The Thin Line Between PR and Search

As Lee Odden mentioned the other day, there is a thin line between public relations and search engine optimization. Some people may try to wax eloquent on the diverse and multiple ways in which SEO and PR can benefit each other or work hand in hand. To make such claims is to muddy the waters unnecessarily.

Online PR and SEO fit hand in hand because at various stages of each they are one and the same. But before I get a bunch of emails from bellyaching professionals in a huffy mess, let me clarify. Online reputation management is a component of public relations. Some may say they are one and the same when, in fact, they can be easily distinguished from each other. “Reputation management” as a term is more accurately used to describe the attempt to monitor and respond to negative press and attention. “Public Relations” encompasses both reputation management and press releases, interviews with the press, making public statements and retractions, and all things involving interaction between company and media.

Online Reputation Management (ORM) is a term I like to use to describe the process of managing how the world views your company, name, website, product(s), or service(s) through all Web mediums including blogs, social media, articles, press releases, and forum discussions. What does ORM look like? It begins with monitoring the Web for mention of your name, company, etc., learning what is being said, determining how to best respond, and launching campaigns to apologize, explain, divert, or promote.

ORM is similar to SEO because the most powerful tool affecting your image online is the search engine. Search engines are the preferred method for discovering information on the Web, and it is likely to be the first place the user encounters your company, for better or worse. The goal, then, is primarily to control what is being viewed about your party on Google, Yahoo!, MSN, and Ask. As with SEO, the focus is upon the first three pages of any search since 90%+ of all search engine users stop viewing results after page three.

What, if anything, is the difference between SEO and Public Relations?

  • Online PR is concerned with quality of positive search results and other Web conversations
  • SEO is concerned with outranking competitors in search results
  • Search Engine Optimization focuses on traffic and conversion (which leads to sales)
  • Online Public Relations focuses on identity and reputation (which affects sales)

The faint difference lies in the quality of content you pursue for those first 30 search results. Though not very likely, an SEO may still follow the belief: “Any news is good news.” Any rankings may equal more traffic, but certain types of negative press still leads to a loss of ROI.

An online reputation manager is paid to combat the negative press and proactively create positive press. After all, the best defense is a good offense. Then again, not many companies have the foresight to hire someone to promote their business online until something bad happens and they’re obviously losing money. That being the case, the quality of search engine results will matter more to the reputation manager than at least some SEOs. That being said, your higher tier of SEO firms and specialists will care about the quality of your visible search results.

The other major difference is that most SEO campaigns do not undertake the company name or names of executive officers into consideration. The goal of SEO is to drive traffic and to convert that traffic into sales or repeat visitors. The goal of PR is to manage reputation. An SEO firm may not focus at all on your names, since these rarely drive traffic or sales. Companies with established names and/or brands receive traffic due to their names, but most draw traffic by what they discuss and what they offer.

Any company that earns business leads or sales from the Internet is obligated to undertake both SEO and ORM. You’ll see a lot more about online reputation management and PR this year. 2007 is the year that ORM will really take off. If you have any questions about how to incorporate Search Engine Optimization and Online Reputation Management campaigns into your marketing strategy, feel free to contact us online or at 888-4-VIZION.