SEO needs better PR, but is not ‘disgusting’

Although ridden with problems, dismissing search engine optimization is extremely shortsighted.

Earlier this summer, a man much smarter than me wrote on the subject of how search engine optimization (SEO) disgusted him. A week later, the post ran on PR Daily.

This type of post has been written in a variety of ways on thousands of different blogs over the last few years. It’s almost formulaic. SEO is dead/evil/disgusting = pageviews and links.

But regardless of one’s motivations, the author, Mark Schaefer, has every right to have this opinion. And in his experience, he’s 100 percent correct. He spoke to one “CEO of a leading Midwest search firm” and heard about a bunch of tactics that many would consider spammy. He also gets a ton of comment spam in the name of poorly thought-out “SEO.”

Fair enough, those are his experiences.

There is no doubt that SEO, much like PR, has its ethical issues. And when the article was reposted on PR Daily, for more than a few PR pros, this article was enough to dump on SEO as a relevant marketing strategy. That’s unfortunate, and potentially dangerous to one’s career.

I love that social media allows any and all of us to share our opinions. But I learned long ago that one should never take other’s advice as gospel, or worse, dismiss a marketing strategy (or tactic) based another’s experience. Never assume another’s advice on SEO (or social media or blogging or media relations) is relevant to your business and your marketing communications strategy.

Dismissing SEO because of one opinion is like talking to the (former) editors at “News of The World and deciding that all journalism is disgusting. Or that email marketing is criminal because our spam folders are full of Viagra pitches. Even better, should anyone dismiss PR as a viable business because of a high-level smear campaign?

How silly would that sound? Besides, ignoring SEO and its inherent best practices is a terrible idea, especially for PR practitioners. In fact, this ignorance for SEO is at odds with the shiny objects PR wants to own, namely social media and content strategy, marketing and development.

Contrary to what you’ve heard, PR and social media cannot update, +1, like or engage themselves into digital marketing success alone. In fact, SEO is much more successful in driving revenue and traffic at the moment prospective customers finalize their purchasing decisions than just about anything.

For example:

  • According to one large publisher, 41 percent of external traffic to their massive websites comes directly from search. Compared to 11 percent from social.
  • According to a comScore study, buyers “who purchase or convert online are almost as likely to use a combination of search and social resources (48 percent) as they are to use just search (51 percent) along the path to purchase.” Leaving a magical 1 percent making purchases on social alone.

Please note which marketing disciplines were not mentioned.

There’s no doubt that SEO itself needs better PR. For example, SEO goes far beyond keyword stuffing and comment spamming, and gets into site architecture, smart design, site speed, user personas, content development and more. But for whatever reason, SEO can’t shake the bad association.

SEO can be ugly, but to dismiss SEO as a viable, successful and incredibly trackable marketing vehicle is extremely shortsighted. I am certain that was never the author’s intent. And if you don’t think large PR firms aren’t jumping in this arena, you’re kidding yourself.

To be as relevant as possible to your audience, maximize your social strategy and increase the shelf life of your content, PR cannot dismiss SEO. And as just about everything goes digital, the future of PR may depend on it.

Dominic Litten develops strategies for search, social media and online and traditional PR that get clients pulled through the pinhole. You can reach him on Twitter via @djlitten. A version of this article originally ran on PR at Sunrise.

Topics: PR

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