At Wildfire we believe that PR campaigns can and should add value to marketing budgets by boosting a client’s Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) activity. But what do the SEO specialists think? How can SEO and PR agencies work together? We asked Kerry Marriott at Vertical Leap – an SEO agency that has achieved notable SEO results for a number of our clients.
How would you define the relationship between SEO and online PR?
There are many similarities actually. Both disciplines seek to build the profile of an organisation by increasing its authority with key audience groups. And while the methods may differ, both disciplines rely (if they are to be successful) on consistently producing and distributing relevant, high quality content that appeals to a well-defined target audience.
But surely SEO focuses on ensuring your website content is search engine friendly?
Yes that’s true. But remember SEO is more than on site technical optimisation. In fact, off site optimisation is becoming more and more important. Success here depends on quality content relevant to the user’s search query that is picked up and distributed by other websites, be they traditional media sites, blogs or even social networks. This is where PR can come in and really help from an SEO perspective.
How do you see their respective roles playing out in a typical campaign?
The first fundamental step is to ensure that PR content reflects the key words identified for the SEO campaign. This doesn’t need to be contrived. A good marketing strategy will be based on a clear understanding of the company’s core proposition and key messages, which should be reflected in all content, in order to achieve consistency of brand image.
And as I said, off-page optimisation plays an important role now that more websites are getting the on-page optimisation right. That means building the ‘authority’ of the website through links from articles, news, partner affiliations, blogs, directories and more. And PRs have a great opportunity to use their core communications skills to help extend the scope of links, but more keenly, to ensure they are of the highest quality.
A savvy marketer will know that it works both ways. Content generated by PR can be repurposed for SEO and other marketing channels. Even opinion articles or profile interviews will translate from traditional PR, seamlessly into a series of blog posts or vice versa. It’s all about creating cohesion – where different marketing disciplines feed positively into other activities and maximise their reach.
So you see PR agencies having a growing role to play in ‘feeding’ SEO campaigns?
Absolutely. And we would recognise that PR is about getting close to the client, understanding their industry, generating content that adds value to the target audience. Beyond that it is also about managing perceptions – to put it bluntly, there is no point generating a proliferation of content if the target customer does not want to read it.
What would you say to those who argue that churning out content purely for SEO purposes doesn’t really work from a wider marketing standpoint?
It all goes back to that key point about relevancy. The age of mass marketing is long gone. Users are increasingly sophisticated about refining their search and tend to know exactly what they are looking for. We therefore need to make sure that the keywords and areas we are targeting from an SEO standpoint reflect other marketing and business aims. This means close collaboration with traditional PR, online PR and social media is increasingly important, especially as Google starts bringing more ‘Universal Search’ features into search listings.
What do you mean by Google Universal Search?
Well, in previous years all you would see in searches would be what we call organic results, sometimes with some paid search listings at the top or on the right hand side. Now, increasingly, Google is bringing other aspects into search listings, this can be anything from pictures and videos to news and blog posts. Where it gets really interesting is whether Google will also bring in real-time results from social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. PR agencies have an obvious role to play in making sure that brands are well represented in Universal Search.
Do you see other synergies between the two disciplines?
Well crisis management is an obvious one. By utilising SEO tools to join forces with PR it is possible to minimise the effects of negative PR and lessen the impact to your business. Paid search or PPC can be an important component here and, again, PR and SEO agencies should work very closely in these circumstances.
So who should own the online PR strategy?
Good question. At the end of the day, the online PR strategy belongs to the Marketing Director, or whoever is responsible for the marketing strategy. But we believe that PR agencies and SEO specialists can and should work closely together to make the most of their respective skill sets in order to deliver maximum value to their clients. In fact, if they don’t work together, the focus and the online brand image can become fragmented and disjointed.
Finally, in your experience, do you think PR agencies are doing a good job of helping their clients maximise SEO activity?
The agencies that ‘get it’ are doing a great job of helping their clients surge up the rankings. But there are an awful lot out there who are still in the dark ages. Collaboration really is the most important element. There is no need for PR and SEO agencies to compete with each other as at the heart of every successful integrated marketing strategy lies co-operation.