A letter from a Concerned PR Professional

Dear SEO Company,

Having asked what SEO looks like in post penguin and panda world, I am afraid. Very afraid. Because it looks like PR (public relations).

As a freelance PR person, of course, new entrants to the market bring prices down, and for the inexperienced PR purchaser, having an SEO person do your PR at the same time as your SEO seems like a great idea. So there’s the selfish bit out on the table.

But years of experience have gone into making me a good PR, and my bigger fears are for PR in the hands of the inexperienced.

Fear one: for the client

PR needs proper consideration of reputation.

Many a PR will have the scars from where companies have given the PR job to the MD’s PA or marketing assistant. It’s an uphill battle, because there’s a lot goes into cooking up a great PR person.

Most SEO people will be familiar with the concept of the press release.  Many will be able to craft one – there’s enough information out there to help. But all too often I’ve seen (and even fallen victim to) press releases that have gone out unapproved.

The direst consequences of this could be a stock market de-listing or a stock price denting bloody nose from the SEC (U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission). The more likely consequences are a missed opportunity. Sticking a release on a press release site because it gives you a nice little link from a good site is all well and good, but if the release goes to the right places you might get more links.

And, frankly, why do you think you’re doing SEO? The answer isn’t, as you might think, to be top of the SERPs. It’s the reason why people want to be in the number one slot. (Still not got it? Follow the money….) If you’re paying for the time and distribution costs, why not make the release something that will have the single most valuable ‘conversion goal’ and push people closer to the sale.

A good PR person will have a good grounding in the legal, reputational and wider marketing issues than the transactional link builder.

Fear two: pity the poor journalist

PR’s have a carefully balanced relationship with journalists and genuine blog properties. It’s based, at its most productive, in mutual need and respect.

Suddenly having the entire SEO industry turn its sights on higher quality media sites must have them quaking.

Trust me, some journalists can barely tolerate PR people. If the number of calls and amount of spam rises exponentially, SEO could not only eat itself, but PR in the process.  Things have long overdue for an overhaul, granted, but viewing media sites as simply high value link generating opportunities devalues them, their purpose, and loftier ideals such as a free press.

So can you do my job?

I’d say that depends on what kind of SEO you’re doing. If you are the kind of SEO who codes and hates picking up the phone, probably not. If you’re already undertaking blogger outreach, you probably can.

But please, don’t do it without understanding what you’re doing. You’ll just make life miserable for yourselves. For journalists. And for me!

Yours sincerely

Worried from Reading

About Claire Thompson

Claire Thompson has has 15 years PR experience and runs Waves PR, which she founded. She has great taste in wine and lousy taste in music. The two are not unconnected!

31 thoughts on “A letter from a Concerned PR Professional

  1. Love it, love it, love it!! Great article, Claire. My 10 year PR background is going to stand me in good stead following Penguin/Panda, so I WON’T be one of the SEOs messing up your industry. 🙂

  2. Yes! Thankyou for this. PR is a totally different job and skillset to the one that most people who describe themselves as “SEOs” have. It seems like pretty twisted logic to assume that, because you do SEO, and SEO has (in part) become PR, you should expect to be successful at PR.

  3. “Suddenly having the entire SEO industry turn its sights on higher quality media sites..”

    This is just [again] painting the picture of SEOs as dark art coders/hackers/spammers who SUDDENLY because of Panda/Penguin discovered that they now have to get links from ‘high quality media sites’ instead of the cheap article directory spinning & submitting and cheap directory link buying that they did before. 


    Every SEO out there has a slightly different skill set. Some are coders and link buyers, some are also good at writing copy, some are also good at networking and schmoozing, some are also good at creating link bait, some are good at working with a client’s PR agency, some are good at working with the client’s social media manager, etc..

    Proper SEO is more than optimising page titles and buying links

    Proper PR is more than sending copy to PRweb

    Proper Social Media marketing is more than setting up a Twitter account

    In today’s SEO/SEM environment only integrated campaigns will give you a proper edge above the competition. The question is not “Can SEOs replace PR?” or “Can PR replace SEO” [or “Can social media marketing / inbound marketing” replace SEO and PR]. The question is “How can SEO, PR and Social Media work together to achieve the best possible integrated holistic campaign for the client?”

