Article

Matija Martek
Matija Martek 14 November 2017

Why PR pros dabble in SEO...and everything else

More and more often SEO terminology is used in explaining modern comms goals. Link building, domain authority, google ranking, keyword research, content SEO optimization, etc. A lot of it can be attributed to Gini Dietrich’s PESO model and analytical approach towards communications goals.

The rest can simply be attributed to a general direction of digital marketing. PR is taking on pretty much every digital specialty, yet, still shouldn't stray away from communications.

Being an avid reader of communications blogs, I noticed how more and more often SEO terminology is used in explaining modern comms goals. So, we’ve got link building, domain authority, google ranking, keyword research, content SEO optimization, etc. A lot of it can be attributed to Gini Dietrich’s PESO model and analytical approach towards communications goals. The rest can simply be attributed to a general direction of digital marketing. Let’s face it, pretty much the same terminology is used in content marketing as well. Yet, one thing I noticed is that literally none of the PR pros I follow (and believe me, there are plenty) have changed their expertise to SEO or anything else besides comms. To be fair, I’m almost certain none of them even entertained the idea.

Why’s that?

Many marketers and communicators love to emphasize (guilty!), is how much new skills we’ve had to develop. SEO being but one among many, including design, video editing, html, managing newsletter lists, advertising, etc. But we don’t call ourselves designers or advertisers either. The reason isn’t only that we aren’t. It’s that it’s not just us changing, business itself is different than it used to be. And yes, comms business nowadays includes SEO basics, as well as some design and video editing workarounds. And to be frank, it’s not the first time comms business is transforming.

Evolution of media is also part of the reason infamous business of propaganda changed to public relations. New information sources are bound to change the occupation dealing with them the most. And that is public relation, or nowadays, often interchangeably used as comms. While propaganda was about seizing the limited number of sources to not only affect, but hold exclusive to public perception. Due to increasing number of media sources at the time, it rapidly lost the exclusive and adapted the more subtle approach. Media relations and later on, public relations. Both of those changes were based on the number of new media, strategies and skills used to get to the goal - awareness and change of perception.

Looking at the newest set of PR skills add-ons, it’s not surprising that:
a) We have more and more specializations like internal comms, marketing communications or social responsibility communications.
b) Those who don’t specialise in any of subcategories are getting less likely to use the term public relations than comms.

In short, our work is evolving/transforming once again. But still, no matter our skills and effort, as communicators, we barely scrape the surface of areas of practice. And that is fine. It doesn’t mean some communicators don’t know ridiculously a lot about other practice areas. It means that if those skills are used as support for communications, shallowness does just fine.
Take link building. A practice both, SEOs and communicators do, but not from the same perspective. SEO specialists aim to increase your search rank. And they use a variety of methods to achieve that. On-site optimization and link building are but the basics. Communicators on the other hand aim to spread a message to influence reputation and awareness (and more often than not, sales). And while link building can definitely help in doing that, it can’t replace the communicators basic business - communication. Getting the message across. Which is also why no-follow link aren’t much of a reason for concern amongst communicator, while they are for link builders.

Did some of the most prominent online publications like Entrepreneur and Huffington Post face sudden decrease of pitches after banning do-follow links? Hell no. Communicators still want their readers, not just Google’s algorithm. 

Jacks of all trades?

Still, despite those differences, many communicators stack on new skills to prove their worth. It’s a praiseworthy attitude for as long as news skills help to accomplish primary goals, not overtake them. Why would anyone start designing infographics? To get a message across. So, why in the world would number of produced graphics be a comms goal instead of actual information on how the message was spread and received?

The same goes for link building. Sure, links help your search ranking and improve chances of someone getting across your message. But by themselves, they still won’t make a business impact, so it's never about a number of links but the outcome they provided.

So why do communicators keep on stacking the new skills? One of the reasons is evaluation. The deal is, social and online media brought us a whole lot of new numbers. There’s reach, impressions, engagement, interactions, shares, frequency and a whole lot of other metrics. Before I go too far, it is quite necessary to say none of those metrics are results. But they are useful indicators which taught us many things. For instance, we learned that people on social media prefer visual content over plain text. Hence, we started making infographics and putting visuals to pretty much all of our posts. At first, some may have borrowed a designer for those tasks. Quite soon, to most, it proved to be a process that’s too expensive or slow and they switched to
a) learning to design
b) using simplified tools like Canva or Piktochart.

Simply said, to improve engagement rate or reach, communicators started to design stuff. 

Still, no business thrives on social likes, but profits. So, communicators had to get a bit more analytical and not just creative with their approach. Among the challenges communicators faced with all the new media and sources of information is it’s vastness. Traditional service, press clipping, could no longer handle all the media input and communicators started using media monitoring and analytics tools like Mediatoolkit. 

Suddenly, you can check on online mentions in real time, get them sorted, filtered or tagged with a click and make coherent media analysis in virtually no time to show your communications effort. Communicators took on a simplified version of a job of media analyst or media intelligence advisor to improve communications. Still, some CEOs would ask do communications really make an impact on business? And then, instead of a blank stare and explaining how reputation and awareness influences business in theory, we got our numbers out. Google Analytics numbers, that is. Referrals, site visits, searches and domain authority are among indicators that show if communications are doing their job right. And better yet, they also directly influence sales and other business relevant results.

But wait, search ranks are something SEOs do, right? Sure, but communicators also got a hang of it to consistently show the effect PR has on business. 

Communications are a diverse business. While not necessarily going in-depth with design or SEO, those skills are among basic requirements for comms people. Like creating content. There’s plenty of disciplines comms people handle. And those disciplines are what comms are all about. It’s not about losing focus because of too many skills. It’s just the opposite, reaching the goal through (m)any skills necessary. Becoming Jack of all trades, to master one - communication. So yes, communicators in the end really do dabble with SEO. And everything else that drives results.

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