are set specialists replacing communications specialistsThere’s a lot of talk these days in the communications world about Search Engine Optimization (SEO)—and for good reason.

Driven by the enormous influence of Google, Bing, and others, SEO plays a significant role in the visibility and the impact of content on the web.

It’s also bringing additional attention and weight to digital communications.

And you should be studying how and why SEO plays an influential role in the evolution of communications today.

As the shift in content creation and consumption via the web as a real-time publishing platform continues, the impact and benefits of SEO for communications should not be ignored.

So we ask, are SEO specialists replacing communications specialists?

The short answer is “no,” but the horizon gets fuzzy pretty quickly from there.

Perhaps a more appropriate question, “Should communications professionals embrace SEO as a core part of their practice?”

The answer is a resounding “definitely.”  And here are some of the reasons why.

SEO Specialists: Market Insight

Many think of SEO as a tactic, something you do to tweak content for improved search engine rankings. And to be certain, this is a key tactical advantage of SEO.

But for communications, the broad scope of SEO brings a much more useful benefit. And that is the ability to glean real-time insights into market dynamics.

Put another way, SEO tools and practices can give you a ground-level perspective into how customers, or potential customers, are thinking and acting.

The ability to listen to the market and proactively—rather than reactively—move in a nimble direction puts communications at the head of the line in a vital strategic advisory role.


Setting a clear strategy has always been an essential step in any successful communications effort.

But “clear” can be relative when forecasting three to six months out.

An effective communications strategy is often an amalgamation of disparate knowledge bases. These may include client input, sector or competitive research, and pure gut instinct. These insights still matter in the web publishing and digital comms era.

But SEO tools, processes, and best practices now allow us to get much closer to the real-time pulse of market sectors we work to influence. And to confirm, or contest, those gut instincts.

Tapping into the insights which SEO can yield has the potential to result in pinpointed strategic directives you otherwise couldn’t gather organically.

Using a service such as SEMRush, Moz, SpyFu or AHREFs, allows you to diagnose the dynamics of the competitive market environment, identifying greenfield opportunities or refining your approach in more-competitive areas.

Why is identifying the path of least resistance important in terms of a communications strategy?

Well, if you subscribe to the Ries and Trout school of positioning (based on the classic book of the same name), you understand that companies don’t position products and services, people do.

This means your client’s position in the market is not what you or the company says it is. It’s what the market in aggregate says it is.

Hopefully, your comms strategy aligns with this reality. But if not (and it’s a good bet you’re unaware of some strategic holes), there are SEO tools and data to help guide you in the right direction.


In search engine analysis and ranking, reputable backlinks are pure gold.

This is something the SEO specialist and everyone on the team should understand and act around. It can and should be a key driver of communications efforts as well.

Put another way, at the highest level, backlinks reflect influence. And communications has always been about influencing the influencers.

For this reason, part of a comprehensive digital comms SEO strategy should be to identify and connect relevant content via backlinks to your client’s website or other parts of the content ecosystem.

Learning how to identify and secure strong backlinks in your media relations outreach (and post-analysis) will go a long way in helping establish a competitive foothold and positioning.

Keyword Clustering and Phrasing

Perhaps the greatest reason SEO specialists will not replace communications specialists boils down to this: No matter how well-optimized a press release, blog post, byline, etc. is, it will not matter if your content is poorly written or ill-constructed.

There are three broad categories of content defining the SEO world:

That third category, although more difficult to create, pushes out (or pushes down, in terms of search results) weaker content which is only optimized or well-written.

Understanding how Google and other search engines analyze content is essential to success in the well-written, well-optimized category.

Although search algorithms evolve regularly, they are increasingly analyzing content from a “cluster” perspective. This means the search engine analyzes content from a thematic point of view rather than simply by keyword relevance.

And that takes us back to initial strategy and execution issues. Have you organized your pitch and outreach topics to align with the high-level themes your client focuses on? Does the client even know what these themes are?

Having clear answers to these early questions should drive your entire content-development process.

Adapt or Die

So back to the core question: Are SEO specialists replacing communications professionals?

No. But PR’s seat at the communications table–something the industry has had to fight tooth and nail for over decades–is certainly at risk.

The lesson is, we must be able to effectively leverage the most powerful information tool in human history to our clients’ benefit.

Many, perhaps most, SEO specialists do not come from the world of content and communications, but from the world of data analytics.

And while they can find and optimize opportunities, most do not have years of expertise creating content.

This opens up an enormous window of opportunity for communications professionals willing to learn SEO skills.

By adapting your content creation approach to accommodate SEO best practices, you’ll find your strategic vision more relevant.

And, your importance in the overall communications mix becomes more valuable.

Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

Bill Threlkeld

Bill Threlkeld is President of Threlkeld Communications, Inc., a digital PR consultancy based in Santa Monica, California. A 30-plus year PR veteran and indefatigable technologist, Bill hosts and produces the All Things Marketing podcast (iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify) as well as composing and scoring original music for film, television and commercial production.

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