The Coming Merger of SEO and Public Relations

I spent 8 years doing my own SEO while growing the site I co-founded,, 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!


#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.


  • Being both a hacker and a pr pro seems a strange mix, but I agree you need to know both now.

  • Thank you so much for this post. It is becoming more and more obvious that two hats are to be worn while building small businesses. You can’t be just a hacker or a pr pro anymore…you have to do both! Thanks again for insight, keep the posts coming!


  • Also, in addition to the human relations aspect, PRs are great at content, which goes to the heart and soul of relevance in a search engine. I also think that PRs have a lot to learn from SEOs to understand how powerful words can be. For instance, do a search for “Search Engine Optimization for Dummies” and see what I mean. One post with the right orientation can rank very highly in results. Now, I just need to develop some expertise as an SEO. Luckily, I have some great friends that are just that. I might be calling you. lol.

  • Paul Roetzer wrote an interesting article, called the dawn of the Inbound Marketing Agency. It encompasses your thinking:

  • Jeremy – Excellent post, and thanks for the link. I like your point that the traditional “soft skills” of PR and the tech skills of SEO can complement each other in very practical ways.

    Oh- and I love the reference to alchemy! That’s really what SEO reminds me of most; until Google releases their algorithm (in short, until Satan needs long underwear), there will always be an element of mystery, guesswork, and experimentation to SEO–along with a lot of methodical, repetitive grunt work.

    One last thing? There’s no “r” in my full first name (which is Katina).

  • hi jeremy. i agree with you 100%. all PR is now Online PR (and vice versa)…. and everything we do online is SEO. i guess we need some new labels – PageRank means that any kind of communications is Google-Juice… and the age-old split in marcoms disciplines is becoming irrelevant.

  • This is already happening for quite some time… David explained it most thoroughly though in his book The New Rules of Marketing and PR.

2 trackbacks

  • SEO Rank says:

    The Coming Merger of SEO and Public Relations…

    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 ……

  • Mystification, demystification, value assessment, and prediction markets — REDUX…

    A little explainer on my previous post, as I got some feedback on it.

    #1. Yes, the measure of the usefulness of an idea or theory is the number and the quality of web links it receives.
    – Google PageRank (the engine powering the world’s #1 medi…

4 pingbacks

  • […] I found a really great article addressing this subject, that addresses the problem and presents a great solution. And here’s a PR blog that seems to get it. … and then a zillion links to actual pr agencies that seem to get it.  But I dunno… I shudder thinking about people who just learned a few “seo terms” hang out a shingle for the service because it’s the “New PR Agency Fad.”  Can they create an honest set of expectations, a logical and scientific set of expectations for the customer, not the old “we guarantee first page placement in google within 30 days” rip-off, and know web technology and dare I say, coding skills?  Gasp! PR people with understanding of what an algorithm is and can write a little php or ajax?  So I guess what I am curious about, in these “SEO-PR” merged companies, do they put the engineers on one side of the building, and the pr people on the other side and erect an electrified barbed wire fence between the two, until meeting time, when everyone is thrown into a cage match, and the one that walks out with limbs still intact, wins? Or does everyone just mesh well together learning and sharing knowledge about technology and the art of public relations? Or are the PR people in these new “SEO-PR” merged companies actualy either geeks, that have been educated in PR, or PR people that have learned technology? Inquiring minds want to know. Posted on February 13, 2009 Comments […]

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