PR Manager at Exquisite Air Charter. He leads relationships with the media and content creation for the L.A.-based private jet company.
I think about search engine optimization (SEO) and public relations (PR) as two siblings living under the same roof but following separate paths and taking different decisions along the road. One loves order, planning and following the rules and craves science (SEO), while the other is easygoing and artistic and lives in the moment (PR). Two distinctively different approaches to life, yet neither better nor worse.
Different Goals, Different Approaches
Figurative speaking aside, SEO and PR are not interchangeable and should be considered separate strategies in a communications plan. For instance, SEO managers looking to enhance every webpage in a website, thoroughly following best-practice guidelines for content optimization, should not expect that their PR colleagues will write the CEO’s opinion pieces under the same standards.
In fact, by SEO standards, PR would be counterproductive to the company’s content optimization strategy. PR is not meant to generate referral traffic from third-party websites, is not supposed to create leads and does not necessarily consider backlinks in its content (unless you pay). Furthermore, when pitching a press release, the more publications the merrier, yet SEO considers that the same article published on different sites hinders SEO strategy.
And the previous is only considering PR-based content where narratives are controlled to a large extent, like op-eds and press releases. These efforts get picked up by outlets and published according to their editorial standards while separating from a company’s SEO goals due to a lack of control over what and how it will be published. You could imagine that’s also the case with sporadic mentions in the press or interviews; if PR is measured through an SEO lens: utmost failure.
SEO effectiveness can make or break an entire business model; many today thrive thanks to savvy SEO professionals who understand how to make Google happy by quenching its thirst for question-answering content. For example, my company would be interested in queries like “where to land a private jet in Miami.” If you’re a private aviation business that depends on that market but isn’t seizing the opportunity to answer that simple question regarding one of the top global executive aviation hubs in the world, then you should rethink your SEO strategy.
On the other hand, PR is more dynamic and constantly evolving. It is most effective when it adapts to the discussion while adding value to the conversation. No one is debating about where to land a jet in Miami, but they may wonder whether a jet can run on sustainable aviation fuel when flying to Miami, if it’s a cost-efficient decision and what’s the public’s perception of this matter. See the difference? When writing an opinion piece on a certain topic, it’s detrimental to the story to consciously add the same keywords from your SEO strategy or backlinks to your website. Structure and PR often don’t get along.
You must have in mind that the editor who will receive that pitched article, if interested, will probably publish without links and does not want a commercial tone for the outlet’s readership—therefore, staying free and removed from your SEO standards is the way to go for every owned public relations piece.
SEO And PR Return On Investment (ROI)
Another large difference is how you measure the effectiveness of both efforts. While good SEO is hard to accomplish, you can measure and improve according to the metrics that you receive almost on an instant basis in some cases. How many users performed direct searches on your website? How many came from Google or third-party websites? Did your paid campaign land any visits? Simple, clear and reliable information.
PR is a different animal in that regard. I believe that it is not possible to measure the ROI of PR due to its shifting nature—mainly the impact of certain discussions on a company’s bottom line. While there are accepted expectations on how to perform PR from all involved parties, and certainly established goals when rolling out a PR push, it is very hard to project an outcome because of the lack of control over the externalities that are intrinsic to PR.
At my company, we perform both strategies while treating them separately: a well-established SEO approach that answers the important questions of potential private jet passengers, and a more long-range, tactical set of efforts to position the company in various industry discussions in front of key audiences.
Both are instrumental yet achieve very different results and require dedicated professionals to carry them out efficiently. These professionals should work in a coordinated manner, knowing what is happening in each one’s shop, and providing feedback, if necessary, while understanding that they are contributing with different building blocks to the same foundation. Together, yet apart.