    One thing though: If the client doesn’t have a PR agency or a social media manager, an SEO with a very broad skill set can achieve some good basic marketing results beyond ranking & traffic increase. On the other hand, I wouldn’t ask a PR person to do SEO for my site. I also see  PRs struggling with blogger outreach because they don’t have the technical knowledge that is necessary to determine authority and therefore value of a blog post.  My 2 pence. PR, SocMedia & SEO = UNITE! ; )

    1. However, it takes far more than technical knowledge to “determine authority and therefore value of a blog post”. That technical bit is actually very easy and there are lots of free/paid for tools that let you do it. However, the value frequently isn’t in anything you can measure online. A blog with a very low rank can be far more valuable than one with a high rank if you know enough about the author and who reads it and their real world worth. The technical bit can be taught/trained easily, the understanding bit is far more down to experience.

      1. I’d agree (and run a company that offers some of that self same training – shameless plug) although given that we’re talking on State of Search, we’re engaging with a primarily SEO audience, whose interest from a search perspective is more often in reputation (rank) with search engine than ‘real world’ reputation.

    2.  “This is just [again] painting the picture of SEOs as dark art
      coders/hackers/spammers who SUDDENLY because of Panda/Penguin discovered
      that they now have to get links from ‘high quality media sites’ instead
      of the cheap article directory spinning & submitting and cheap
      directory link buying that they did before.”

      Yeah, those are some of the tactics a lot us have been using Ingo! Doesn’t mean that’s ALL you do or know, though – sometimes you’ve just got to make the best of what you’ve got to make the biggest impact on your client’s organic traffic.

      I do agree with you that the best results can be seen when PR, social and SEO work together. But that’s exactly why I feel that, while working together, we should focus on our specialist areas (unless you really have a lot experience in both fields, which I think makes you something of a rarity). I wouldn’t want a PR telling me which keywords to target for an SEO campaign, any more than a PR would want me to advise them on how to write a press release that will get the story covered in a major newspaper. If we have SEOs taking on roles they’re not proficient in (because that’s what SEOs do), there’s potential embarrassment or (as Claire mentions) worse, and it’ll all come back on the client.

    3. I’m with you Ingo – I think we’re ‘on the same page’. We all need to do what we do from a place of knowledge and make sure we use the best possible people to do the job, or skill up to the point where we get the best out of what we’re doing — and understand the consequences. 

      I know you probably do. But unless I’m just very unlikely to be sitting where I am, you’re not in the majority, and a lot of SEOs are trying to do PR without understanding the wider implications. Over the past month I’ve seen clients’ blog content scraped and turned into press releases; potentially good news stories dumped on what SEOs have described high value PR sites just for the link (without being shared with journalists who might have used the story); a story placed on a wholly inappropriate domain, upsetting a staff member; content that was related but not ‘on message’ written and placed, with no concern for the sales team; and so it goes on. These things don’t necessarily matter from a straight  SEO perspective, but in a reputational context they matter lots.Work together, absolutely. But let’s make sure there’s a level of respect and understanding for what we’re doing.(Rest assured, I would never try and SEO someone’s site, BTW.)

  4. Hi,

    I wrote about this on my site the other day, reversing SEO to a point where was there any point in doing it in the first place!



    Well, where do I start? The word “SEO”? To me it’s a bit of a dirty word at the moment as it’s meant to be a way of improving your rankings in search engines and Google, but, as most of us know, but don’t really like to admit it, it’s a way of scamming Google’s search engine to get your pages ranking higher and to bring in that gold rush of traffic.

    But, and it’s a big but (and I’m talking Sir Mix-A-Lot size), one day all your manipulative efforts do and will come back to haunt you in the form of big hairy Pandas and slippery Penguins that like to site on your site for a bit until it cracks open! And, unfortunately, there is no cute fledgling there to greet you with a free £50 AdWords voucher.

    First came the cute Panda, Google adopted it and made it one of the most hated animals in the SEO industry. This fury creature decided that if your website’s content was extremely poor, scraping off other sites or just a thin affiliate site with their feeds on to make a buck or two then you were going to be downgraded somewhat in the SERPs and your keywords and traffic would never see the light of day again, until you sort the issues out.

    That all started back in 2011 and now; in 2012, we have the Penguin to contend with. The biggest issue we have with the slippery Penguin is its ability to show all those backlinks from nefarious sites with high density of anchor text to pages to artificially boost your rankings. Guess what, those days are coming to an end too!

    It sounds a bit negative but as Google crack down on manipulative SEO practices and with every update, an SEOs job gets harder and harder. Will the roll of a sole SEOer be there in a few years’ time?

