Two research projects I’m working on have brought the formerly separate worlds of public relations and search engine optimization on a collision course. Leading to the inevitable question whenever two worlds collide: which will “survive.”
I recently launched a new survey on PR and Brand Management
in the social age, and I’m planning a new survey on Content Marketing
and Management to launch in late-February. Five years ago (or perhaps even 2), these research themes would have seemed quite distinct, or at least appealed to different audiences. PR has been laser focused on social media and the impact that it has on generating coverage in the form of media mentions, both new and traditional. In the meantime, the search engine optimization (SEO) crowd had been focused on things like “Link Building” (a nasty word to the ear of many public relations practitioners), site architecture, metatags, and, above all else, page rank. Several factors are changing this dynamic.
I started by career in PR and corporate communications, so I have some personal experience that no doubt influence my perspective. When I started at a PR agency back in the day, one of my first jobs as a young account coordinator was preparing the clippings report for our clients. While the clipping book may have gone digital, the focus on the clip, i.e. the media mention, has more or less not gone away. Today that mention might come from a blogger, a pro blogger, or a full-time journalist, or may be realized as aggregate social media buzz and shares, but the mention and sentiment of that mention is largely the goal of public relations. And it’s largely from this perspective that PR has embraced content marketing.
[Image source: Spereira on Flickr]
On the SEO side of the coin, several recent Google search algorithm updates — Penguin in particular — have largely killed “traditional” (and spammy) link building techniques. In my view, this is a blessing for the future of search marketing as a strategic tool, as many CMOs and VPs of marketing viewed SEO marketing as an arcane, unpredicatble practice in which the deck was stacked. Today, SEO is focused on “quality” link building through mentions by credible and authoritative sites (often associated with specific individuals). In other words, SEO is becoming more like PR. It’s not about gaming the system, it’s about getting someone to care enough about what you do to share it with their audience, whether that’s a blog of 10,000 unique visitors, or an intentional media outlet with millions. The advantage that SEOs have in this pursuit is data. SEO has been relentlessly data-driven from the start; after all, page rank doesn’t lie. Increasingly, page rank has been replaced by site traffic as the metric of choice. SEOs know how to find and analyze this data, and they know specifically how to generate the desired quality links (not just where).
Hence the collision course. Both constituents are pursuing similar objectives through remarkably similar approaches (with some notable differences). PR can learn a lot from the data-driven knowledge that SEOs pocess about the way the web works. SEOs can no doubt learn a lot from PR about the way relationships are built with influencers, and the kinds of ideas that can create stories. Despite the dramatic considerations about which of these camps will survive the coming collision, these new realities actually mean that PR and SEO much work more closely together to navigate the new waters of content marketing.
My coming PR research
will look at the relationship of PR with the broader marketing organization and benchmark approaches to measuring its effectiveness. Please consider taking the survey, or add your thoughts in the comments below about the strategic position of PR going forward.