There seems to be a lot of confusion about the purpose of online PR these days. Too many people think that the sole job of online PR is improve the client’s search engine optimisation and help drive traffic to their website. Granted, SEO and online PR do go hand in hand to a certain extent, but they are not the same thing and to think so is to underestimate the contribution that PR can make to your wider communications strategy.

Without wishing to understate the value of the discipline, SEO is essentially a technical exercise – it’s about figuring out how search engines work and determining the on and off-page measures most likely to put their clients at the top of the results for the most relevant search terms.

Online PR is, just like offline PR, largely about managing the client’s public reputation. A key part of this is building relationships with influencers, with the ultimate aim of gaining positive media coverage. Obviously, the coverage generated by online PR often features links to the client’s site from high profile blogs and online publications, which is undoubtedly great for SEO.

But the important point to remember is that the SEO benefit of the coverage is just a nice side effect of the PR activity, not its primary purpose. The point of building relationships with influencers is to get positive coverage for the client in relevant media, and the point of that, lest we forget, is to get the client’s message heard by the people that the client wants to reach.

SEO does not do this. SEO might help hook a business up with somebody who is actively searching for something that business offers, but SEO can’t tell people why that business’s products are better than their competitors, or whether that business has great customer service, or if that business has sound environmental policies. SEO certainly can’t help a business to communicate clearly and effectively with the public if it gets caught up in a crisis situation.

Most importantly of all, SEO does not facilitate dialogue between a business and its customers. Online PR can help you engage with your customers via the digital channels that they feel most comfortable with, enabling your business to build stronger relationships and earn greater loyalty.

So, while there is clearly an overlap between SEO and online PR, it’s important to understand that they are two distinct disciplines which require different skill-sets and deliver unique benefits. Organisations which don’t understand the difference between these tools are unlikely to be able to use them as effectively as their competitors.

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