Time for PR to ...


I spoke on “PR and SEO. No Longer a Match Made in Hell” at the Holmes Innovation Summit last week.

In the course of preparing for the talk, I had a Mt. Sinai moment.

Imagine the advertising world foisting the term “organic media” on the PR industry to replace “earned media.” We would have a conniption (not a long-tail play, but it’s a fresh noun).

Yet, we allow the SEO cartel to not only define paid search, but also the non-paid version by “organic search” or “natural search.”

Hence — figured that borrowing from the legal lexicon couldn’t hurt — moving forward I propose we call this activity:

Earned search.

That’s really what it is.

Similar to earning the attention of a journalist who covers the company in a story, you must earn your way to the SERP (search engine results page) for a given search inquiry.

And unlike journalists who have biases, agendas and the inevitable bad hair days, the Google algorithm operates with clinical objectivity. Google wants the best content to win, meaning the individual conducting the search query retrieves the results in descending order of quality (and relevance).

Sounds like earned search to me.

Of course, SEO consultancies can and do leverage their technical acuity to try to game earned search, but Google’s Hummingbird update in 2013 went a long way toward addressing this issue.

Google’s Hummingbird update on SEO

Furthermore, all signals point to Google continuing to put effort into refining the algorithm to reward the highest quality content.

Even the SEO gurus are getting on board with the “E” word.

Check out this video clip from Rand Fishkin, CEO of the SEO consultancy MOZ, from one of his white board sessions a few weeks ago.



This one passage says it all (entire transcript from the video at the end of the post):

His message is clear. The days of pulling out the credit card and buying from the link farms out of Bangalore, Volgograd and the like to bolster lame content in the name of search are over. Today, the signals that Google cares about — people sharing and linking to content because they find it valuable — are earned.

Let’s band together as a profession to use “earned search” to describe the non-paid results that Google delivers for a given search inquiry.

Who’s with me?

Rand Fishkin Transcript from Video

SEO has turned from an exercise where we essentially take content that already exists or create some content that will solve a searcher problem and then try and acquire links to it, or point links to it, or point ranking signals at it.

And instead it’s one where we have to go out and earn those ranking signals.

And 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.

Right? The content that we create, the value that we provide, the service or the product, the message about our brand. We don’t have those people who care enough, for some reason … care enough about what we’re doing to help share it with others; we’re going to be shouting into a void.



  • Frank Strong

    My take on it is a lot of PR types have “earned search” without really knowing what the got. In a activity where a little about how search works, would go a long way in word choices, headlines and formatting. I’ve read and written so much about it, I figure that since most of it passes over the heads of the typical PR person, well then, that’s just less competition. It helps to get some coaching from an honest to goodness good SEO.

    • hoffman

      You nailed it! Just the mere act of creating content that gets shared (including inbound links) goes a long way toward earned search without evening touching the meta data. Search Engine Watch just published an article on the SEO tactics you need to know for 2015 at http://www.searchenginewatch.com/sew/how-to/2396193/11-seo-tactics-you-need-to-know-in-2015. If you strip out the fluff, what remains is a PR story. I would love to find a chart that compares the $45B spent on paid search (Google centric) last year to what gets spent on “earned search.” That’s the opportunity.


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