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Is SEO the science and PR the art – of content?

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2 July 2010
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Content is reasserting itself as King, the Search Engine Optimisation industry is moving into the ‘content’ business, a domain Public Relations – who specialise in ‘earned’ media – previously saw as theirs. That was the conclusion of a talk / debate I attended at the CIPR yesterday.

But not only that, PR is not countering. The industry has not moved into doing lucrative SEO either. Philip Sheldrake put it eloquently:

Has the PR industry missed the boat on the optimisation of web content to attract the attention of Google, more commonly known as search engine optimisation? The emergence of the multi-million pound search industry during the last decade suggests that may be the case.

Search agencies are increasingly packaging planning, content development and analytics, into a payment-by-results model. It’s a compelling proposition for a marketing director that is seeking guaranteed outcomes.

Now search agencies are starting to use PR tactics such as press releases, bylined content and wire distribution to drive their campaigns prompting the scrutiny of the role of PR versus SEO.


Are PR and the SEO industry in fact playing the same field?

A distinction was made by Kelvin Newman, Creative Director at SiteVisibility (an SEO company), between technical SEO and link building SEO. The former, I have argued on this blog, is actually dying a slow death. When I repeated this assertion yesterday, it was greeted with nods and disagreement in equal measure.

The point was made that SEO is the science and PR the art of using content to build reputation. And as such, said Wilson McInnes, Managing Director of NixonMcInnes, they come from two very different perspectives and even appeal to different kinds of people. PR was strategic, while SEO was merely tactical. PR was concerned with brand, SEO was not.

Good and small agencies are starting to offer an integrated solution. But all this was academic, was a consensus of sorts. Clients, particularly big ones, still have separate budgets for PR, advertising, SEO, digital. And until this changes, agencies will have to pitch specific services, even if there is a lot of overlap.

Still, it was felt that SEO in particular was moving in to eat PR’s lunch.

In that respect social media and PR are much closer related than PR and the SEO industry me thinks. Social media is about brand too. It is strategic, not just tactical. Because good integration of social media into a business is likely to fundamentally change the way the business operates.

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  • July 2, 2010 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Interesting insight into (some of) the PR industry’s thinking, thanks Wessel!

    If the general consensus was that agencies offering integrated solutions was an academic exercise of sorts then I think the thinking itself is too traditional, though, and restricted by the current PR/marketing/SEO models.

    “Clients, particularly big ones, still have separate budgets for PR, advertising, SEO, digital. And until this changes, agencies will have to pitch specific services, even if there is a lot of overlap”

    If this is going to change (it should and it will), progressive agencies are going to have to take part in driving that change, rather than simply pitching to existing structures. Social media is changing the playing field and moving the lines that define those ‘rules’. The traditional separation of businesses’ communications departments (budgets) no longer make sufficient sense. PR agencies, as well as digital, advertising and integrated agencies, should be challenging these existing inefficient budgeting structures, and in doing that actually helping their clients restructure and organise themselves for a future of increasingly ‘social communications’.

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