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Industry commentators have been keen to sound the death knell for traditional SEO in the wake of recent updates (and full-on algorithm switch-outs) from Google.

It's arguable that they have good grounds to make such dramatic claims. In its never-ending battle to have its search spiders behave more like humans, the big G has increasingly moved away from rewarding those who tick the boxes on technical elements and has instead placed a growing emphasis on social signals and quality content.

However, I'm of the opinion that although SEO is here to stay, its evolution will lean toward the more traditional practice of public relations (PR) in the coming years. In this article I'll try to…

  • Back up this claim by looking at industry statistics
  • Put forward a case as to why PR can be highly complementary to SEO
  • And, above all, offer some suggestions about how marketers can capitalize on this trend

Facts and Figures

As I noted, Google wants its robots to behave more like a human when displaying search results. Accordingly, the general consensus among the experts is that more weight is being placed on factors such as inbound links and Google +1s. The way that personalized results are being rolled out to more and more users, and the introduction of Authorship, are further indications of that trend.

Similarly, the changes are aptly summed up in the search giant's recently revised guidance on how webmasters can improve the ranking of their websites: "In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by creating high-quality sites that users will want to use and share."

And that's exactly where PR excels. Once you have the technical elements down, the focus switches to consistently producing valuable, shareable content that appeals to your key audiences—a task that traditional PR agencies have reams of experience in.

But don't just take my word for it. In the UK at least, marketers are plunging more and more resources into bolstering the online profile of their brands via PR. For instance:

  • The Public Relations Consultants Association found that 72% of PR agencies were offering SEO services in 2013.
  • The most in-demand digital PR services were content creation, outreaching/engaging with influencers, and social networking strategy.
  • More than 60% of agencies have increased their digital marketing budgets, with a particular focus on monitoring, SEO, content creation, and PPC/online advertising.
  • Compared with 12 months earlier, agency revenues from digital sources have increased significantly.
  • Businesses in Britain are increasingly devoting resources to social media; though most of them are keeping this activity in-house, a significant portion are splitting responsibility for social with an agency or completely outsourcing altogether.
  • In the vast majority of cases, responsibility for content creation and social media is handled in-house by the PR and communications team.
  • There's also growing confidence in the ROI gained from social media, with levels nearly matching those of traditional PR activities.

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image of Gerald Heneghan

Gerald Heneghan is head of content at Roland Dransfield PR, based in Manchester, UK. He combines a background in journalism with Internet savvy and a genuine passion for technology and search.

LinkedIn: Gerald Heneghan

Twitter: @GeraldHeneghan