The State of SEO: Digital Public Relations

Lindsey Weedston Online Marketing, Public Relations, Website SEO

When you hear the term SEO, there’s a decent chance it makes you cringe. Due to a lot of empty promises peddled by shady companies and “black hat” tactics that look good at first but get you into trouble later, the entire concept of SEO has gotten a bad reputation in recent years. It’s so bad that the term is now being abandoned in favor of “inbound marketing” while bloggers declare that SEO is dead.

Protip: Whenever bloggers declare an aspect of marketing to be dead, it’s almost certainly not. It’s just in a state of flux.

Back to the Future Flux Capacitor

What is SEO in 2014?

The nature of SEO changes a bit each time Google updates the algorithm that determines search engine rankings. But each update has led us away from a focus on keywords and cheap tactics to the only thing that matters to Google’s customers: content.

So if it’s not about keywords anymore, what is SEO? Search engine optimization has never been just about the keywords – only about getting a website to rank better in the SERPs (search engine results pages). Making this happen has become a more complex and dynamic process.

Samuel Scott, Senior Director of SEO and Digital Marketing for The Cline Group, posted a piece on how SEO marketers can incorporate public relations into their general strategy. He included a poignant tweet from Rand Fishkin of Moz, which said “The more advanced Google becomes, the more SEO feels like a bonus for getting marketing and webdev right.”

Rand Fishkin Tweet

Image courtesy of

It makes a lot of sense. Better search engine rankings happen when you have proper web design and engage in proper content and social media marketing. It happens when you prove yourself an expert, gain the trust of followers, and form relationships. I would go farther than saying that SEOs need to focus on the “PR side” of their business, and I don’t think that inbound marketing is a term that encompasses or expresses the entire scope of what SEO has become.

I would say that SEO has evolved into Digital Public Relations.

Or possibly “Google Relations,” but Google caters to the public, anyway.


Digital Public Relations

Unfortunately for me, the term Digital PR has already been coined to describe the massive changes that have taken place in the field of public relations in the digital age. Carrie Morgan, founder of Rock The Status Quo, wrote about Digital PR on Social Media Today:

Digital PR is all about combining traditional PR with content marketing, social media and search [emphasis original]: transforming static news into conversations and bypassing media to speak directly to your target audience online.

Merge Sign
So it would be more accurate to say that SEO and PR are merging into one big content-generating, social-sharing, audience-engaging industry. If PR experts learned on-page optimization and a little coding, or if SEOs got a little more social and had more contact with the journalism world, they’d pretty much be the same thing. Pretty soon, I expect to see these two departments completely merge so that PR managers, SEOs, web designers, and content managers can come together into one big Google-pleasing dream team.

If you’ve become wary of people claiming to be SEO experts, nobody blames you. But SEO is not dead. Like anything else digital, it’s growing and changing rapidly. The best thing you can do is to keep up with the trends and listen in on what the digital marketing community is saying – that way you’ll be able to tell the frauds from the rest of us.