SEO and PR turf warI have been talking about the parallel existence of SEO and PR for donkey’s years.

I have blogged about it on several occasions (e.g. SEO v PR or What is the difference between SEO and PR?) and spoken at events about how entwined SEO and PR should be (e.g. Is PR the secret weapon for SEO?).

Whilst I bore myself at times, I feel confident (smug?) that we have been banging the PR and SEO drum for many years.

With the advent of Google’s infamous penguin update, the focus of link building shifted away from quantity towards quality. As the SEO underworld struggled to come to terms with this, it simply reinforced my belief that good SEO is, to all intents and purposes, PR.

To get press coverage, you need a good story. To get links, you need to have good content.

In both cases, you need to create the ‘hook’ to attract attention and make it very difficult for someone not to mention you as what you are doing is so interesting. This was bad news to the SEO agencies who relied on mass spam to build links (with no interest in relevancy or quality) but a real opportunity for PR agencies who were used to having to sell in stories on behalf of their clients.

Google’s penguin update was like Christmas – not great if you are a turkey (old hat SEO agency) but fantastic if you are a child (PR agency).

We welcome the shift away from spammy SEO techniques, but it has fueled the age-old ‘SEO is dead’ debate and finally ignited a turf war between online / SEO agencies and those traditional PR agencies who are finally embracing digital.

Who owns outreach?

Personally, I think this is the most interesting / explosive battle in the war.

PR has always been about building relationships. PR agencies have won business purely on the calibre of their ‘black book’. Successful link building requires the forming of relationships and I have been asked about our existing relationships with site owners / moderators on a number of occasions in recent new business meetings.

There is intrinsic value in those relationships. From a commercial perspective, that value needs to be protected and whilst I like to think that we work extremely well alongside PR agencies, I am seeing an increasing number of possible conflicts where we want to develop a relationship with an online site but where a PR agency is already ‘claiming’ it as theirs.

In my experience,  SEO agencies have a more laissez faire attitude towards protecting their relationships with other sites and I believe that they will need to (quickly) learn the value of those relationships and make more noise about them. The ‘black book’ factor needs to be appreciated and shouted about.

There is a strong argument that PR agencies are actually better at outreach as they are used to it. They have been doing it for years, whilst SEO bods have been slaving away being geeks in the corner banging on about meta data and keyword density.

What I have seen, however, is an inability for the PR agencies to step away from a reasonably small list of top tier publications. Yes, they may have solid relationships with those publications / websites, but can’t seem to embrace new opportunities in the same way that digital agencies will. PR agencies will rely on the black book, but digital agencies are much more comfortable in looking beyond their black book and, in doing so, grow that book.

SEO agencies are much better at discovering new link opportunities and, in my humble opinion, less precious about who they engage with. That is not to say that any old site will do, but there are plenty of sites (especially blogs) that may not be well known brands (yet?) but who have excellent content and engaged audiences. They are unlikely to be on the PR agencies’ radar but will be found by the SEO agencies.

Who will win the war?

I actually think that this is an easy one to predict. Neither the PR agency or SEO agency!

The victor will be a hybrid agency that successfully merges the PR mindset with digital know-how. In a world that is increasingly digital and in which traditional press is struggling,  the old school PR agency has no chance. Those PR agencies that refuse to embrace digital marketing will go the way of the dodo (possible exceptions being highly specialised agencies owning niches).

Equally, I think it is finally time that I accept that the ‘SEO is dead’ claim has some merit. To be precise, I think that what we have known as SEO is dead. SEO still exists and is as potent as ever, but it is about reputation and authority (ring bells for PR?), not just on-page / technical considerations. SEO is so much more than a few page tweaks and a shed load of directory submissions.

I may well be biased, but I still feel that SEO agencies are currently ahead of the digital game when compared to the average PR agency. Rolling up the sleeves and using keyword research to drive content ideas and an obsession with using analytics to measure performance is still the domain of the digital agency.

Equally, only the SEO geeks can really get to the bottom of on-site / server issues. All the outreach in the world will not fix technical issues, which are still a vital part of the SEO mix. For this reason alone, there will always be a need for SEO expertise.

Where does Browser Media fit in?

We moved away from ‘pure’ SEO in 2012 and believe that the ‘inbound marketing’ movement is getting much closer to the hybrid agency I mention above.

The truth is that the shift to inbound marketing is largely a semantic one – SEO is still at the core of what we do and accounts for the lion’s share of traffic generation. I hope that it helps to embrace a wider skill set than one may have traditionally attributed to an SEO agency.  SEO should not operate in a silo and should be at the heart of your marketing plans.

There is no doubt that we are living in interesting times, but Browser Media has been blending SEO and PR since day 1, so I can sleep easily at night and will enjoy watching the battles play out.

What do you think? We would love, as always, to hear your opinion so please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.