Off the Record: Watch out PR – the SEOs are coming

By on Thursday, May 14, 2015

Luke Budka

Luke Budka from Topline Comms

For a few years now, search engine optimisation blogs and forums have been awash with search folk discussing the latest Google updates, onsite tips and tricks, and the best ways to build links for their clients. Over time the conversation’s changed as Google’s algorithms updated and old SEO tactics employed by agencies became defunct.

Unsurprisingly SEO has moved from marketers effectively gaming Google with low quality high quantity tricks, to a focus on quality content and signals indicating a website’s relevance to a search term.

In that time SEO agencies have either dropped by the wayside, accepting they don’t have the necessary skills for modern day search marketing, persevered with spammy tactics and accepted the time will come when their clients’ will disappear from search engine ranking pages, or adapted their offerings to provide the most effective search service available.

What should be worrying the PR world is that those agencies in the adapted service category are beginning to do PR more effectively than traditional PR agencies.

I believe in the power a good, well targeted story has on an audience. Readers trust the third party independent view of journos/influencers. The best SEO involves targeting good stories at trusted outlets. Accordingly SEOs have now realised how powerful a good story is. The best links require great editorial, tailored events and interesting data. These agencies are building editorial departments, developing stories and pitching the media and influencers.

In line with this realisation, SEOs have learned how to pitch. How do you do it in your agency? Extract a list from a media database, hand it to the exec and sellotape a phone to their face? Or do you research the target media and intelligently pitch the right stories at the right times? SEOs are now doing that, and in a lot of cases they’re doing it more effectively than PR agencies. In the main this is because they’ve treated it, as with their other day-to-day activities, as a process, formalised it and increased the target media scope using tools like Followerwonk to unearth social influencers and bloggers as well as standard media contacts.

Ah but they won’t be experts in creating compelling copy right? Wrong. SEOs have been doing that for a while.

So what’s PR’s value proposition?

The devil is in the detail. For example:

SEOs may be great at building lists of relevant contacts, but aren’t necessarily relationship building people – a vital soft skill undervalued in my opinion. Seasoned PRs know how important, even in today’s rolling news world, relationships are – it’s the difference between a contact taking your call and not taking your call.

SEOs may be getting good at copywriting but do they know what makes a good story? Not in every instance. A good PR can pitch five people with a great story and get four pieces of awareness raising tier one coverage with a couple of links. An SEO will email a bad pitch to a list of 100 contacts but not understand the dynamics of the media, or what journos are looking for and when they’re looking for it, and therefore have little to no success.

PR is an industry that traditionally struggles with change; SEO is an industry in constant change. It’s not hard to understand why our marketing peers in SEO-land are capably moving into PR’s territory. As far as I can see you, as a PR, have two choices: you can either stick your head in the sand, cling to your existing skillset (and I’m not denying there are areas of PR, like investor relations or crisis comms for example, that are too niche to be affected) and plough on regardless, or you can accept that like social media, SEO is a comms discipline that now falls into your domain.

You likely already have the skills SEO agencies crave, so accept that learning something new will benefit you in the long term and skill-up, you’ll be a more valuable PR practitioner for it.

Luke Budka is director at B2B PR agency TopLine Comms. Follow him on Twitter @lukebudka

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