Trade in Your PR & Creative Agencies. SEOs Do it Better.

To understand why, you need to understand SEO today. Think you already do? Read on.

What is it that SEOs really do these days? Is it marketing? Is it creative? Is it PR? Is it search engine optimization anymore? What about “real company shit”? Not only what is it to us, the people who’ve been in the space watching it turn from technical SEO to link building to riding the coattails of content marketing, but what is it to marketing managers and CMOs at the Fortune 1000’s of the world?

As more and more SEO agencies are exploring creative and strategic content spaces, the new practices around SEO and technical marketing are evolving much faster than the industry awareness of what we actually do these days. In fact, I’d bet a lot of you reading this are still trying to figure it out. The industry has been going through a clear and evident paradigm shift and even our own industry demigods are often confused.

We see several SEO agencies ditching SEO altogether. Changing out the term “SEO” on their websites for “marketing”, calling link-building “content marketing”, etc. (while ad and marketing agencies are still eager to tack on SEO as a service). SEO is a often bad word in the US, with trust being the biggest bottleneck to adoption these days. Understandably so, after batch after batch of high-profile cases of link-building and thin content gone terribly wrong. But whether search engine optimization is frowned upon or not, it’s still very much relevant. It’s just evolved.

SEO attains a split personality

At its core, there are two main aspects to SEO:

  1. Site health. Search engines need to effectively and efficiently find, index and contextualize content on your site.
  2. Popularity. Search engines want to rank what’s popular. What is getting linked to, shared, and engaged with most often for any query or query type?

Site health: A site that’s indexable and crawlable is great, but that doesn’t mean it will inherently rank well.

SEO site health


Site popularity: The popularity of the pages on a site and the site overall is key. Add gobs of links, shares and overall engagement on top of a well-structured, crawlable and optimized site and your winning.

site popularity affecting SEO

That second one is a doozy. I like to say that the best SEO is a product that doesn’t suck. A great (or at least interesting) product inherently gets linked to, shared and generates press.

For example Airbnb came is disrupting the rentals market. They create gorgeous content and tell stories that pull on your heartstrings and win over press and consumers even though VRBO has been around a lot longer and up until recently has had more listings. When Airbnb does content pieces it’s hard to miss the buzz. People at our coworking space here in San Francisco won’t stop constantly talking about Airbnb. VRBO is a site. Airbnb is a lifestyle.

Fantex is a service that lets you buy stock in an athlete. Doing linkable pieces and building links is not their focus. Disrupting the market is, and they’re getting shared, linked to and mentioned like crazy since they launched.

So who’s calling on SEOs for product strategy these days? #crickets

Marketing + Creative + PR + SEO = ________

Here’s the thing. Not everybody is a disruptive Fantex or a heartstring-pulling Airbnb. And even Airbnb misses out on SEO opportunities like the lack of links to the listings on this content piece. Most businesses need to push a little to get visibility, shares, links and press coverage. Let’s put technical SEO aside (we’ll assume we’ve already got this covered for our prospective clients or ourselves), and focus on those natural links and shares that are guiding today’s progressive SEO agencies down this new path.

What we do is different. It’s a synergy of several disciplines. It’s marketing (audience targeting, keyword research, search channel conversions), it’s creative pieces (infographics, interactives, videos, tools and other digital assets), it’s PR (outreach and placements), and it’s SEO (optimized code behind any content and links where links are due).

Creative agencies, ad agencies and digital marketing agencies do creative and they do it well. But do they continually get big name publishers to share their stuff? Do they create pieces that search engines can crawl and contextualize. Oftentimes not.

PR teams get visibility for a brand but does it get in front of big publishers? Does it get audiences excited? If the company itself is exciting, yes. Otherwise, publishing news about yourself all the time is not exactly titillating.

Progressive SEO (or ‘previously-known-as’ SEO) companies create pieces that get audiences excited (creative), get them published in places where their audiences are reading online (PR), and get people naturally sharing and linking to content and back to a site that has a clean bill of SEO health that search engines can effectively and efficiently crawl and contextualize (SEO).

We are the full package. We can bring home the bacon and cook it up in a pan. Yet our audiences in large part don’t know something this combo PR/creative/SEO/marketing thing exists.

SEOs do it better.

How do we change the mindset at scale, to go from seedy snake oil salesmen to valuable, creative, multi-talented marketers? At SEOgadget we’re constantly educating clients and potential clients. We’re working on various ways to show this synergy and highlight examples of the successes. We’re speaking on content strategy and inspiring people to build products that leave the competitors in the dust. We have clients who we do full-time content strategy and marketing for, and have more people calling for creatives and marketing, all with the idea of boosting visibility and popularity, which feels to us like people are getting the idea.

It’s something we think about on a daily basis here at SEOgadget. Let’s not abandon SEO for simply “marketing”. We’re not SapientNitro. We’re not AKQA. In ways, we’re more. We’re niche, technical marketers with unique and oh-so-valuable insights into the synergies between marketing, creative, PR and tech. Popularity is the new SEO, and we are out there helping the digital wallflower and stalwarts brands become overnight prom queens, with a big heaping pile of rankings to go along with it.  Today’s progressive SEO shouldn’t be shunned, we should be the shining stars of the marketing world. We work hard to understand audiences and goals and value props and D3.js and Ruby and APIs and outreach and analytics and attribution and tie it all together in the end. Who does that? Probably not your PR agency. Probably not your creative agency. Possibly not even your digital marketing agency. Oh, that’s right – SEOs do.

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14 thoughts on “Trade in Your PR & Creative Agencies. SEOs Do it Better.

