How Does PR Impact SEO? You’re Asking the Wrong Question.

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This year, I attended my eighth (!!!) MozCon in Seattle. On the way to the convention center from the airport, my Lyft driver asked what brought me to town, and I told him I was attending one of the world’s largest and best conferences on search engine optimization. There was a thoughtful pause before he asked me, “how do you optimize search engines?”

That’s the thing I love and hate about my career. SEO is an ever-changing, endlessly interesting field of work with so many different areas of focus. I know SEOs (fun fact: “SEO” is often used as a noun, a verb and as a pronoun for the folks who do it!) who specialize in everything from e-commerce to content production to data science. Unfortunately, that amorphous quality of this profession can lead to confusion and frustration for folks on the outside.

I gave my first public presentation on SEO in 2011. It was about local SEO — at the time, Google had only been pushing local search result options for about a year. Now you’ll see different search results for a single query depending on which side of the street you’re on.Just over a year later in 2012, I gave another presentation on PR and SEO to justify why both are better together. I dug up those slides (boy, they’re adorable) and found this quote from my presenter notes:

 

PR and SEO don’t reach their full potential for your business without each other. More than that, our school of thought is that they are essentially the same thing and should operate as such.

 

That was seven years ago. At the time, my inspiration for the presentation was twofold: 1) because every introductory conversation I’d had at MozCon, which I’d attended for the first time that year included the comment “oh, you’re in PR? What brings you to an SEO conference?” and 2) the perpetual chorus of clients saying, “oh, your agency also does websites? I had no idea!” As you can see, I’ve been explaining the curious relationship between PR and SEO for nearly a decade.As I was preparing this post, I decided to go back through all eight years of my notes from MozCon to see if I could find when and how PR has been treated by various speakers over the years.

Don’t worry; there isn’t much to recap in this area:

 

2013

2014

  • Lexi Mills from Dynamo PR!
    Yes! My people! But her presentation was all about link building. It was good, but link building isn’t full-service PR. She noted how the Panda update changed the way publishers thought about SEO:

    “Now we’re heroes! Instead of saying, ‘I’ve got a story for you,’ we should pitch more quantifiably: ‘I’ve got a story for you that will allow you to target this key term.’ Because search volume is money to publishers.”

  • Stacey MacNaught’s preso on making content marketing more efficient touches on some PR tactics.
    She recommends a book by Alex Singleton called The PR Masterclass.
  • Wil Reynolds explains new strategies for getting in front of relevant journalists.

 

Side story: Going through my old notes, I came across several pages from the Rainmaker conference in 2015 where the keynote was HENRY ROLLINS (yes, THAT Henry Rollins), and he talked for an hour about content creation. “What is there in life but to do one thing, then another, then another to make life better for someone else?” Anyway, back to MozCons:

2015

  • In Rand Fishkin’s opening session, he mentions “content marketing is the fastest-growing specialty in our field.”
    Lots more notes on this session referencing why the quality of content is so important but not necessarily a direct connection between PR and content marketing.
  • Lexi Mills is back! “How does SEO compete with PR in the current media landscape?”
    Oof. Hard left. SEO and PR shouldn’t compete in an effective communication model. But she does connect PR, content marketing and SEO, so let’s call it a win.

2016

  • Rhea Drysdale talks about reputation marketing.
    I feel like we’re just dancing around the subject at this point.
  • Kindra Hall presents on “strategic storytelling.”
    YES. Getting hotter! Storytelling changes hearts and minds and drives action.

2019

  • Several speakers discuss E-A-T (expertise, authority and trustworthiness), a concept from Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines.
    Unfortunately, there is little mention of strategy or tactics in building the trustworthiness part of that equation, which, to my mind, is a direct plea for stronger PR.
  • Heather Physioc presents her updated ideas on how teams can collaborate, including paid search team, organic/SEO team, content, social and PR.
  • Dr. Marie Haynes dives deeper into Google’s E-A-T guidelines.
    She asks, “how can we get journalists to talk about us & our clients?” Briefly mentions HARO & other outreach techniques. I immediately share this moment with my team on Slack and we exchange hilarious reaction gifs:

screenshot of a gif exchange in Slack

 

So, over the past nine years, I’ve been answering the questions, “what does SEO have to do with PR?” or vice versa. And for the past eight years I’ve listened to arguably the best, brightest minds talk about SEO and digital marketing from one end to the other without directly acknowledging what I think all of us in the industry know to be true:

  • It doesn’t matter how good your content is if the brand you create it for lacks a positive public image.
  • It doesn’t matter how high you rank for a keyword if the people searching for that term don’t know or care about what your company has to say.

I’ve been saying for years, SEO isn’t something you do to a website. SEO is a byproduct of good marketing and PR.

Do keywords still matter? Yes, and thoughtful research with user intent at its core makes them matter more.

Should we still be putting more time and effort into creating great content? Emphatically yes! But know that after the final version of that content is approved, there is still work to be done. SEO isn’t a switch that can be turned on or off in an instant. Likewise, it takes time for a brand to build recognition and trustworthiness. Working toward “better SEO” (whatever that means to you) isn’t something that can be done without paying at least a little attention to the brand’s image and messaging.

SEO isn’t something you do to a website. SEO is a byproduct of good marketing and PR.

It’s not an accident that Compriseagency thought to incorporate digital marketing, SEO and website development into its portfolio of services way back in 2009. We saw our clients’ needs, and we saw the direction media was heading. It’s always been an obvious concept to us that you’d want a team that could strategize your communications, produce the content and amplify it across a fluid media landscape to share the right message with the right person at the right time and via the right medium.

Digital didn’t kill the PR star. We formed a supergroup. Ask our clients. They knew us before we were headlining.

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