PR & SEO: The ever blurring line

Clare Dyckhoff

PR and SEO – breaking down the silo dominates the search result page should you type in ‘PR and SEO’ to Google. Which is why outREACH was born. A new conference organised by Verve Search, it took part on Friday 9th June and it did not disappoint. Packed with SEO professionals, content marketers, PRs and outreach specialists; everyone attended for the same reason…to find out the state of outreach in the wider industry and how we can do it better.

With a room filled with people used to amplifying the content they produce to relevant journalists (when done right…), it got me thinking about the ever blurring disciplines in the marketing industry. Where is the line between SEO and PR when it comes to brand coverage and link acquisition? What do the two disciplines have in common? And most importantly…how can they work together?

So, how did we get here?

Public Relations a decade ago was just ‘PR.’ There was no digital PR team or ‘traditional PR’ divide; just PR teams, agency and in-house. They all worked towards the same goal – to augment a client’s reputation and visibility of their products to a relevant and targeted audience. We now have specific digital PR agencies and departments, because the move from celebrity endorsement and journalist coverage has been cranked up to 11 and opened up working with prolific influencers on social media, blogs and YouTube.

And SEO has changed significantly too. Amid the ever-changing Google algorithms, SEO experts have had to adapt and change tact in a world where technically-sound websites aren’t enough. Moving towards content, gaining links from external domains is what formed the outreach strategy. But imagine the following sentence in the context of job responsibility: “Securing coverage online and accumulating links in articles – from high quality domains like The Telegraph to local press.” Which team does this activity fall under? PR? SEO?

That was a trick question. Because nowadays, the line between PR and SEO is blurring furthermore and the above sentence could be activity carried out from both a PR and SEO expert.

Let’s talk about links

Having worked in PR before joining the SEO team here at MG OMD, finding guest post opportunities and generating links to our website is what formed the basis of my former PR campaigns.

But this is now something we look to employ for SEO benefit. The KPIs may be different but the aim remains the same: to increase the number of inbound links from external sources with the intention of increasing the website’s visibility in search results. This benefits Google, which most importantly then benefits the user.

PR used to involve sending free samples of a client’s product out for coverage and product review from journalists at key publishers. However, it has now been opened up to bloggers and influencers and the channels have gone from physical newspapers to online publishers, blog posts and Snapchat stories.

When a piece of content is the asset, outreach is all about creating a piece of content robust and interesting enough to warrant an external, high quality website to link back to your asset and website. By leveraging the influence of the person, linking the power is passed on to the client’s website by association, which is why both PR and SEO teams need to send out good content that acts as incentive enough to be promoted and linked back to, which forms an organic approach for both PR and SEO.

But what do SEO and PR have in common?

Leveraging key relationships with influential people, in terms of website strength or public presence and asking for coverage or a link back to a client’s website is a big action and has to be relevant to the brand. Not only for the brand’s sake but for sake of the website’s or influencer’s audience too.

Link acquisition in PR and SEO is all about outreach. It’s about training how to work best with reaching out to people, busy people, in a way that sells your content well and encourages them to link to it. But doing so in a helpful and informative way that strengthens the relationship for a future opportunity, not damages it with overzealous requests or less-than-impressable content.

At the end of the day, a link is not just a link and it shouldn’t be the sole goal. It is just one output of a campaign. And is one that helps give people a positive experience when looking at content relevant to them, as well as help boost the visibility and authenticity of a website for those in the consideration mind-set.

The relationship between automation and personalisation

But there’s no hiding that the scalability of link and coverage generation can be a tough task for a PR agency with limited resource or where this type of activity forms only a strand of a wider company offering. Which is why there are tools left right and centre designed to streamline the outreach process. From contact information databases to CRM systems, this raises a question of how we balance automation and tools doing the leg work to enable the team of specialists to do what they do best – interacting with their contacts.

And the personalisation needed to ensure each outreach email to a journalist or key influencer is crafted to perfection is a requirement of a PR and SEO professional, regardless of the objective.

How do SEO and PR teams work together better?

When a PR campaign is designed to raise awareness of a brand and new product, the focus on buzz and interest can outweigh the link. Which means SEO links can feel a little further down the funnel of importance. But the more visible a client in the SERPs, particularly for generic terms, the greater the brand awareness. Which is why outreach activity benefits both PR and SEO and as a result falls into both SEO and PR teams’ territory.  Implementing UTM tracking in SEO campaigns, social campaigns and even social influencer work can help ensure traffic from partnerships and collaborators is well-labelled and accountable.

Working together can start off by simply sharing calendars and content strategy. An SEO-led content piece could be amplified via a bigger PR campaign and the life of a PR campaign can be lengthened with supportive SEO content campaigns.

Ensuring that there is no overlap between contacts – journalists or bloggers and influencers. That way it remains aligned and clear for the contact. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

Keywords form the fundamental basis of any data-led SEO content campaign and this might not be high in the priority for a PR team looking to catch attention with a snappy, catchy title. However, an SEO team and their respective PR team can work together on this. The SEO experts can help identify key words and trends relevant to campaigns and the PR experts can use their storytelling prowess to incorporate this into their messaging naturally.

Bringing PR and SEO teams closer together can only be a positive thing. It’s better for integration, better for aligned strategy and better for our clients. Which fundamentally is what we come to work for in the morning every day.