Why PR needs to sell SEO

The convergence of PR and SEO should not be seen as a battle, but rather as an opportunity for our industry. As Google places greater and greater emphasis on quality over quantity and content over numbers, SEO is falling into the hands of PR people. 

When PR agency EML Wildfire conducted research asking 250 marketers about their approach to SEO, 71 per cent said they think their PR teams are “SEO experts“, 55 per cent said their SEO strategy is PR and content driven, while a further 55 per cent said they had little SEO knowledge in house, suggesting that marketers are relying on their PR agencies for SEO expertise.

Chris Bunn, marketing director at security Software Company IS Decisions is one such marketer. He says: “Having established a strong social media presence and hardworking PPC campaign ourselves, we knew a lot about who our audience was and what kind of search terms they used. So when we started thinking seriously about SEO, we knew that a high-quality content-led PR approach would be the only way that you can achieve the kind of highly authoritative natural links that Google and other search engines wants to see.”

Meanwhile Chris Lee, head of digital knowledge at PR agency Grayling, states: “The way Google ranks sites in 2014 plays completely into PROs’ hands; it’s their game to lose now. Even with the current debate around the strength of some inbound links and social signals, it’s clear that a strong, content-led approach coupled with influencer outreach and community management programmes is going to help relevant, useful links rise to the top. This is, in effect, PR in 2014.”

So one would assume that PR agencies are jumping on this opportunity with aplomb, right? 

Not so, it seems. In fact having indexed every website in the UK with “PR” in the home page title (and therefore likely to be a PR agency website), only 26 per cent had any mention of SEO anywhere else on the site. Why would that be the case? Two possibilities are:

1.   They don’t offer any kind of SEO services; or

2.   They do offer SEO services, but are not confident enough in their abilities to actively sell it.

It seems strange that there is such disconnect between what marketers are expecting from PR agencies and what PR agencies are actually selling.

Danny Whatmough, associate director digital at PR firm Ketchum and chairman of PRCA Digital Group, says, "SEO, PR, content marketing, social media – they are all powerful disciplines, but they are all so much powerful when combined. Which is why, to my mind, the integration of them all as part of a PR agency offering makes total sense. It's no longer about just having the technical skills, it's about understanding how content 'works' online: how it is distributed and the effect this has on brand awareness.”

The suggestion is that there is a clear opportunity for ownership here, not just across the converging disciplines of PR and SEO, but with other complementary disciplines too. But is it a case of PR people needing to move now, lest the SEO people swoop in and take all the business? Or will we simply see the market evolve, and people with differing skills ending up working together?

Chris Lee thinks so: “To use rugby parlance, the ball is loose and free for both PR and SEO to challenge for, but ultimately these are two very different cultures: PR on the creative side, SEO on the technical. The only solution to do the best job for the client is to join forces and learn from each other.”


The survey of 250 marketing decision makers was conducted by Vision Critical in October 2013. Social media marketing company, Retortal conducted a comprehensive crawl of the 1.6m UK-based websites in October 2013. PR agency websites were identified as those having “PR” in the TITLE code on the home page (2141 found). Those sites were then spidered to uncover the use of the term “SEO” in the TITLE code or website content (549 found).

Written by Ian McKee, senior account manager, EML Wildfire

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