TL:DR Play nice, you have a lot in common. Both sets of skills are and continue to be, despite the changing environment, essential to organisations. Plus, you can actually really help each other out.
PR and SEO are two disciplines which have been around for years. As both areas continue to develop and we see further channels coming to the fore, the boundaries get blurred and friction can and often does tend to occur. I have always found it ironic that within the PR community you have a group of highly trained competent professionals who find it hard to adapt their skills to the digital environment. Likewise, within the SEO community you have people who are working in a fast-changing environment, trying to second guess an increasingly sophisticated algorithm but struggling to see the wider picture. Add into this people's insecurities at dealing with something new, plus tightening client budgets and you have a heady mix of pressure and emotion which serves to block progress.
The primary purpose of PR is to gain favourable publicity for the organisation or individual who is being represented. This calls for a careful understanding of all the different elements of the client in question, the current news environment and how to generate the best angle or way of presenting them to get the coverage and be mutually beneficial to both the client and by extension, the readers of the publications who carry the story.
In SEO, you have an industry striving to gain attention for its client on a single medium; search engines, by making the site look as relevant and authoritative as possible. To do this well, you need to have a keen understanding of the industry in question, the state of the current market as driven and indicated by search volume and how the two can be combined to achieve something positive for the brand and the end user.
There is common ground to be found between the two disciplines and to some extent both areas have been overtaken by events. The move away from print and towards shorter form online content and fracturing of audiences presents challenges for PR. The development by Google of ever greater layers of sophistication within its algorithm means the quick fixes and keyword stuffing techniques previously used as SEO tactics are a thing of the past.
In its place, there is an environment where the genuine actions and weight of authority behind a brand are the things that place it in the best position for success. To achieve this PR professionals must be able to operate within the online area with its increased measurements and analytics. Advertising Equivalent Value (AEV) will not hold sway here. Equally, sorting out some meta tags is not going to be enough for SEOs and old war stories of how they've wrangled Google in the past for previous clients, are just that, old war stories.
Instead, SEOs need to move beyond the tried and tested practices of running through the standard on-page, technical and basic link building techniques and start thinking in terms of brand and the wider reach and activity of an organisation. The interaction a brand can gain via a comprehensive SEO activity which captures people’s attention at the start of their journey, and then helps them by genuinely answering their query or providing a joyous interaction (this is an interaction that is weighted towards the customer not one that tries to elicit an immediate sale for the brand) should be the goal.
In some terms, we have come full circle. Everything is different but nothing has changed. People are still looking for something to help them. With a history of analysing keyword, search data and trends, SEOs are ideally placed to facilitate this conversation for brands at all levels of the conversion funnel and all areas of the organisation.
Similarly, PR professionals with their grasp of the elements that make a great story and captures people's interest, as well as what angle of the brand to present to people at each stage of the journey are ideally positioned to assist organisations with the move towards brand being used as a major ranking factor. As a brand's presence is fragmented across more and more platforms both on and offline, it is essential to have a team that understands the nuances of the message and how to carry it with consistency across all levels - and we haven't even started talking about voice yet.
However, when the two teams come into contact there is often suspicion and mistrust, rather than cooperation and understanding. Insecurities abound and doors are closed. Outreach for SEO looks too much like traditional PR but with not of the traditions and finesse. PR looks like it could help a brand gain authority online but the content generated often feels like it has a single purpose rather than any meaningful longevity which will serve the brand. Also, coverage can fail to get the bite it deserves online, failing to achieve any traction for the brand. Whilst everyone is protecting their bit, shit is moving on and leaving them both behind.
By joining forces, melding the skills each discipline already has, the team can achieve fantastic results for the brand. By leaving the snark behind and following the process (which is often the same for content generation whether it is for PR or SEO or content purposes) great things can be achieved for the brand. The fact that the process is the same should be a point of reassurance rather than a point of contention. Likewise, the fact that objectives are different for PR and SEO should show that neither will eat each other’s dinner. Instead there is enough food to go around.
To finish on a stronger metaphor, too often watching the two different teams takes me back to the school disco where everyone was stood in their different groups, not interacting and definitely not dancing. By taking the plunge you might just find that it works and you will have more fun.
Steps to work well together:
- Make sure you focus on the wider brand strategy and encompass activity from all areas of the organisation
- Define what each teams’ objectives are - these are often complementary & it is important to know what success looks like from the start
- Define how this will be measured & make sure this is something tangible the brand can use. e.g. Revenue.
- Share the idea generating process. Different facets of the same idea or campaign can be used to support the different activities
- Be generous and build trust with the people you work with
- Help each other do great work
If the above points sound idealistic it’s probably because they are. However, this doesn't make them wrong it just makes them scarce.
Take a look at Malcolm Slade's post on the importance of brand as a ranking factor
Also check out Kirsty Hulse, founder of Manyminds, presentation at Search Leeds: Content marketing tips that won’t break the bank (or your spirit)