How the #FuturePRoof PR can embrace the opportunities of SEO


PR practitioners need to have a more detailed understanding of SEO and the impact this has on the work they do. Combining this knowledge with the ability to measure its effectiveness creates a situation in which public relations teams can confidently ask for more budget and reduce the risk of SEO agencies securing the work.

You’ll learn:
•    About the ever-increasing relevance of SEO to PR, and vice versa
•    The key factors which are shaping PR’s place within that
•    What the #FuturePRoof PR professional needs to do to have a greater understand of SEO, and incorporate it into their work

Stop worrying about the Mad Men and focus on the geeks

Following the Cannes Lions festival in the summer of 2016 there has been a significant debate in the PR industry about its ability to create the most compelling campaigns when compared with its advertising and media counterparts. Almost all of the winners of the PR Lions in 2016, including the Grand Prix, were from advertising agencies. 

I’d argue that this fits into a narrative I have seen played out over the last 15 years in the communications industry, whereby PR professionals have looked enviously at the bright lights, brands and budgets of their close relatives in the advertising space. 

I would also argue that whilst the PR industry has focussed its starry-eyed attention enviously on its seemingly more attractive elder sibling, it has ignored the increasing importance of its upstart smaller relative – the Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) industry. And all the while this has been happening, the SEO industry has been winning more marketing budget, winning more business, and even winning awards at PR events. 

In my last role within a digital marketing agency I knew of more than one household brand name that was spending more on SEO annually than it was on PR, and this is a pattern that is repeated elsewhere, particularly for brands with some kind of ecommerce function. 

For reasons I’ll go on to discuss in this chapter, the PR and SEO industries have never been closer together, and more competitive for budget with one another. I believe, however, that a number of factors have come to the aid of the PR industry, which have prevented the SEO industry from completely eating PR’s lunch.

The #FuturePRoof PR practitioner needs to be aware of these and, I would contend, needs to have a more detailed understanding of the SEO impact of the work they do, and the ability to measure its effectiveness in this light, and to confidently ask for more budget as a result. 

Why are PR and SEO so relevant to one another?

Every year, SEO industry expert MOZ, led by the wizard with the wonderful facial hair Rand Fishkin, produces an analysis of the top “Search Engine Ranking Factors” – the on-site and off-site elements which affect your site’s search engine ranking position. 

You can find the latest report here - [1] - and whilst there is fluctuation each year in how much importance there may be in one element or another, it is widely held that there are three key factors which affect search engine ranking:

•    On-site technical factors – Technical elements of a website, including things like XML sitemaps, which help Google find its way around your site

•    On-site content – What is says on the tin – the body copy on the page 

•    Off-site links – The quality and quantity of links from third party websites to your site

Two of these are directly relevant to PR – on-site content, and off-site links. PR people are the original content originators, many of whom have backgrounds in journalism. Off-site links should be within the purview of PRs too – it’s simply asking for a link back from a third party website when you place your content on there. In light of this, it’s worth thinking about what strengths the PR sector has in these areas versus the SEO sector.

What strengths does the PR industry have that it can leverage here?

I would argue that there are four key strengths that the PR sector has, which have helped to stop SEO agencies make further in-roads into areas traditionally owned by public relations:

Existing, established relationships with high “Domain Authority” sites – A key measure used in SEO to assess the value or quality of a link is Moz’s “Domain Authority” metric – a score of 1 to 100, with the most reputable and valuable websites scoring 90-100. And tier one media websites typically have a very high Domain Authority. At Hotwire, we have carefully cultivated relationships with journalists since our inception in 2000, and there are many PR agencies around that are older than us. Looking at the top 10 PR agencies in the UK by revenue, the average age of the agencies is just over 30 years old (Source: PR Week and Companies House). The average age of the top ten digital agencies by revenue is, by contrast, 11.8 years (Source: The Drum and Companies House). The hard-won, carefully nurtured relationships over many years with major media outlets and their journalists is a key strength that the best PR agencies have.

Reputation – The PR industry may occasionally fret about its perception. However, various “black hat” approaches and high profile Google penalties to websites which have used them has led the SEO industry to having a significant reputational challenge. In addition, the PR industry has two very well established industry bodies – the CIPR and the PRCA – and both organisations have a Code of Conduct which members need to comply with (the CIPR’s is here: [2] and PRCA’s is here: [3]). The SEO industry still doesn’t have a recognisable industry body, and some very questionable tactics continue to abound in some quarters. 

No gimmicks – Google has consistently cracked down on SEO practices which have been used at scale to try and “game” website ranking positions. Google’s Penguin update in April 2012 was designed to do just this. Google has recently issued guidance (here: [4]) on using free products to get reviews from bloggers, and it may only be a matter of time before Google takes further steps with its algorithm to prevent this.

Ability to build brand awareness – When I was plying my trade in the SEO space, whenever I was working for a brand which was doing well online, they invariably had a very high level of “brand search” online. I always said to clients that brand search volume is a good proxy for brand awareness, and PR is a central way in which most brands build brand awareness. 

What the #FuturePRoof PR professional can do to get ahead

The PR industry has seen some benefits from these factors, some of which are beyond its control. I believe there are three key ways in which the #FuturePRoof PR professional can proactively and actively adapt in the future to stay ahead of the game:

Learn the lingo – Domain Authority, NoFollow Links, SERPs, canonical URLs… Yes, there is a lot of new and alien terminology to use, but the #FuturePRoof PR professional is not scared of learning something new, and embraces it! There are some good guides which can be found on Search Engine Watch ( [5]) and, as always, MOZ ( [6]). At Hotwire we have also embraced some SEO-oriented measurement of our work, reporting the Domain Authority of links achieved back to clients for example. Across the industry this is a trend I expect to see develop.

Get using Google Analytics – The #FuturePRoof PR professional is as comfortable using Google Analytics as they are using Gorkana. At Hotwire, we are now routinely asking for access to Google Analytics from our clients, and bringing this data into the Insight discussions we have with clients. If this is something you’re not doing currently, there are numerous low-cost training programmes for Google Analytics and Google Search Console.

Work collaboratively – The #FuturePRoof PR consultant will actively find out if there is an SEO agency working with their clients, or an in-house SEO manager. If there is, they will reach out to them and see if there are ways they can collaborate together to either help extend the reach of their content or to reach channels they typically don’t engage with. Similarly, the in-house #FuturePRoof PR professional will reach out to in-house SEO and PPC teams to make sure that the full digital benefit of the activity can be realised, and that paid investment can be made to help extend reach if needs be.

The #FuturePRoof PR professional can and should embrace the opportunities to learn new skills and make new friends in new departments and agencies. If they stop worrying about the Don Drapers and start focussing on the Eric Enges of this world, there’s a whole new raft of opportunities and budgets to be had. Don’t believe me? Just Google it.



Darryl Sparey is the Business Development Director at Hotwire PR, the global PR and communications agency. Before this Darryl spent two years running the London office of digital marketing agency Mediaworks. Previously, Darryl was Group New Business Director at WPP-owned Precise Media (now Kantar Media). Darryl tweets about SEO, PR, digital and running in a straight line for a long time win @rundemcrew and to raise money for @parkinsonuk on his twitter feed @DarrylSparey.

Twitter: @DarrylSparey