PR is the new SEO

A decade ago, even 5 years ago, SEO used to be easy. Go out, place a bunch of links in some blog comments or send out some mass emails to webmasters promoting your site, get links rolling in, and wait for Google to reward your cleverness with high search rankings. You didn’t even have to have intelligible content on your website, you just needed a lot of links of any quality to your site and you’d win. Those days are long gone. Today, using tactics from even just a couple of years ago can not only fail to boost your rankings, but outright cause real harm to your website and corporate brand.

For example, in the last 2 years, Google has iterated its algorithm over 40 times that we know of publicly (Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird) to increasingly devalue any SEO trick that can be automated. Everything from keyword stuffing in press releases to spammy guest blog posts has been targeted by Google for punishment.

So what’s a brand that relies on organic search to do? It turns out that what Google values the most – links and mentions from high quality, high reputation sites – is exactly what competent public relations professionals have been doing for decades. Think about it for a second.

  • The goal of public relations is to create attention, awareness, and trust by getting other people to talk about your brand.
  • The goal of SEO now is to create attention, awareness, and trust by getting search engines to display your brand near or at the top of search rankings for relevant keywords and terms.

Both PR and SEO are all about getting other people to recognize that you have something to contribute to your industry. PR and SEO have almost identical processes: reach out to relevant publications, make a timely, targeted, relevant pitch to the publisher, provide great content to the publisher’s audience, and get accreditation for your work. The only significant difference is that SEO folks are usually more vigilant about getting a link in an article than PR folks; otherwise, the processes are about the same.

The outcome is the same as well – attracting new, relevant audiences to your brand. It doesn’t matter whether someone visits your website from a print magazine article or a Google search – at the end of the day, you want them to visit your website by any means permissible.

So if PR and SEO are functionally the same thing, what does this mean for both? If the processes are the same and the outcomes are the same, then the same people should be managing both for maximum synergy. SEO doesn’t belong in the marketing department – it belongs in your public relations and media relations department. PR shouldn’t ever work in a silo, either. Your SEO teams should be working side by side with your PR teams to ensure you have common research, messaging, creatives, and content (all part of the same earned media hub).

On a practical level, PR can teach SEO folks how to pitch better. PR folks generally have better media tools like Cision, Vocus (client), Sysomos, etc. for finding high quality publications to pitch, and the best PR professionals are supremely good at building and maintaining long-term friendly relationships with their media contacts. Conversely, SEO folks generally have better research tools like Google Webmaster Tools, Google Analytics, Google AdWords, etc. for identifying early trends, niche topics, and important words and phrases that should be common across a brand’s media properties.

Here’s a very practical example: log into your brand’s Google Webmaster Tools account and look at the search terms that you’re getting a lot of traction for. If you haven’t already created content to pitch about those terms, start writing!


If your PR team and your SEO team aren’t working together, chances are you’re not going to reap the benefits of having each specialty. If you have a PR agency that is unaware of SEO tools and methods, they won’t be able to do as good a job as an agency that does. If you have an SEO agency or team that isn’t coordinating with PR, sit them down in a room together for an hour each week and have them do their editorial calendars and pitching schedules as one team. Assuming that everyone understands that they’re on the same team, your results from both disciplines should improve dramatically.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

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Posted on March 31, 2014 in Advertising, Marketing, Public Relations, Search, SEO

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About the Author

Christopher S. Penn has been featured as a recognized authority in many books, publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, BusinessWeek and US News & World Report, and television networks such as PBS, CNN, CNBC, Fox News, and ABC News for his leadership in new media and marketing. In 2012 and again in 2013, Forbes Magazine recognized him as one of the top 50 most influential people in social media and digital marketing; Marketo Corporation named him a Marketing Illuminator, and PR News nominated him as Social Media Person of the Year. Mr. Penn is the Vice President of Marketing Technology at SHIFT Communications, a public relations firm, as well as co-founder of the groundbreaking PodCamp New Media Community Conference, and co-host of the Marketing Over Coffee marketing podcast. He is an adjunct professor of Internet marketing and the lead subject matter expert and professor of Advanced Social Media at the University of San Francisco. He’s the author of the best-selling book Marketing White Belt: Basics for the Digital Marketer.
Portland ORedeye
Portland ORedeye

Christopher, you say that the goal of PR and SEO is to "create attention, awareness, and trust by getting other people to talk about your brand."

My take as an audio/video content producer for both on-line posting and broadcast, one who is constantly pitched by PR aligned with advertising and marketing objectives, is that the goal is to create awareness, immediate desire, then demand-fulfillment for goods and services.

When consumers hear audio programming or watch video, they often do so with a portable device in hand, and I'm one of them.  Thus, when I/they hear a great interview on, say, The Colbert Rapport, with a NYT best selling author like Dan Harris ("10% Happier") I/we go to and in a matter of seconds, three books are on the way, one for me and two for clients.  (or a Kindle edition, whatever).

But I 100% agree that " . . . .the best PR professionals are supremely good at building and maintaining long-term friendly relationships with their media contacts. And they do so by working candidly, collaboratively and transparently with vendors who understand messaging goals and take-away value and, thus, craft the product to push those buttons.

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