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Once you’ve optimised your website copy, you’ll find that the most important part of optimisation happens off the page – where links from external sites back to yours play a vital role in telling Google and other search engines how important your site really is.

Link building works best when you have a one-way link from another quality site to your own. You can try all sorts of tricks to build up the number of links you have, but to maximise your results concentrate on obtaining links from quality sites.

Of course quality links are not that easy to get! But many companies have an under-used resource that could generate hundreds if not thousands of quality links. That resource is public relations.

Good public relations and the online practice of link building are natural bedfellows. First, because the dynamics of each is remarkably similar and second, because when used in tandem with important keywords in mind, they can produce spectacular results:

  • Public relations is the process of building a company’s reputation, largely through the use of positive media coverage.
  • Link building is the process of building a web site’s ‘reputation’ by getting links from relevant and respected web sites.
The processes share some important features:
  • Success cannot be guaranteed
  • Relationships and industry knowledge are important
  • You’ve got to give up some control
  • Results can be spectacular

More news sites are writing about and linking to external web sites of all kinds. What better source of a quality link? Not only will these media outlets have large audiences, but they will be spidered frequently by search engine bots.

And the search engines can be confident that the link and the website that it points to is legitimate. To get there, it had to pass through the eyes of a reporter and an editor.

Who better to get such valuable links than PR professionals? Yet how many times do the PR team and the SEO team sit down together?

Not often, if these examples are anything to go by:

1. Last year, Waitrose did a story on a new range of ‘ugly fruit’. Fruit that was perfectly good, but just didn’t look good enough, and was being sold at a discount. The story was covered here at the BBC and got a valuable link back to Waitrose.com. 

Doing a search today on waitrose “ugly fruit” gives over 300 results. But not one of those results comes from Waitrose.com and the BBC link turns out to be the exception rather than the rule. The story failed to generate links because there was nothing to link to – no story on the Waitrose site, no report, no press release, no corporate blog post.

Lesson: While stories in traditional media are fleeting, online stories continue to generate interest and web traffic for many months, even years afterwards. But you need to have content on your site to capture that interest.

2. In Scotland last week, the Sunday Times carried a feature article based on research carried out by the Glasgow Solicitors Property Centre,“What Buyers Really Want”.

The report itself was newsworthy with a bit of controversy throw in. I for one wanted to know more and searched for the full report online – it was nowhere to be found.

Lesson: A press release based on the results of a report will generate interest not only from the public, but from other interested journalists wanting to check the story out, or find a different angle they could write about themselves. So publish the report on your site for maximum PR advantage.

3. In the US recently, insurance company Nationwide.com published an interesting report. The press release’s title read ‘Nationwide survey shows startling number of Americans guilty of DWD’ .

Now this headline tells the reader (or the search engine) nothing to indicate what the report is about. After reading it becomes clear that DWD is ‘driving while distracted’, a phrase that according to Wordtracker, gets just 5 searches a day.

Lesson: Thousands of stories now compete for the attention of busy journalists and they want to see what the story is all about immediately. So don’t use words that aren’t meaningful and do use keywords that give at least a clue to what the story is all about, and even better attract search engine traffic, especially from journalists researching stories.

There are important strategic insights for public relations professionals and those who engage them:

  • News stories stay online – your news item can still be read with great interest months after the event.
  • The links the story creates not only bring people themselves but also boost your search engine traffic.
  • Online stories can spread like wildfire. Issue a press release online and it can be taken up and commented on minutes later.
  • Smaller niche sites assume a greater importance. They’re read by people who are passionate and informed, not just interested – and the links they bring can be even more valuable than those from mainstream media.

To get the maximum return from any publicity effort, PR people and SEO people need to meet together and look for the synergies that can be created through their respective disciplines.

Ken McGaffin is the chief marketing officer of Wordtracker.com.

Ken McGaffin

Published 15 March, 2007 by Ken McGaffin

Ken McGaffin is chief marketing officer at Wordtracker and a contributor to Econsultancy.

6 more posts from this author

Comments (15)

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Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Great post Ken - absolutely bang on.


over 9 years ago


James Cleverly

This is a really good point. I have seen too many examples of companies who view PR and SEO as separate activities that never interact.

Joined up business has got to be the way forward.


over 9 years ago


Stephen Davies

Can only echo the comments above. Thanks.

over 9 years ago

Katy Howell

Katy Howell, Director at immediate future

You are so right Ken

I found myself shouting yes all the way through your post. I can't tell you how often we have started working on online PR and social media relations to find ourselves stalled by a corporate or (flash) campaign website. Many sites don’t even have a press office or updateable content, let alone facility for landing pages.

