Is building links the value of PR?

Agency founder Libby Howard considers the roles of PR and SEO in the marketing mix.

We care about results at IC.  We want to show clients the business value of our work – which means measuring business outcomes (did we help to change sentiment, drive more traffic to a website?) – not just reporting outputs (press releases, coverage).

This isn’t easy, and it’s one reason why both agencies and clients can be tempted to over-rely on link-building as a measure of success.

Setting a KPI for the number of links your PR campaign can generate back to the client’s website is a nice, simple metric.  Links carry a clear commercial value, so clients can understand that your work is adding business value.  It’s no surprise that many clients are asking for this as part of their investment in PR.

But is good PR really just about building links?

PR and SEO – two different jobs

Lizzie and I from team IC attended a recent conference, organised by PR Moment, to find out more. It brought together leading SEO thinkers from around the world to debate the respective roles of PR and SEO.

Here’s what I learned (or re-learned):

  • PR and SEO are complementary disciplines but they’re not trying to do the same thing. The primary goal of PR is to raise awareness and create trust in an organisation.  This is far more complex than just trying to create content to fit Google’s latest algorithm, and indeed a clumsy attempt at link-building can destroy trust in an instant.  Links are a valuable by-product of PR, but they’re rarely the primary goal.
  • PR has always understood that the user comes first; our starting point is to create content that resonates with target audiences (this can be a sticking point when an organisation just wants to talk about itself). And here we agree with Google; whatever the latest tweaks to the algorithm are (and there are a staggering 500-600 a year), ultimately Google cares about helping users to find quality content, as simple as that.
  • In the crowded online world, these things can help us stand out: experience, authority and trust. E_A_T is a newish acronym coined by Google in its latest 160-page guidance document issued to the human teams who – along with the robots – help to rank websites.  Google likes content that is created by people or organisations who are genuine experts in their field, people who can be trusted to tell you something that’s accurate and helpful.  Again, PR understands this – it’s one of the reasons we often involve third-party influencers like academics or industry leaders in our content, alongside the client.

Quality not quantity – always

Perhaps the biggest out-take from the day – unanimously agreed on by the speakers – was that quality matters for both PR and SEO.  The days of spamming the internet to create a high volume of low-quality links are long gone.

One speaker went as far as to say you should never set a target for the number of links you want a campaign to generate, but instead focus on those sites that are most closely aligned to your audiences and that will deliver maximum value.

“If it is the right link, then just one can be enough”, said Dixon Jones, Global Brand Ambassador for link intelligence database provider Majestic.

My conclusion from the day? Good PR will naturally add strong value to an organisation’s SEO strategy – by delivering high quality, relevant content that meets the audience’s needs.   But good PR is about so much more than links, and we shouldn’t forget it.