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Yesterday, via a tweet by @craigmcginty I was directed to a blog post by @jedhallam recommending that public relations experts should start making use of SEO for their clients. My issue with the blog post was that Jed suggested that SEO is a "technique" to be applied to help public relations efforts, and that he didn't seem to have a full understanding of what search engine optimisation consultants really do for their clients.
The main issues on the table as I see them are:
- Are SEO agencies giving clients the right advice about marketing and PR and do they have the expertise to offer this advice?
- Should public relations agencies be creating an SEO offering and do they have the right expertise to offer this service?
A bit of discussion in the comments and an article by Stuart Bruce weighing in with his thoughts later and I wanted to properly express my sentiments on the subject.
SEO and Public Relations are 2 sides of the same coin
I understand that many offline marketers and PR experts are wary of SEO agencies like I-COM claiming to offer a full range of (internet) marketing services. Certainly, SEO in its original incarnation was less about marketing and more about simply tricking search engines into sending you whatever traffic you could get. It was often practiced by internet entrepreneurs selling porn, viagra and trying to get you to their arbitrage site so you would click on a few PPC ads on your way to your final destination. Those who did it well made a lot of money.
As search engines have gotten better, the internet has become a thriving marketplace and most businesses have gotten online, however, SEO too has matured and is no longer just about traffic, it is, much like Public Relations, about reputation - although in the case of straightforward SEO, it's mainly about delivering a good user experience to build reputation. SEO in 2009 is both a marketing and a PR role.
The thing is, SEO is hardly ever straightforward and any good SEO consultant needs to know more than just how to optimise a site. He needs to know about good copywriting (whether writing it himself or comissioning it from others), he needs to understand usability, web design and development and public relations. He needs to know how to deliver a marketing message, the importance of branding to a business and he needs to be able to understand every business with which he works well enough to understand what its customers want and need.
I understand thoroughly why traditional Public Relations firms are beginning to enter the online arena. In fact, it is vital that they make sure that their clients engage in online PR and marketing because even if they don't have a website, people are likely to be talking about them online or looking for them online.
I also understand why traditional public relations experts are wary of SEO firms claiming to offer PR services - SEO has a bad reputation as an industry and there's a lot of SEO agencies promising the moon when they can't even deliver a handful of earth.
I certainly understand @jedhallam's idea that SEO copywriting is about keyword stuffing because a lot of not-very-reputable SEO agencies (and even some decent ones) focus more on getting a page ranked than they do on converting the visitor into a customer when they land on the page (Jed, feel your pain - I have the same issue with a lot of SEO copywriters - these guys give me a bad reputation and my anger over it keeps me up at night!)
Traditional PR agencies will come to love SEO consultants if they just get to know us better!
For all these reasons, I believe that it is vital that traditional marketers and PR specialists get to understand the role of SEO and SEM in an overall business strategy for their clients and they need to understand not only what a good internet marketing agency, such as I-COM, will do for their clients and how much we can help them, but also why we believe that it's no easier for traditional PR and marketing agencies to jump into the online arena than they feel it is for us to offer advice about offline activities.
Simply put, what we do works on the same principles as what they do, but putting it into practice is very different. Designing a website to which people respond is very different from designing for print. Writing web copy which users find interesting and informative but which ranks well in search engines too is very different from writing advertising copy or media releases. And what a brand needs to do to manage its reputation online is very different from what businesses do offline - it's a lot harder to deliver a personal experience online than off, for one.
At I-COM we offer a full service online package, but we also work closely with the marketing, advertising and PR agencies employed by our clients. One of the first things we ask every client for is a copy of all their marketing materials, copies of their offline press releases and any guidelines about their brand and their marketing message because we understand how vital it is to integrate the offline message with the online campaign. We can even track what offline marketing and PR is doing for online businesses using analytics.
In fact, good offline marketing and PR (in answer to @timhoang) can help SEO a great deal because it can get people looking at websites, writing about businesses and linking to their websites - offering very targeted traffic.
We also understand that many agencies specialise in one thing for a reason - to be really great at your job you need to specialise in one thing. It's why we have teams of people here for our clients made up of a web designer, a web developer, an SEO consultant and a SEM/PPC expert and we can draw upon copywriters and social media marketing experts as well.
This is also why we have developed our i-Wise program. Through i-Wise we work with other agencies to help them offer a wider variety of services to their clients and it enables us to partner with other agencies when our clients are in need of offline marketing, advertising and PR services that we do not yet offer.
Ultimately, I don't disagree in principle with anything either Jed or Stuart have said in their blogs, but I do feel that perhaps they both need a clearer understanding of what good SEO consultants can do and how much expertise we bring to the table.
Unless they are prepared to expand their businesses and take on dedicated internet marketers, PPC specialists, SEO consultants and social media marketers, working with a dedicated internet marketing agency, far from damaging their efforts, could help them provide far more for their clients than if they were to learn a little about SEO in order to do a bit more online for their clients.