What is the difference between PR and SEO?

Difference between SEO and PR

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Last modified: May 18, 2020

As an agency, we’re often asked this question. So here goes.

PR covers a lot of bases – internal relations, investor relations, reputation management, public affairs etc. as well as media relations. SEO is primarily concerned with improving organic search engine visibility to generate website traffic, leads and revenue. These two worlds tend to collide when building relationships with other publications and websites.

How did we get here?

Many moons ago, PR’s media relations work was focussed solely on print media, and on many occasions a piece of content in a national newspaper was the holy grail, for the kudos as well as the large readership.

Search engines arrived on the scene and links on external sites became a key factor in their algorithms. In fact, MOZ (the creator of the ‘Domain Authority’ (DA) metric used by the SEO community to determine how well a site is performing in terms of its backlink profile), goes as far as to say that ‘if all other factors are equal, the volume and quality of links pointing to a page will make the difference between rankings’.

Therefore, a key aspect of SEO is outreach/link building.

As time has gone one, PR agencies have turned their hand to digital and digital marketing agencies have turned their hand to PR. This meeting in the middle has created some blurred lines, so what should you expect?

In both fields, quality is usually better than quantity and both should build a strategy based on  business goals, key products, target audiences and KPIs

PR and Digital PR

Traditionally, PR folk had a little black book of contacts and, in a round about way, clients would pay to access it. Media relations has moved on and is much more strategic and creative than solely about ‘who you know’ but good relationships are still hugely beneficial to good media relations. PRs will know exactly what each publication and each journalist is specifically looking for in a story, when and how to pitch to them, as well as harnessing the goodwill benefits of being on first name terms. They also tend to know specific sectors of the press or differing industries in detail.

Tactics will include writing press releases, quotes and comments, securing articles, arranging press events and meetings, placing case studies, creating thought leadership content, research and surveys, product placement, reports, guides, infographics and responding to inbound media enquiries.


For a long time, SEO was thought of as a dark art, a sort of technical wizardry that no-one understood but many knew they couldn’t be without.

Today there are still many technical elements of SEO, but the better SEO agencies also employ a far greater range of people with a PR-type skill set.

SEO practitioners tend to take a broader view of potential targets: they will do a much deeper dive into all the possibilities that the internet has to offer, rather than focussing on a ‘tier 1’ or ‘tier 2’ list. They will include the online versions of traditional news outlets (consumer and B2B) but will also include a whole range of other types of sites including forums, discussion boards, social media, directories, blogs, Q&A sites, video sites – the list is almost endless. Their main concerns will be:

a) the ability to build a link – if a site doesn’t link to others, that doesn’t mean an SEO agency will ignore it altogether, but it’s generally not going to be a priority.

b) the DA of the third party site – ‘link juice’ is a term used in the SEO community which refers to the equity that is passed on from one site to another via links – the higher the DA of the site that links to you the better.

c) the type of domain of the third-party site – some users in Singapore, chooses domains with .com.sg but certain niche domains such as .org.sg or .edu.sg (commonly used by educational establishments) are thought to be more valuable. For example, in order to get a .gov.sg domain, you would need specific approval and instructions.

d) similar to a PR agency, whether the site reaches the target audience and whether it is relevant to the industry, (which is also known as being ‘contextually relevant’).

e) social media influence – if the third-party site has good social media metrics, there is a likelihood of the content reaching a wider audience.

The assets produced by an SEO will be quite similar to those produced by a PR agency but where they ultimately differ lies in the underlying use of keyword research.

All of the copy across multiple assets will be guided by keyword research to help steer the content towards relevant searches. There’s no point optimising a press release, infographic, report or otherwise around guesswork – SEO takes a scientific approach to ensure the language used mirrors that of the target audience when they use a search engine.

In addition, the links that an SEO agency will ideally try to create (and I write ‘ideally’ as sometimes we have little control over this) point to a suitable landing page on your own site. This means a page owned by the client that has been designed to closely relate to the outreach content and adds value or interest. Asking a third party site to link back to a site without any added value can be a tough call! That said, some websites have a policy of only linking back to a homepage but deep links to a site are massively beneficial for SEO if you can get them.

Aside from the content, the link, and the useful landing page, an SEO agency is more likely to have a thorough strategy for ‘what next?’ Once the user arrives on your site, you can encourage them to perform certain actions through UX. This may include, but is not limited to, highlighting additional content and tracking goals such as suggesting downloadable guides, or asking visitors to complete a ‘contact us’ form etc.

Measuring success

PR success is very hard to measure and has been an ongoing issue for the industry for many years. Advertising Value Equivalent or Equivalent Advertising Value were once the go-to metrics but brand measurement tools have become much more sophisticated at measuring tone of voice and semantics. Those that can’t afford this level of measurement tend to count items of coverage, share of voice, spokespeople quoted, images used etc.

SEO agencies will measure referral traffic gained from a piece of coverage, engagement stats (time on site, pages read), goals completed/conversion metrics, as well as tracking overall traffic to a site and DA. Online content keeps on giving too: referral traffic may see an uplift for months, even years, and the longer-term value of a healthy DA is widely acknowledged. However, it can sometimes take 3-6 months for Google to identify new links, so patience is required.

Do you need both SEO and PR?

With a big enough budget both disciplines can work together as long as both agencies are happy to share responsibilities and work to their strengths. Ultimately whether to hire a PR agency for media relations or an SEO agency for outreach comes down to what you feel most comfortable with and what each individual agency can deliver.

It used to be that PR was about reaching people and SEO was about search engines but PR is now harnessing the web much more, and search engines have long been telling the SEO world to put people first. No doubt the PR vs SEO debate will continue to rage.

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