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There have been many blog posts about defining the practice of Public Relations and that of SEO, many of which focus on drawing the line between the two practices and defining their boundaries.
This post isn’t going to go into detail talking about what SEO is, or what PR is, it’s about what each practice can learn from each other.
Naturally this post is written from a perspective with a greater understanding of SEO than PR, so please forgive me if I tend to generalise! Any feedback you have is gratefully received, so please put your comments below.
There is no denying that as PR becomes increasingly about managing relations online as well as within traditional media, it is becoming harder to see where that boundary lies.
Both are industries which are challenged with people outside their industries struggling to completely understand what exactly is involved in their professions. This might be one reason why both industries are quite defensive of their practices and are often keen to keep them separate.
Both industries are extremely fast paced and have experienced gradual changes in recent times which have created some overlap between them.
PR has become increasingly about managing relations online as well as within traditional media. All the while SEO has become increasingly about having consideration for brands and utilising the power of the brand within SEO practices.
In my opinion, the best way to approach this overlap is to embrace it, rather than fight it, so that ultimately communication strategies can be stronger.
Due to dealing with traditional media, as well as new media, PR is often perceived as not being as accountable when measuring the performance of communication. Although PR has a variety of metrics to measure performance, varying from traditional column inches to more detailed research; it is easy to see why SEO can appear easier to measure. There are clear, accessible services such as Google Analytics which can make measuring the success of an SEO project much clearer than it might be to measure the success of a PR project. Although it may be more challenging to measure the success of a PR project, perhaps having a more results based focus is something that the PR industry could learn from the SEO industry.
Pro-active vs Reactive
PR is a very pro-active practice which strives to create active engagement within communication. This is often something that SEO doesn’t do so well. Many SEO projects become reactive rather than pro-active, due to tactics such as analysing competitor link profiles to find untapped link sources. This is not helped by the fact that often clients only come to an SEO agency for services when they realise that their competitors are above them within search results. This in itself breeds a reactive rather than proactive culture. SEO could learn from PR to be more pro-active within tactics, for example it shouldn’t be rare to call someone and ask for a link instead of just emailing them. As SEO’s we could be more active in our tactics by thinking outside the box.
Audience vs Machine
The nature of SEO means that it is often fundamentally concerned with pleasing search engines and gaining exposure, rather than considering the user or audience as a primary focus. For example, SEO is often accused of creating content that wouldn’t be very pleasing to a reader and might not successfully engage a reader, but would work perfectly well at pleasing the search engines and improving rankings. Although SEO is starting to take more notice of the user and audience, this is definitely something which we can learn to do more of using PR practices as an example.
The Importance of the Brand and Reputation
There was a time in the SEO industry when SEO’s would happily engage in some practices which would now be considered spammy or unethical, for example spamming forums or blogs comments. Now this is something that many SEOs would think twice about because it can be damaging to their clients brand reputation. We have seen SEO expand further than simply optimising a website, and have seen strategies such as Page One Domination where the focus is on controlling the brand’s reputation within the entire first page of search results. This consideration and focus on the brand is definitely something that we as SEO’s could do more of.
Whatever your view is on the boundary blurring of PR and SEO, I’m sure you’ll agree that there is lots more that both practices can learn from each other to become stronger.
Please feel free to share your opinions in the comments below.
Business person standing against the blackboard via BigStock