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Search engine marketing and SEO PR - Time to take control

Elemental Communications (Social Media Portal) - 27 June 2006

Search engine marketing and SEO PR - Time to take control

It is time for communications professionals to step up to the plate and take advantage of search engines writes Rachel Hawkes, account director, Elemental Communications

By now most of us have a good understanding of what SEO PR is, and why it’s important, but, as a business looking to undertake SEO PR, who is best equipped to meet your needs and bring the best return on investment?

SEO PR (now more commonly referred to as News Engine SEO) is really a cross-over between search, marketing and public relations, but does it (or should it) rest clearly within one discipline?  There is more to News Engine SEO than optimising a release with keywords and phrases that will bode well with search engines – so is it a case of marrying these skills sets in house or can these disciplines work side by side effectively?Photograph, Rachel Hawkes, account director, Elemental

To begin to answer this, let’s first look at the individual skill sets of each.

What are the skills of the search marketer?  Research and Web knowledge, experience and expertise with directories, portals and search engines and an aptitude to embrace new marketing technology  and the ability to identify and employ areas of online creativity.

What are the skills of the PR?  The ability to research and gather information, build relationships off and online, inter-personal and communication skills and an in-depth knowledge of traditional and digital media.

There are very few agencies, both on the PR and search side of the fence that really excel in this area though – why is that?  Are practitioners spreading themselves too thinly and is it a case of being a jack of all trades, but an expert at nothing?  The ideal skills sets needed to work to employ effective News Engine SEO are the ability to seamlessly integrate traditional and digital media and to reach out (and not steer away from) emerging media.  PRs are great at the former and historically speaking, not so great with the latter.  Traditionally, PRs do not rush to work with new mediums, but we are beginning to see this change in a really big way as news services and news distribution services start adopting search marketing models. With search marketers becoming more aware of the traditional media services and how they perform online, this trend is set to grow, perhaps nudging aside the area where traditional PR would sit and manage communications.

As communication professionals, the obvious answer may seem to lay with PRs – however, there are far too many budding writers in this field that write fluffy releases that are not at all suitable for general release let alone optimising it for a News Engine.  It also tends to be these “fluffy writers” that have a really bad habit of not including URLs in their press releases.  Why would you not want your audience to know where they can go to learn more?  And, perhaps more importantly, why wouldn’t you want to learn more about your audience and learn how well the various resources you have posted and communicated your press release have performed?  Brands can do all of the above (not to mention help with boosting your Web performance) by including a simple URL – common sense yes?

That said more and more PR professionals are taking this medium very seriously – as well they should – and developing specialist skill sets within their consultancy in order to win the marketing dollars from the search marketers that are hungrily biting at their tails.  With an in-depth knowledge of the operations of search engines and excellent copywriting skills that search professionals possess we will continue to see more SEO agencies add News Engine SEO to their list of offerings.

So, where do traditional marketers slot into this equation (apart from holding the purse strings); especially as they are now embracing search because of its proven efficiency and return on investment? All parties should be heading in the same direction especially as campaigns should address and integrate elements of off and online media and bring all essences online in a seamless way.

News Engine SEO is not a silver-bullet and should not be looked to as a replacement to traditional communication.  We too often see a release that is not a strong story, but is put online regardless for the search engine optimisation – which is a fruitless exercise.  There will naturally be a time when a release is not attractive to offline media, but online media (especially when stories need to turned around quickly) may be interested and brand owners should look to take their news to those resources and then employ News Engine SEO.

With almost 30 million people using a News Engine every month, it’s obviously important to make sure organisations are found under the right keywords and phrases, but there are other ways of positioning a brand and have it ranked highly in an engine, such as writing articles for online resources, ethical and organic strategic linking, participating in forums and news groups and blogging.

If you ask five professionals on both sides (Search and PR) which discipline is best placed to manage News Engine SEO you are likely to get a difference answer each time.  But for us at Elemental, as the industry stands today there is no definitive answer and businesses should instead use their better judgement and look to agency ability.  Some PR agencies have notably more SEO experience than others, and the opposite is true for search companies.

PRs should step up to the plate and take the lead here, with solid skills in relationship building they are well placed to build relationships with the required online resources and tap into the skills of SEO professionals if they don’t already possess these skills in-house.

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