PR Is Not a Replacement For Link Building

PR Is Not a Replacement For Link Building

You know what bothers me?

Articles that tell people they should – definitely, absolutely, no-doubts-about-it – rely on PR to support their SEO strategy.

You know why it bothers me?

Because it’s like recommending someone to use a spoon for whisking eggs.

Will the spoon get you there at some point?


Is it the most efficient way to whisk eggs?

Of course not.

All this to say that PR and link building have different objectives.

They are two different practices that every now and again can collide, and more often than not could work collaboratively.

Yet, there’s more and more articles coming out every day about how PR is the new link building:


But let’s start with the basics, shall we?

What Is Public Relations?

“Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.

It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.”

Chartered Institute of Public Relations

So basically, PR is the discipline that looks after the reputation, controls the conversation and is the main point of contact with the press about a company.


How do they do this?

By defining a positive message and managing the relationships with the media, who in turn will help them distribute their message through editorial coverage.

They don’t pay journalists to write stories. Their actions are not focused on generating sales. They don’t get involved in advertising.

Among other techniques, they distribute company news through press releases. They write pitches about their client and send them to reporters. The organise events designed to reach their intended audience.

Could all this lead to links? Possibly.

Can you support your SEO strategy with the possibility of earning links? Not really.

What Is Link Building?


“Link building is the process of acquiring hyperlinks from other websites to your own.moz-logo

There are many techniques for building links, and while they vary in difficulty, SEOs tend to agree that link building is one of the hardest parts of their jobs.”


Simply put, link building is an SEO practice that has one goal and one goal only: getting external pages to link to a page on your website.

How do they do this?

By identifying existing linkable assets on their website and creating new ones, so they can pitch them to online publishers and sites who will find them valuable enough to link back.

They don’t control the sites that link back to their website. They don’t normally get involved in the technical elements of SEO. Their actions are not focused on driving direct sales.

Among other techniques, they find broken links on target sites and offer new alternatives to webmasters so they can replace them. They contribute to crowdsourced posts and resource pages that will allow them to add a link back to their site. They host webinars, create white papers and launch new content to attract links.

The Case Against Gambling With PR

When Clayburn Griffin wrote his infamous article for Search Engine Land stating that “technical SEO is nothing but makeup,” the entire SEO community went to war, outraged by his claims.

I didn’t go to war.

But there was one bit of advice he gave in that article that drove me insane:


You know what, Clayburn? That’s some terrible advice right there.

‘How dare you?’ You ask. ‘PR done right is effective. Check out this case study on how XYZ got press coverage and built links by launching a tool/hosting an event/announcing a new initiative by the brand.’

And all that is absolutely fair.

I’m sure there are plenty of PR campaigns that drive links, the same way that there are plenty of advertising campaigns that drive links.

But recommending good old-fashioned PR to someone who is looking to increase the search visibility of a website in order to drive organic traffic is nuts.

Jesse-Stoler“If you need links—which you do if organic traffic is important to your site—you need to pursue a strategy that is link intensive.”

Jesse Stoler

The goal of a public relations campaign is NOT to build links. So PR is not link intensive.

Whereas link building is a sustainable, repeatable technique that can support the search visibility of a website.

What is more, PR is generally expensive and when you’re on a tight budget, you shouldn’t start by dropping 80% of everything you’ve got in a technique that is meant for a different purpose.

Why Are We Trying To Get Rid Of Link Building?

A few years ago I wrote a post stating that we were missing the point and, unfortunately, I think that we’re still missing the point.

We’re trying to rebrand one of the core elements of SEO and throwing all of our learnings away by jumping into a new bandwagon – even if that means not helping our clients grow their business in the most effective way.

PR is a basic need for big brands but it shouldn’t be a strategy for links.

The value link building brings to the table is based on the inherent knowledge of how SEO works and the many years of testing and trying new things.

I totally get that link building became a dirty word after Google rolled out Penguin.

However, editorially provided backlinks are still the most important factor when increasing search visibility.

In 2016, link building is really hard and it will only get harder with time. That’s why we put a lot of effort into creating content that is worth linking out to and into improving the way we approach our targets with our pitch.

Chris-Green“PRs can build great links, but they can also do a fantastic job at not building links… What they often miss is the fullness of the opportunity. Perhaps an analogue mindset to what’s more often a digital problem.

Link builders, however, are most often good at building links, but can struggle with building links that matter, those which stand out and give them the edge. ”

Chris Green

Wrapping It Up

As a person who’s been building links since 2009 and who has worked with PR professionals on many campaigns, I know for fact that we think differently.

Being different doesn’t make one of us better than the other. We both bring value in our own way.

PRs can set out to build links in the same way link builders can start pitching to journalists – it’s not an either/or.

Should link builders launch link reclamation campaigns after PRs have finished their job? Definitely.

Could you incorporate PR techniques into your link building? Of course, and this approach has led to a rise in popularity for services like digital PR.

But let’s not confuse things here, people.

Give link building some respect.

But what do you think about all this? You’ll find me on @ichbinGisele.

Image Sources: Laura Bittner / Kadir Özp?narDavid Meurin

Gisele Navarro
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Gisele Navarro

Leading the team. Identifying opportunities. Removing roadblocks. Protecting our culture.