  1. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Thank you for saying this – we’ve all been working so hard on the plan for next year and I’m truly delighted to see the conversation surfacing – to 2014!

  2. Bruce Werdschinski says:

    Hi Laura,

    Very thought provoking, thanks for sharing your insights. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what an SEO does lately and you’re spot on about people still trying to figure it out.

    We’re in the priviledged position of being developers so we get to see what a lot of different SEOs are doing these days. It’s not pretty, and there’s nothing more disheartening than seeing a client get bad advice from a bad SEO. Bad advice equates to bad results, and that means that just like you in the US there’s many business people down here who have a mistrust of SEOs in general.

    There’s not a business person on the planet that wakes up wanting 100 more links or wanting a higher pagerank on their subpages; what they want is more business.

    And that’s where leaders like SEOgadget really stand out, and one of the reasons I really admire you guys is that you are the ‘full package’ (love that term). The Progressive SEOs know it’s not just link building anymore, it’s not facebook shares, it’s not even (dare I say it) content. It’s about getting more business. And the WAY that’s done is through the methods you detail, the synergy of disciplines that engage potential customers and entice them through the sales funnel on the way to making a buying decision.

    Meanwhile, the old fashioned SEOs are putting hidden links on a Scottish bed and breakfast site for a swimwear store located in Western Australia, and technical SEOs are asking us to remove all H1 tags because “they don’t look good”…

    Because of that I’d say instead of ‘SEOs do it better’ that ‘Great SEOs do it better’ :) And you did an awesome job of illustrating what makes SEOgadget great. Thanks again for the insight, I really got a lot out of it!

    Bruce Werdschinski

  3. Butler says:

    It is fun seeing SEO agencies desperately trying to diversify in order to claw back legitimacy, secure revenues and survive, but ultimately the vast majority of them are going to have a really bad time trying to explain that CRO/UX/content/PR/whatever else they want to try and bundle under an umbrella of mediocrity is part of their core competencies.

    I also thing that, for now at least, many of them lack the clout, reputation, and prestigious client accounts necessary to enable them to effectively compete for serious creative talent in the jobs market.

  4. Laura Lippay says:

    Bundling under mediocrity will get called out by clients who know the difference between great and mediocre. Rebranding link building as content marketing for example, is far too common and just wrong. That said, when your agency’s employees come from big brand and agency backgrounds like, say, Edelman, we certainly don’t lack that clout, reputation or set of prestigious accounts.

  5. Butler says:

    That certainly wasn’t an attack on SEOGadget; more, a commentary on the wider state of play. But I stand by my point: the vast majority will struggle to get a seat at the table.

    And of course, that leaves those few agile enough to adapt to reap the rewards you outline in your blog post — that sweet spot of technical ability, gutsy outreach and creativity.

    I’d imagine that SEOGadget’s problem more specifically is likely the difficulty escaping the troubled SEO moniker when it’s so core to your brand name. I’d be interested in hearing whether you think the solution to that is to double down and plough on, rebrand entirely, or perhaps to splinter off into separate subsidiaries.

  6. Dave Sottimano says:

    <3 this. Thank you for speaking up :)

  7. Allie Edwards Williams says:

    Great article Laura, thanks for putting these thoughts together.

    I agree with your assessment of core SEO = Site Health + Popularity. Content that is accessible + understandable + valuable/useful + engaging triumphs at the end of the day.

    Ultimately, great SEO is about helping businesses reach their goals however they are defined: more leads, sales, donations, subscribers, etc. And, making sure the systems/analytics are in place to quantify how various channels contribute to reaching those goals.

  8. ronell smith says:


    I’ve re-read this blog several times. As someone who has spent much of his career working with PR professionals, I could not agree more with what you have written here.

    It’s disheartening to see how the entire PR community still fixates on press releases, email lists and one-off campaigns. I see very little in the way of looking for ways to highlight long-term relevance to clients and prospects.

    SEO firms are perfectly positioned to attract and attain the business opportunities PR firms are missing. Sadly, they likely won’t notice until it’s far too late.

  9. jerome says:

    was it a seo agency to credit for the airbnb content you refer to?

    not sure if i’m a fan of comparing different industries like this really-the best in each field have plenty of value to add. what adds best value to X client is dependent on too many variables to just blindly believe a “progressive seo” agency would be best

  10. Laura Lippay says:

    Thanks guys. And agreed Jerome – of course there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all-seo-companies-can-do-everything-for-everyone solution for everyone and everything out there.

  11. Brett K says:

    Great Article Laura!

    I truly enjoyed reading this, and I couldn’t agree more about the current state of SEO. The best way for the industry to remain resilient is to broaden our multi-functioning skill sets to position ourselves as Jacks of many trades. Right now, there is too much sleight of hand in the our world, a perfect example being link building disguised as content marketing. That BS has to stop in order for the reputation that the industry at large carries is repaired.

    BTW the link to airbnb content is broken.

  12. Ben says:

    “SEO is now a dirty word” – yet it appears in the post on every other line, occasionally twice?

    This article on the whole epitomises the revolution in SEO … a series of key search terms (judging by the above as you scan over it we can safely assume ‘SEO’ and ‘Content Marketing’ were intended in this case); strung together with somewhat loose regard for coherence, disguised as a blog post for which the author is seemingly only concerned for one intended reader – Google.

    The move towards ever more organic and contextual searches will ultimately end this practice and those that peddle it.

  13. Laura Lippay says:

    Well Ben… I’d say the epitome of shitty SEO is anyone who counts keywords in a post. Oh, and thanks for adding three more “SEO” terms and one more “content marketing” term to the page. Surely, my Googlebot target audience will appreciate it.

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