    My opinion is that unless you are doing PPC full time or running a social media campaign then start expanding your skill set. Learn how to code HTML/CSS and possibly PHP/JQuery etc. Turn your hand to marketing, online and offline and data analysis. And, if you’re creative, get Photoshop and Illustrator out and get practicing creating web banners. Make yourself useful and indispensable!


    The world of SEO will change in 18 months.

    1. I’m sure that someone will start using a different word for SEO,but there will always be a need for experts who understand what Google – or whichever search engine emerges in the meantime – wants.

      Great SEOs are doing really valuable, hard work to ascertain what Google wants so that clients give it to them.

      I don’t think it matters where you sit, or what you do – it will be a variety of things that create success.  But if you’re going to do something, do it well and understand the consequences.

  5. In my experience, the worst pitch from a PR person is candy compared to pitches from most link building SEOs. However, those SEOs that are truly adaptable, actually exceed the quality of pitching from experienced media relations pros. 

    So it goes with anything – a spectrum of skills and talents creates a diversity of good and bad experiences. My company started as a PR firm in 2001 and I turned it into a digital marketing agency a few years later. After incorporating SEO and PR for over 10 years, it’s an exceptionally powerful match. Each brings it’s own talents to the table and combined are even more powerful now in a search world of Panda and Penguin (do I hear a Zebra?) than ever. 

    1. I think the Zebra will be here next year, me and Carly Wood chatted about this and she thinks it will be a Snow Leopard. Either way the update will be to penalise people that have probably over done it on guest posting or something else that becomes prevalent in the link building community.

      Back to animals:-) All these animals are black and white. Are Google trying to say that things really are that simple?

      If you’re Black Hat – Goodbye.

      If you’re White Hat, enjoy what’s coming your way!

      Ponderoso time…

  6. “Suddenly having the entire SEO industry turn its sights on higher quality media sites must have them quaking.”

    Actually, I think the exact opposite is happening. Seasoned SEOs who are banking increasingly more on content strategies driven by a client site’s USP and unique tone of voice are less reliant on big media links, and more on engagement metrics in social media and the blogosphere.

    If anything, the golden years of going to great lengths to get a link from big name media sites are probably over. If anything, PR in the SEO mix is losing potency and relevance…

    That’s my experience, at least.

    1. That particular comment was written in the context of the media rather than a general PR context.

      I would argue that content strategies, social media outreach and blogger outreach are part of PR – an area where PR and SEO overlap strongly, which rather proves my point. Tactics like content creation,  social media outreach and blogger relations are so visible, have such a high PR implication that they really need a sound reputational understanding to get maximum value. (Let’s balance this out though: I would argue that for certain types of blogger relations, many SEOs have a head start because of their analytical understanding of the online space and how to attribute values to blogs.)I think the fact that you’re already adopting content strategies driven by a client site’s USP and unique tone of voice says you’re already doing PR. But I would urge some caution. If there’s a difference between a client site’s USP and unique tone of voice, and the client’s USP and unique tone of voice, and you’re sticking that out in social spaces, you may well end up needing that other tool in PR’s kitbox – crisis management.

      1. “I think the fact that you’re already adopting content strategies driven by a client site’s USP and unique tone of voice says you’re already doing PR.”

        No, we’re doing SEO. Just like SEO has overlap with web development, and copywriting, and information architecture, and increasingly with social media marketing, it also has more overlap with PR.

        But we’re still doing SEO. What we do is fuelled by different objectives and strategies, and just because the tactical execution overlaps doesn’t mean PR’s paradigm and frameworks apply equally to SEO.

          1. No, it means your use case and frame of mind when you walk in to the shop are entirely different. You’re not looking at products, you’re looking for your friend. Your success metrics are different as well – not finding a product to purchase, but finding your friend. Superficially your behaviour might look the same – you walk in to a shop and look around – but it’s a different thing entirely.

            Just like SEO and PR. 🙂

          2. Sure. But you still have a point of coincidence, where understanding the roadmap and the dangers of walking in the road deserve due attention. It was probably a bad analogy, but I’m running out of energy. You are not delivering full value to the client if you’re not considering the wider impact of what you’re doing. Why settle for a purely search engine driven result when what you’re already doing could be harnessed to really delight your clients? (And SEOs are in a far better position that PR people to harness the SEO skills because of the constant change and complexity. The wider PR skills will be easier for them to understand and adopt than the other way around). Agree to differ?

          3. You’re going to see a friend, the fact you are going to the shop to do it today is irrelevant to the underlying task of seeing your friend. Next week you will see her at pilates.

