I spent 8 years doing my own SEO while growing the site I co-founded, ApartmentRatings.com, from absolutely nothing into one of the top apartment-hunting sites.  I eventually reached the conclusion that my best SEO strategy was PR because it just seemed to work.  Now, I think this may apply to many more (all?) companies and point to a merger between PR and SEO in the near future.

Steve Rubel and Katrina French (by way of Jason Falls’s blog) got me thinking about my experience and that, thanks to Google, SEO and PR are ultimately becoming the same activity.  Same strategies, same tactics, same metrics.  Steve writes, “Google Page Rank is the ultimate way to measure online influence“, and Katrina says, “search and social are…intrinsically linked.”

So if you believe that the goal of PR is to get influencers to bring attention to your client or company, and Google PageRank is the ultimate measure of influence (and since we know that PageRank flows from one party to another vis-a-vis links), then a central goal of PR should be to acquire valuable, PageRank-passing links.

If you apply this to social media (which traditional PR agencies are now beginning to seriously engage), as Katrina points out, all these things that we’re doing in social media– building relationships, participating in conversations– all ultimately relate to search.  What’s search driven by? PageRank. Which goes back to links.  So this is all a big PR strategy.

I predict that we’re about to see a merger between two fields that couldn’t be more different.  Public Relations pros are (and I’ll generalize gratiutiously) some of the smoothest and nicest people you could meet– they are fantastic at building relationships.  SEO’s are, to put it nicely (and I count myself among them), usually geeks and hackers who have been toiling away in ways only alchemists would appreciate.

Lately, SEO’s have been talking about the fact that 75% of what moves the search results needle are off-page factors, and highest among them is link-building.  Yet the old methods are starting to falter — nowadays it’s about linkbait, better link pitches, press release optimization, and social media engagement.  And that pushes us toward doing things the old-fashioned way with human relationships.  You simply cannot expect to pitch bloggers, promote linkbait, ask webmasters for links, propose link-positive content partnerships, comment for dofollow links, promote your content on Twitter, etc. without quality relationships.  As Chris Brogan suggest, get to know people first, then ask.

For a lot of SEO’s, the prospect of our jobs relying on relationship-building is a little scary, which is why the merger with PR is inevitable.  PR people’s skills are simply too relevant and valuable to this process.  For PR, the Google PageRank paradigm is simply too dominant a measure of influence for clients not to expect their agencies to direct their efforts to improve it.  So look out, these two industries are about to merge.  It should be fun!

Updates/Comments

#1 Response to the argument that PageRank isn’t the best influence measure.

A few folks have argued that PageRank is not the best measure of influence for a variety of reasons.  Let me make a distinction– I care about measuring my influence in terms of the PageRank that I acquire– not particularly the nominal PageRank of influencers who link to me.  You can’t go around evaluating every prospective influencer by the PageRank stamped on their head.  However, your PageRank is a valid measure of your online influence compared to your competitors (which is ultimately what matters in the search results).

#2 Response to the argument that nominal PageRank is inaccurate.

I don’t want anyone to be confused that I’m saying they should focus on the nominal PageRank that’s displayed in the toolbar.  It’s a subtle distinction, but somewhere in the Google universe there exists a very precise, up-to-date calculated value of PageRank which I’ll call “true PageRank” that is factored into your position in search results.  For stats folks, the “true PageRank” is like the true regression line.  It exists in theory, but we can only see it via estimation, which contains error. Anyway, the point is that we should be focusing on activities that drive up our “true PageRank,” and evaluating how we spend our time and resources in light of it.

Jeremy Bencken

Jeremy Bencken co-founded BuzzStream and served as Chairman in our first few years. Before that, he co-founded ApartmentRatings.com, which he grew into the leading global source for ratings and reviews of apartments before selling it to Internet Brands. Currently, Jeremy runs Wordloop, a performance-based content marketing company in Austin, Texas. Jeremy also serves as an advisor to Sparefoot and inHabi, and is a mentor with Capital Factory. You can find Jeremy on Twitter or Google Plus.

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