?” The person was rightfully confused and politely nodded before leaving the conversation. While I might have had the order wrong, my point stands: SEO is essentially PR, but with webmasters instead of journalists. With media companies encouraging journalists to be active on social media, that line is getting blurrier.

Why haven’t more PR organizations jumped on the SEO train?

The most successful PR agencies, and the most successful SEO companies will be the ones that figure out how to train their personnel on the skills that don’t fall naturally in their industry. To be frank, PR professionals tend to be people-persons. They love talking to media, interacting with them, and offering an interesting story that their audiences will love. SEO experts, on the other hand, tend to be computer-people, getting their hands dirty in algorithms and spreadsheets. It’s essentially the right-brain, left-brain divide, but across our industry, and it’s not as easy as you might hope to tell your staff to just pick up a book on their alternate topic and start learning.

That isn’t to say that no one is doing it. Leading digital agencies (like ours and ARPR for example) understand the power that comes from combining digital tactics. PR leads to great links which leads to great SEO results, which leads to happy clients. If your agency is serious about leading the #FutureOfPR, an investment in SEO-education for your staff is a surefire step on the ladder to success.

Flynn Zaiger is the founder and CEO of Online Optimism, a digital first marketing & PR agency in New Orleans, Louisiana. Flynn started the company in 2012 after graduating from Tulane University with nothing more than a laptop and a lot of coffee. As manager of a Google Partner Agency, Flynn is dedicated to helping businesses with everything they do online - from creating their websites, to crafting the perfect influencer engagement campaign, to calculating ROI on a multi-platform interactive ad rollout.

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