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Why PR must lead on SEO

The number of PR agencies offering SEO services has dropped by a fifth (20%) in the last four years (according to PRCA figures.) This is despite the fact that over that same period Google’s search algorithm has made PR skills even more important than ever in order to improve ranking.

Why isn’t PR accelerating its search services offering? SEO impacts reputation, online authority and content spread, so needs to be factored into all communications thinking, if PR agencies’ activity is truly joined up.

Here I look at how PR can build the argument to gain a stake in their clients’ search programmes, and unlock new budget.

Why SEO matters

In 2012 I warned that search-engine specialists were learning PR and that they would be a threat to PR agencies – I know, because I was training them. Certainly, search agencies have been hiring PROs far quicker than the PR industry has been hiring search talent.

While search agencies may not be a big threat to PR, they are competing for similar budget and many are doing really great work.

SEO and PR are symbiotic, meaning there is always opportunity for the agency that:

a) knows how to brand a search/content service; and

b) has the skills to deliver on its promise,

At a practical level, PROs can bring content, links and reach to the table. Google’s algorithm loves those; just see Searchmetrics’ ranking factors report for more.

PR’s chief mission should be two-fold – to inform and persuade audiences, and defend reputations. Search plays a role in both:

Outreach. Results and published content produce inbound links and eyeballs. Social media and paid support amplify content reach, helping to increase overall authority of that content.

Branded search. Google your clients in incognito mode and what do you find? Are their websites and associated social feeds top, followed by positive or matter-of-fact news? Anything negative or inaccurate on page one that needs addressing? Any name clashes with other brands?

There is more to ranking than links, content and popularity, of course. Technical aspects such as security (https is now a ranking factor), mobile friendliness, site speed, and user experience, also play a part.

Voice-related search is also on the rise and will impact the way content crafters optimise their copy. In addition, semantic search requires content to be unique, authentic and of high-quality.

Combining technical knowledge and project management skills with the traditional PR territory of content and media/influencer outreach, PROs could be natural custodians of clients’ search visibility. If not fully, then at least participate with existing technical search-engine specialists and other relevant stakeholders.

How to upsell SEO services

Why not run an impromptu audit for your clients to see where their weak spots are and demonstrate your understanding of how search could help them achieve their business objectives? Don’t just present a problem, present a solution of how your services can address their search challenges.

Just a quick and rudimentary study can be enough to spark a conversation, especially if search is not something your client has considered part of a comms remit, failed to see the value of, or has trusted to other partners.

Of course, to be able to follow up on the audit you need to be confident your team can deliver positive change and provide business benefits. Make sure they’re all trained up on the latest ranking factors and tools, or partner with the right search agency to assist.

The SEO opportunity is very much alive for PROs who dare to take it. What are you waiting for?

Article written by Chris Lee, CEO of communications consultancy Silvester & Finch

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