I’ve advocated that PR sits in the best position to lead the organic search charge or what I prefer to call “earned search.”
As Google continues to squeeze the technical gamesmanship out of SEO, the signals most valued by Google in determining what to serve up for a given search tend to fall within the PR skill set. Google’s Hummingbird update set this series of fortunate events in motion back in 2013.Will the future find SEO shops morphing into PR consultancies or PR consultancies building out SEO practices?
It seems obvious to me that PR will win this race. Media relations has always been a core building block of PR which takes on even greater value as a form of natural link building for organic search. Plus, we’re the content folks, telling stories that attract an audience without the benefit of paid media. And we’ve always been on the front lines engaging with the world as opposed to playing the “wizard” behind the curtain.
Not so fast.
The PR industry hasn’t exactly lunged for the SEO bandwagon. After we won the Holmes IN2 SABRE Award for the SEO/content category, I remember speaking with Aarti Shah from Holmes who shared that while our entry was absolutely award-worthy, it was disappointing that the category didn’t attract more interest. This also comes out in the modest column inches devoted to SEO by the publications covering the communications industry.
Yet, the publications serving the SEO community consistently cover storytelling and other topics associated with PR. Culling four of the top SEO publications, Search Engine Journal, The Moz Blog, Marketing Land and Search Engine Watch, I’ve captured a cross section of stories from the past year that bring storytelling and/or PR to the forefront.
Key Passage: The content that gets the most shares and the most engagement on social media are pieces of content base around the telling of a story, not around the selling of a product.
PR Response: Exactly. And while there’s debate about social shares as an SEO signal, they obviously generate traffic.
Key Passage: Creating a great story means digging into the heart of what makes a company or product special.
PR Response: Sounds like part of one of our training modules for content development.
Key Passage: You don’t have to create a cliffhanger, mystery-style series to keep your audience excited.
PR Response: Rather than tease out the classic story arc, apply storytelling techniques in developing content.
Key Passage: Every business has a story.
PR Response: Runs parallel to our philosophy, the story is always there. It’s just matter of getting below the surface to find it.
Key Passage: Instead, we have to earn those ranking signals. Because we’ve shifted from link building or ranking signal building to ranking signal earning, we’d better have people who will help amplify our message.
PR Response: The foundation for our profession starts with the “E” word. It’s worth taking a watch of Moz CEO Rand Fishkin talking about this in the 51-second video clip below:
Key Passage: Powerful storytelling will always be compelling. Humanizing facts makes people take interest because it allows them to relate and moves them to feel a certain way.
PR Response: Are you starting to detect a theme? PR more than any other communications discipline helps companies show their humanity.
Key Passage: Basically, I advocate for taking the elements of fiction and using them to get a fresh perspective on a brand’s journey toward a goal.
PR Response: Elements such as anecdotes prove invaluable in pitching journalists as well as in developing content for owned media.
Key Passage: The lines between SEO and PR are increasingly blurring as online and offline marketing becomes more and more integrated.
PR Response: That’s the truth and why the blending of traditional PR and owned media has the potential to deliver SEO gold. In fact, we created a SlideShare presentation last year that tackles this very topic.
Key Passage: People tend to remember stories better than a single message.
PR Response: Tend? I defy you to canvass the bars of America and find one instance of a conversation swinging around to, “Hey, you wouldn’t believe the message I heard yesterday.”
Key Passage: The company isn’t the hero. It never is. And if you’re an employee or the head of marketing for a company, you’re not either. Because no one likes to see some faceless corporation succeed. They want to see the customer succeed.
PR Response: I wouldn’t say the company is “never” the hero (there goes another double negative to torture my high school English teacher, Mr. Harper). Still, elevating the customer’s voice cuts through the noise like nothing else.
Key Passage: It’s easy to obsess over and try every hack you can think of to improve your numbers. And it’s really, really hard to tell meaningful stories that connect with individual buyers on a personal level (especially in B2B). But it’s worth it.
Key Passage: Don’t Talk About Yourself
PR Response: This concept can be a tough one for companies. We like to use the analogy of what happens when you go to a social event, meet someone new and the person proceeds to yap about “me, me and here’s a little more about me.”
Key Passage: I’m currently doing research with CitationLabs.com into how SEOs use PR in link-building campaigns. The research, not yet published, reveals that 75 percent of respondents had used PR in the past and more intended to do so in the future.
PR Response: To get tangled in how SEO defines PR misses the point. I guarantee 75 percent of PR professionals are not coming up the SEO curve.
Key Passage: No matter how newsworthy your story may be, there is no guarantee of coverage. And if you do get coverage, there is no guarantee that you will get editorial links.
PR Response: Thankfully, our SEO brothers have a way to go before they attain even white-belt status in media relations.
Key Passage: Storytelling is the new sexy word in content marketing today and rightfully so … Public relations specialists have been doing this well for decades, enchanting their target audience by weaving compelling backstories.
PR Response: Good verb, “to enchant.”
Key Passage: Public relations is now an essential part of modern SEO, but the big problem is that you don’t always get a nice editorial link with the news story.
PR Response: Actually SEO is now an essential part of public relations. Worth noting that the article missed the easiest action when an article does not include a backlink: ask for one.
While not scientific, these 16 stories reflect the SEO profession’s quest to come up the PR curve. On the surface, the attempt might appear clumsy. Still, it would be a mistake to assume that the SEO consultancies can’t achieve some form of PR fluency over time. For many, flush with cash from their PPC practices, acquisitions represent a viable path to accelerating the PR learning curve.
With that said, I still believe the opportunity is there for PR to own organic search.
It could be that the SEO consultancies are the ones that eventually get squeezed in the middle with advertising agencies and others that specialize in paid media taking up the PPC mantle and PR campaigns, including earned (organic) search as a standard practice.
Of course, this assumes PR will start learning and experimenting on the SEO field.
So far, that hasn’t been the case.