          4. I’m sure you were just being ironic, but it’s not the shop, it’s the walking – we’re both doing the same thing. The analogy probably ends there, really. Except that we both need to know that the pavements a safer place to walk, directions etc.  

            In SEO PR terms, doing the same thing for different reasons means that if we don’t have a broad awareness of what each other is doing, we miss an opportunity to get the full value of each others work at best, and can create an almighty f* up at worse. 

            It’s just a case of getting smarter, and getting better value for clients. Who cares who does it? (And my money would be on SEO s picking up PR skills more easily than PRs picking up good SEO skills, incidentally). 

            What matters is that it’s done well and away from a place where too little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

          5. If you walk to the shop with the intention of seeing a friend you’re loitering, if you walk to the shop to shop there you’re a customer. Intent’s important in everything we do.

            The argument is fundamentally that SEOs are treading on PR’s turf. That argument’s equally valid the other way around though – PR’s are supposed to speak to journo’s – so what are they doing speaking to bloggers? The answer’s a lot simpler than the article makes-out:

            Where the client has both an SEO team and a PR team then you have a good relationship between the teams to work out who will be able to get the best effect with each target – and how you can be mutually supportive. 

            Where the client only has one of the two, then naturally the one that’s operating will have free reign to get as good an outcome for the client as possible – no matter the target (reasonably).

            Will this make it more difficult for journos? Only in the same way as increasing the amount of PRs would – the same argument could be used for putting an arbitrary cap on how many people can be PRs 🙂

          6. Sorry James – missed your response. 
            I think you’ve encapsulated my point really. Intent’s important to the shop and shopkeeper, but not to other road users.If you’re walking along the road (the tactic) you need to know where you might get run over. It won’t serve the shopkeeper if the road gets closed because of what you’re doing. The analogy’s probably exhausted – I am :-)I think we’re *probably* on the same ‘hymnsheet’? SEOs with the will to do media outreach/content creation etc – are as capable of PR as the next person (probably more so in many cases, as they are often more analytical and research based) and we have no God given right either way – but an understanding of the implications for the client are important, so it’s important to have at least a broad understanding of the fuller implications of what you’re doing. It’s absolutely not a one way street – many PRs are woefully remiss at getting full client benefit out of what they’re doing.And I I think you’d get a medal if you could put a cap on the number of PRs  🙂

  7. I think there are a couple of good points in there but I don’t agree with the overall premise of the post. 

    There are always ‘Jack of all trade’ types who think they can just do someone else’s job, but it’s never a threat to the industry as a whole. It’s only the same as some marketing manager claiming they know all about SEO, it’s not going to kill the industry, it’s just annoying.

  8. Dear Claire Thompson,

    I think you should be more concerned about yourself and the state of the PR industry. Search marketing has decimated the industry and will continue to erode at PR budgets putting many one-man-bands, like yourself, out of business.  

    Instead of moaning about a bunch of hybrid SEO people spamming ‘your’ journalists so hard, they won’t listen to anyone which would be detrimental to you and your tiny company, think about what you need to do to stay ahead of the curve. SEO’s are smart, self taught ‘street-fighters’ that can adapt quickly and will take the bread right out of your hungry ‘PR hands’. Literally. 

    So quit moaning and start adapting or run the risk of a career change. 

    Chris Angus – Warlock Media

    1. I wasn’t moaning at all – and if you bothered to read it, you’ll see tha tpart of what you’re repeating is exactly what I am saying – SEOs could wipe the floor with PRs. 

      However, if SEO professionals and PR people are doing the same things, albeit to different ends, what they do affects each other and they need to have an awareness of each others disciplines. Frankly, *good* SEO is a 24/7 job, PRs couldn’t take it on. SEOs by contrast, can take on some traditional PR tactics.However, screwing up someone’s reputation with journalists, customers or anyone else, just to hit the number one spot on Google doesn’t serve anyone. All I’ve suggested is that if youas an SEO haven’t already – and lots have – you might want to skill up.I’m not moaning – you go ahead and screw things up for your customers if you feel like it. I’m sure they’ll love you for it. Might I also suggest that if you want to respond to an article, you respond to the content and refrain from personal insults. It makes you sound like w**ker. For the record, I’m deliberately self employed, *have* cross trained, and am doing just fine as a ‘tiny company’. I grew out of the need for number of employees as a metric for judging how successful – or otherwise – I am a long, long time ago. Claire

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