SEO: a Sub-Category of Public Relations?

Public Relations Jun 3, 2006

The biggest thing going against the burgeoning field of search engine optimization (SEO) is the name itself. In the very earliest days of the debate, I weighed in on the side of SEO, making the uncommon argument that we are indeed optimizing the search engines themselves. The thread is buried somewhere in the archives of Search Engine Forums (before WMW and SEW ruled the world), but the mainstream argument went that SEO was technically inaccurate and didn’t cover the broad expanse of what we actually did.

I countered that SEO was accurate, and did indeed cover it… that is of course until PPC came along, first from GoTo.com, then eventually Google. So it’s ironic now that I end up working for the PR Firm that represented GoTo.com in those early days, in the days of fierce church & state debates over advertisements in search results. And my thinking remains 100% consistent. We are indeed optimizing the search engines, and specifically the natural or free results in those search engines, because everything else is advertising. Only influencing the mainstream editorial results lands in the domain and realm of PR. Yes, a PR firm can consult strategically on what keywords you should buy in a PPC campaign, but don’t expect a PR firm to deliver maximum value by managing paid keyword campaigns. Instead, let them focus on optimizing natural results, and getting “hits” just as they would in mainstream media, like newspapers, magazines and TV.

So, blogging wasn’t enough, and the PR industry is planting its flag in SEO, huh? No, only the PR firms who have the technical chops and big picture to do so. Even SEM firms who allegedly offer SEO services often only walk clients through enough of the process to do a one-time stimulation of the engines resulting in a temporary spike in hits, only to wane throwing everyone into a tizzy and a mad dash to pay for more keywords in a PPC campaign. Conversely, PR firms often only focus on “optimizing” press releases.

Neither approach is the true PR+SEO way. A competent PR firm delivering SEO services will not only walk you through getting your site up to speed technically, but will educate the client on how to keep the tension in the machinery so that natural search hits do not wane, and they become a permanent addition to the company’s assets. That is to say, blog regularly and lead the discussion in your own industry with your own voice so that you are growing the size and search-influence of your main website. Blogging and SEO are interconnected. And a corporate blogging strategy has a lot more to it than espousing onto the Internet. Topics must be chosen with care to align to the company’s goals, and topics known to lead to new customers.

So, what to call this next evolution of both the fields of public relations and search engine optimization? Calling it SEO is like calling sushi “cold dead fish”. We can do better! I just don’t know what that is yet. I’ve often considered just going with “public relations”, because search is just another vehicle for reaching the public. And therefore SEO is just a facet of public relations, and all the SEOers of the world are just working in a marketing sub-field of public relations. That never seems to sit well with SEO pros. Of course neither does it when I tell public relations people they’re just in a sub-field of marketing.

Ah, the super-umbrella of marketing, and how that relates to sales and the rest of the business! Sounds like a topic for a future post.

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