Why You Shouldn’t Hire a PR Agency for Link Building

There have been a few articles published recently, highlighting how to use PR strategies for your link building. I want to look at how this is a slightly more complex relationship than people make it out to be, and how a brand should not confuse the two practices.

Many have hailed PR as the new link building and some say link building is dead – and it’s now just about PR.

I believe that link building is still fundamental to a marketing strategy and that it should be kept separate from PR although there are overlapping elements.

Below is my ridiculously over-simplified version of events to quickly demonstrate how the lines started to overlap over the last 5 years.

1. SEO teams seed ‘content’ in the form of poor-quality articles, which are placed on blogs through payment
2. Google cracks down on paid link building
3. SEO teams look to build stronger credible content
4. Blog and low-quality sites continue to ask for payments
5. SEO teams look to build higher-quality links through Press and Publication sites
6. We arrive at a point where SEOs are looking to PR strategies in order to build high-authority links

It is well-recognised that brands are now building more credible engaging content and seeking to earn placements on large publications and press sites. However, that does not mean we should bundle it all up and class it as PR.

Many people in the SEO community are arguing that SEO & link building teams should not be responsible for acquiring links and that it should be handled by a PR team.

I do not agree with this. There are still very credible reasons for why you should keep your link-building activity slightly separate from your PR.

Public Relations has an extremely important role to play in the overall communication strategy of brand.

This is the definition of PR from the Chartered Institute of Press Release:

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A PR team out there somewhere is ultimately responsible for my love for Coca-Cola above and beyond just liking the product, and I am obviously grateful for that!

A PR team is ultimately responsible for the ethos of the brand, the communication of product changes and company announcements. They are responsible for local communities, national communities, keeping customers happy, ensuring there is positive news on the brand, handling crisis management. From this list you can see how saying the PR team should also be responsible for link building can seem to undermine their job. So as you can see they have a lot going on.

There are certainly lessons to be learned from PR. There are crossovers in the way link-builders are now working with the press, and that content is being more widely covered and shared.

What I wish to argue is the concept of a PR team or PR activity shouldn’t be solely responsible for the link building of a site or brand.

Link-building is far too sophisticated and important to entrust it to a PR team in the hope that, with their many crucial roles, they might be able to pick up a few links, as they deliver alternative objectives.

A link builder’s role is born out of technical analysis and performance-driven marketing.

Search optimisation is a direct and measurable online method of improving a site’s organic visibility, increasing organic traffic and conversions. Through understanding the site’s performance for particular keywords, using best practices, and benchmarking against competitors, SEOs can make justified improvements holistically to a site in order to improve visibility. These can naturally stretch into different departments, but the recommendations come from analysis.

Link-building is part of that analysis. A link-builder needs to understand the detail of a site’s backlink profile from the quantity to the quality of links. It is also important to carry out full analysis to identify how to best change a sites backlink profile to positively effect its organic visibility. This full analysis and management of a backlink profile needs to be managed by people who understand its importance and its direct link with performance-based marketing.

On top of that, it is important to realise that not all link-building activity is conducted through content distributions and building Press and Publication links. Much activity still comes through alternative tactics and strategies, which are still ethical and effective.

It is also fundamental that a site’s link-building activity is consistent. The creation of new links, the analysis of old, and the continued activity are all key factors in enabling a site to consistently grow. A strategy which relies on a PR team to deliver links as a secondary objective to their work, will only sporadically and occasionally deliver link-based results.

I fully appreciate that there are great examples of marketing channels delivering great link results.

Above-the-line advertising can bring in links. John Lewis’s Christmas advert consistently brings in hundreds of new links each year.

Press, Experiential, Social and Events can also bring in links as part of their activity.

However, you need a team and a strategy where you are assured that activity will regularly bring in links month on month.

This is why I firmly believe that link building and PR are separate, despite having areas where the lines are blurred. I believe integration, visibility and communication between the two are also vital.

Here are my top 3 ways to integrate your link building with PR effectively.

1. Education – PR teams have fantastic relationships with the press. But when it comes to building links in their content, the importance of them needs to be clearly communicated. Many PR teams have been burned by SEO teams in the past, publishing poor-quality content online in the name of building backlinks. But times have changed and SEO teams are building extremely high-quality content, and the backlink is still as important as it was back then. By understanding the full impact of link-building on a website’s bottom line performance can help a PR team appreciate why this isn’t something to be sniffed at.

2. Transparency – Although I believe the two teams work differently with different objectives, open communication between the two allows a combined strategy to work synergistically. PR teams should be aware of the content being created and the publications being outreach too. There may be some circumstances where a PR team can actually use some of the assets in work they are doing and further collaboration is possible.

3. Frank Discussions – Link Builders need to stop pretending to be PR teams. When it comes to working with a press team, be honest about your intentions. By drawing the red line in the sand, you can have a frank discussion about how link builders and PR teams can work side by side. Yes I am creating content, yes it will be placed on the Huffington Post, yes it has a link in it that I will report on as my KPI, BUT, no it is not promoting the brands ethos, no it’s not promoting any products or initiatives, no it doesn’t have 3 paragraphs about who the brand is and no I’m not reporting on the impact it has had on peoples perceptions of the brand. This way you clearly set out where your territory is while highlighting the importance of their work alongside yours.

Summary

A PR team is not a suitable replacement for Link-Building, nor should it be solely relied upon for Link-Building. Link-Building will (for the foreseeable future) be a fundamental part of a site’s SEO strategy.

There is much discussion to be had on this topic and I’m open to debate it. Tweet me your thoughts @ian_fergusson.