By Andrew Dennis
04 Oct 2019

Integrating SEO and PR: Best Frenemies

Basic SEO     Content Marketing

Frenemies - Twitter

Should you invest in SEO or PR? Answer: yes.

Too often I see clients, prospects, or even my peers within digital marketing making SEO and public relations an either/or decision. The truth is, both disciplines are important and contribute to a complete digital marketing program.

In this article, I want to walk you through how you can take SEO and PR from frenemies to BFFs to help your brand succeed online.

Why can’t we be friends?

I’ve been in the SEO industry for over five years and for as long as I can remember, PR folks and SEOs have been at odds — mostly on Twitter (surprise, surprise). Typically, issues arise when one camp tries to claim themselves as a replacement practice for the other. 

“Don’t waste time on SEO, just do good PR and results will come.” 

“PR is dead, SEO is the future.” 

Things can get particularly sticky when discussing link building, an activity that both departments are well suited to execute.

For instance, when I first broke into the SEO industry, I remember constantly running into a PR professional on social media who would always pop up in discussions about link acquisition and say, “Link building is just good PR.” The fact is, link building can be owned by the PR department, or by SEOs — links just need to be a consideration within your marketing, and typically SEOs are the ones who have them front of mind. I believe this practitioner’s dismissive comments reflect a narrow view of the elements of a successful digital marketing plan: public relations and search engine optimization should co-exist and shouldn’t be viewed as competing industries. 

I think the tensions that have historically existed between SEO and PR stem from a lack of fundamental understanding of one another. While SEO has made great strides in becoming a critical function within marketing departments, it’s still relatively new and evolving as a practice. If the only exposure to SEO that a PR professional has had was an awful email outreach — especially since email is a primary tool for PR practitioners — it’s completely understandable that they wouldn’t appreciate SEO as a practice. On the other hand, SEOs might see unlinked mention after unlinked mention and think PR teams have no idea what they’re doing, not realizing the value of their branding efforts and that they’re prioritizing other metrics. But it’s time for these two disciplines to get to know one another better.

PR specialists need to know that not all SEOs spam people with templated garbage, and link acquisition can be driven by manual, human-focused outreach. Likewise, SEOs must learn the tenets of PR and how measuring brand and online reputation is more than counting backlinks.

In fact, a comprehensive marketing strategy will account for both angles of online promotion.

Both SEO and PR should already be working with or informing content creation. SEOs should be advising on linkable content and keyword opportunities, while PR experts should be highlighting relevant newsworthy topics and guiding brand voice. SEO and PR should already be involved in content creation, providing an opportunity to bring the two practices closer together.

I propose PR professionals and SEOs extend their hands to one another to become better marketers. There is so much that SEOs can learn from PR experts, and vice versa, and when these two departments are aligned, the results can be very impressive.

At Page One Power, we’ve seen tremendous success with link acquisition when we come in behind the client’s PR department and convert the unlinked mentions their press generates into relevant backlinks. While these successes led to great results for the client, these are still situations where we have virtually no communication with the PR team, and there were undoubtedly more opportunities to be secured that we simply weren’t made aware of.

On the other hand, we’ve also been in situations where we had to fight to prove our work, after a PR agency that was also partnering with the client tried to claim our work as their own. We were able to prove the work was ours and retained the client, but nobody benefited from this scenario. This is why SEO and PR should be in communication, working toward common goals.

PR and SEO teams can bolster each other’s efforts by working together, and if you can align these two departments, your brand will win in search and on the web.

Same Goals, Different Priorities

Public relations and search engine optimization may prioritize different tactics and key performance indicators (KPIs), but in the end, these two marketing activities have the same goals — improved branding, increased attention, and more business.

PR professionals prioritize brand awareness and exposure, focusing on metrics like impressions and reach; typically, secondary metrics for PR work might include the number of links acquired back to a target site, and the value of the sites linking. SEOs target search visibility and track keyword rankings and organic traffic, with secondary metrics including broader brand and overall improved visibility of the business.

Clearly, there are some areas where the two disciplines overlap in terms of priorities and tactics. Link building and online reputation management are practices that could be managed by either the PR team or the SEO department, but each department is uniquely positioned to better handle one of each.

SEOs are typically better-suited to manage link building. Links are a primary KPI for search optimization, and SEOs usually have a better understanding of how links are valued by search engines and which types of links will move the needle in terms of visibility.

Conversely, PR professionals are often more adept at reputation management. Brand reputation is a key consideration in all public relations, and PR experts have more experience speaking publicly from the brand’s perspective. A brand’s reputation can be shaped by any mentions of the brand online — including where, and for which keywords, the company appears in search results.

Each department should take the lead on the practice that lends itself more naturally to their unique skill set, but this doesn’t mean link acquisition and online reputation management should be siloed. PR teams can fuel link acquisition through their awareness campaigns, generating press coverage and unlinked mentions, and SEOs can inform online reputation management with searcher behavior data. SEO and PR working together leads to more high-quality links, and better understanding and management of your brand’s reputation online.

Conversely, if you don’t have multiple teams working on SEO and PR, you still need to consider both angles as a digital marketer. Think about which keywords you’re targeting with your content and the searcher intent behind those keywords, but also consider the brand implications of your content and how you can generate buzz and awareness. 

But how do you get two marketing disciplines that have historically been resistant to working together to collaborate? Easy — you make them.

Just kidding. Kind of.

Becoming Marketing BFFs

Now that you have some of the background of how SEO and PR have traditionally worked separately, let’s talk about how we can bring these two important practices together.

It starts with getting everyone in the same room. I know we all want to have fewer meetings, but bi-weekly or even just monthly joint meetings between the SEO and PR teams can do wonders for collaboration. These meetings don’t need to be long, drawn-out brainstorming sessions either — a quick meeting to provide updates and progress will be enough to ensure each team is aware of what the other is working on.

While joint meetings will get everyone on the same page logistically, to truly drive collaboration between these two teams, you need to align their KPIs. When two teams share ownership and responsibility for the same metrics, it forces them to work together to achieve the desired impact on those metrics. Some of the primary KPIs that PR and SEO should share include backlinks, branded searches, direct traffic, reviews, etc. — if a metric can be influenced by both teams, it should be tracked by both teams. SEO and PR have the same end goals, but you can bring the two departments closer together by aligning smaller, short-term KPIs.

Finally, you need to build strong channels of communication. Chat tools like Slack or instant messengers can create instant communication channels that are more responsive and more convenient than email. Project management tools such as Basecamp or Asana can also provide lines of communication, albeit not instantaneous. However, simply opening these avenues of communication is not enough — you need to regularly check in with your teams to ensure they are consistently communicating with one another.

With regular meetings, shared KPIs, and open lines of communication, your PR and SEO teams should be able to collaborate freely and achieve great things!

Andrew Dennis

Andrew Dennis is a Content Marketing Manager at Shopify. Andrew is an alumnus of the University of Idaho and consequently a lifelong Vandals fan. You can connect with Andrew on Twitter or LinkedIn.