SEO is now PR, but are PR agencies still not ready?

PR is no longer the future of SEO. It already is PR.

Nov 13

SEOs recognise this, and the majority are now carrying out online PR: whether they call it that or not, all decent SEOs are now creating content and reaching out to online influencers. 

General marketers realise this. In a survey we recently conducted of 250 UK marketers, 52% said that PR and SEO work closely together in their organisation, and a whopping 71% think their PR agencies are experts at SEO.

But how are those PR agencies performing in their newfound position as SEO experts? 

A majority of those marketers, 61%, said they do not have sufficient SEO knowledge in house, so it’s no surprise they are relying on agency expertise. But it seems that many PR agencies are still playing catch up, and are potentially underserving their clients. 

SEO as a PR service offering

This suspicion is based on what PR agencies have told us ourselves through their most powerful tool to offer SEO as a service. 

Our research partner Retortal has a huge index of websites in the UK, and crawled the sites for those with ‘PR’ in their home page title, concluding that those sites were primarily companies offering PR services.

They then crawled those sites found, looking for the term ‘SEO’ anywhere on the site, the assumption being that if they were offering SEO as a service that they’d have the sense to mention it on their website somewhere. 

A mere 26% were found to have any mention of SEO, leaving 74% that don’t. We can assume that these sites fall into two categories of PR company; those that do offer SEO services but have failed to implement basic SEO practice on their own site in mentioning it, and those that just don’t offer it at all.

If you ask me, either mistake is pretty heinous. 

Is SEO a separate PR service? 

One response to this could be, if PR and SEO are the same thing, why do PR agencies even need to offer SEO as a separate service? As a PR agency that does offer SEO as a service to clients, it’s a question we’ve come across.  

The simple response is that an agency sells expertise and time, and SEO is more of both. Especially when it involves extensive site audits, on-site changes and keyword research, the more technical bits of SEO that are less closely related to PR. 

But taking a step back, the fundamental difference is to do with objectives. The objective of SEO is ultimately to drive more quality traffic to the website. That can be a PR objective, but more ordinarily PR’s remit is further up the funnel, generating awareness of a business, brand or person, or more generally managing the public perception of them. 

Thinking of the two as services and the buying process of a potential client, offering the two as separate services is essential because buyers do not first think in terms of services, they think in terms of problems and objectives. This means – 

  • “I’d like more quality organic search traffic to my website, so I need SEO.”
  • OR “I’d like more people to be aware of my business, or to solve a particular perception problem, so I need PR.”

Perhaps in time this may change, but at the moment that is the common buying thought process, as born out by the fact that searches for ‘PR agency’ and searches for ‘SEO agency’ are continuing to converge. And while that is the case, PR agencies not offering SEO services are going to fall behind.