Sometimes, PR people are better at SEO than SEOs

I recently attended the Turing Festival in Edinburgh. It was an eclectic collection of some of the world’s best speakers on digital marketing.

I left with many words of wisdom buzzing around in my head, but one comment that stayed with me were the words of Cyrus Shepard.

‘Sometimes, PR people are better at SEO than SEOs’

Cyrus is director of audience development at Moz, the world’s leading and best known resource for search engine optimisation (SEO) professionals, and he spoke at the festival on ‘optimisation for humans’ and it was a pleasure and an inspiration to hear him speak on stage.

I’d tend to agree with him – we’ve propelled some of our clients to number one rankings just by building them a website using good content. We don’t ‘SEO’ a site as a separate process, it’s just part of what we call our ‘ecosystem’ approach.

Sometimes, PR people are better at SEO than SEOs – Cyrus Shepard
Sometimes, PR people are better at SEO than SEOs – Cyrus Shepard, Moz

Let’s look at Mr Shepard’s words in a little more detail.

As an industry, PR is a lot older than SEO, so if the former are so good at it, why did such a demand develop for SEO?

‘Sometimes, PR people are better at SEO than SEOs' – @CyrusShepard #PR #SEO Click To Tweet

Converging skills of PR and SEO

Well the two haven’t always been so closely interchangeable. In the early days, search engines ranked pages largely based on keywords, and in this ‘stone age’ of the Internet, there was a crude formula of keyword quantity and placement that worked, but back then we didn’t have the luxury of content management systems, and the task would be handled by someone who knew the ‘dark art’ of coding.

'PR and SEO haven’t always been so closely interchangeable.' #PR #SEO Click To Tweet

Website copy was simply rewritten to multiply the number of keywords in it to have maximum effect, and I use the term ‘rewritten’ very loosely. When a writer talks about rewriting, we usually mean ‘making it better’, and this early SEO often destroyed the meaning of sentences and paid little heed to the rules of language, sentence construction or grammar.

Eloquence was not high on the list of priorities if it stood in the way of a good Alta Vista ranking (yes, we’re talking pre-Google here!).

There also existed a legitimate place where keywords could literally be stuffed into a page to tell the search engines what the page was about. It seems ridiculous now that a page could not rank for its own merit without a label, but to be fair, it was all new to everybody back then.

Google shook up SEO

When Google came along it shook up the search engine world by introducing an algorithm that measured a page’s popularity by the number of links it had to it.

But it wasn’t long before the tricksters learnt to abuse that system too.

I won’t bore you with a history of search engine optimisation – that would be duplicating good content widely available elsewhere – but needless to say it has evolved to a stage where abuse is getting penalised and results are getting more relevant.

It’s changed from being a technical job to a creative one; writers have replaced coders and content is created for users not the search engines.

'SEO changed from being a technical job to a creative one' #PR #SEO Click To Tweet

No longer are words stuffed into a page to make it attractive to search engines, in fact, as I often remark, the more humans try to work out search engines, the more search engines try to mimic human search behaviour.

Which is where Shepard’s next sound bite also rings true for PR.

 ‘‘The future of SEO is all about the user’

He explained how Google particularly is turning its attention to studying interactions with website content rather than just measuring keywords and backlinks. This is the fundamental way that search engines are changing. To be able to deliver a good set of results, search engines need to know not just that the result is relevant, but that the content is consumable.

If an article isn’t enjoyable, useful or valuable the user will bounce. If it is, the user will interact with it, by either clicking further through into the site or taking some other action.

And this is where PR comes in, because copy written by a writer has always been written for humans. For people to read.

As a PR company, we always write for users, and as a digital company, we also know how people consume copy on the web. That means we can write for a target audience, and then put it front of the people who are searching for it, or better still, create search traffic for your unique content – that’s the power of PR.

SEO and PR ‘blending’

In the film ‘Blended’ the two main characters who despise each other end up on a blind date in a foreign country. The ironic analogy with PR and SEO is as humorous as the film. They just can’t get away from each other, yet find themselves increasingly drawn. A love-hate relationship which would not have survived had they had an opportunity to disperse.

Both industries have a responsibility to meet a business demand, and they are much more aligned now than ever before  – good PR companies are recognising the need and value of providing articles that will help their clients online as well as in traditional print media, and SEO companies are now employing journalists and writers , recognising that change has come and their job function has become functional instead of formulaic.

Samuel Scott, who wrote on the Moz blog last last year (2014):

“SEO as an entity unto itself is quickly dying. The more SEO entails, the more the umbrella term becomes useless in any meaningful context. For this reason, it is crucial that digital marketers learn as much as possible about traditional marketing and PR.”

(Link: The Coming Integration of PR and SEO)

Not all PR companies are fully conversant with search, neither are many SEO companies up to speed with writing, but the trend is turning, and one day SEOs might be better at SEO than PRs. Or they’ll just ‘blend’.