But there is also a rather bigger issue. As SEO companies move into content creation, I am seeing greater numbers of poorly written releases and an increase in thinly veiled blogs (used for optimising subjects and topics).

The PR industry has suffered a great deal of slating over the press release (often justified in the past) but a new waive of ghastly copy is making its way onto the wires and posting sites. So I would like to caution that PR is a job for PR professionals. After all releases will only generate interest from journalists and surfers to, ‘spread like wild fire’, if they are actually good. That is, newsworthy, interesting, well written, informative and above all, relevant!

And then there is one final point. That press releases are not designed for social media (well not in their current state). Link building in blogs is an art. The art of conversation. So not for one minute should anyone think of sending a blogger a press release.

Great piece Ken. Off to hunt around your website now.


over 9 years ago


Steve Jay

Excellent post Ken. In my organisation there is no real co-ordination between these two departments.

I've forward the link to our PR Manager !

over 9 years ago


Matt Ambrose

It's uplifting to see websites now moving beyond online brochures and becoming portals of news and information. With RSS now penetrating the mass market it seems the mindsets in SEO and PR are changing just at the right time.

over 9 years ago



I have to admit that I could not agree more.

As the Senior Link Builder I managed to get the PR function moved to within the SEO team and it's working out fantastically well.

Not only can we at a glance know which keywords to target with a release, but it can help to amplify what the link builders have managed to achieve, while at the same time helping to decrease our average cost per link (in terms of time and money spent to secure links.)

The one part which we still fall down on, which you rightly pointed out is having the 'back story' or seed of the PR items online and available for those that require further information.

The most frustrating part of PR is that, in our industry, most affiliates and publishers remove our embedded links and and put in their own links to their own properties which virtually negated paying the extra money for inline text links and such in a PR item.

However, it's a learning curve for us and we have made great strides, but there's still a long way to go before the real synergy begins to happen.

almost 8 years ago


Sports Pictures

9. I have spent a long time looking at SEO again and one of the big problems in starting any new website is gaining direct contact with webmasters.

How many emails do we all receive and not read for link requests?

It is all about the personal touch to be successful in direct marketing. I am working on a news site in relation to sports photography and sports pictures and I have decided to look at all ways to reach my target market. You can have the best website in the world though if no-one knows about it you will not receive any visitors.

Starting gaining links for a new site is all about building trust in your site and concept with webmasters. Once your site is established it is far easier to build links via the press and visitors to the URL.

The hard part is working out where to start and putting a plan in place.

almost 8 years ago


Andree Lounge

Excellent post Ken.

about 7 years ago


Seo Firm

There’s no easy division between SEO and PR as this debate shows! If part of a company’s overall communications strategy is to engage with customers, say, in an online community, then part of the engagement programme is to help them find that community… likely to be through Google. So SEO becomes part of overall communications or engagement strategy. But I completely agree that PR is about reputation, not just SEO. I think it makes sense to say they need to work together, in order to support the bigger picture of communications.

about 7 years ago



I think the "Lessons learned" approach is vital.

With the lines between PR and SEO (and increasingly blogging too) becoming increasingly blurred - I think communiocation between these functions should be the rule and not the exception.

almost 7 years ago



I used to be confused about the two, SEO and PRs. But when I personally experienced having someone smear my name online, I learned about SEO and PRs working together to fix the problem. I contacted CleanMy.Name, which is a company that does online reputation management. They generate online PRs that contain positive information so that the negative links are pushed to the back pages of Google. So now that I search my name online, the first links that come out are all positive. SEO and online PRs work well together. I'm talking about CleanMy.Name here. I mean others might not have the same satisfying experience with other companies.

almost 7 years ago


Affiliate Network

I think also the "Lessons learned" approach is vital.

With the lines between PR and SEO (and increasingly blogging too) becoming increasingly blurred - I think communiocation between these functions should be the rule and not the exception.

over 6 years ago


SEO Pakistan

I think the "Lessons learned" approach is vital. With the lines between PR and SEO (and increasingly blogging too) becoming increasingly blurred - I think communication between these functions should be the rule and not the exception.

over 6 years ago


Milestone Relocation Solutions

Looks like PR is the only niche which has not been completely spammed by "SEO experts". Link building by contacting webmasters, "partners page", even article writing and distribution - all of these SEO techniques are so widely used that they simply lose their value. PR, on the other hand, required a little more knowledge and of a high interest to everyone to be successful and produce real results.

No doubt the future of SEO belongs to PR and social media! If not yet implemented at a full level, even though Google seems to be not on the best terms with FB - it's just a matter of time when social media is going to be as, or even more, important as links.

almost 6 years ago

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