Digital PR is not link-building for SEO.
Some “digital PR” agencies have focused on practices like link-building, DA (domain authority) mapping, and webmaster outreach.
But this is SEO, not digital PR.
How should these distinctions be made?
The Misguided Equation: Digital PR ≠ Link Building
PR professionals used to wield their influence through traditional media relations, crafting press releases and pitching stories to newspapers, radio, and television.
But as the digital landscape evolved, so did PR. Social media, blogs, podcasts, and other online channels presented new opportunities for communication.
Digital PR emerged as an extension of traditional PR, incorporating new platforms and tactics.
Unfortunately, some agencies began equating digital PR with basic SEO practices to pursue tangible results, which many thought would be “easy wins.”
Link building itself can be an immensely powerful practice, but you must be a skilled SEO professional to capitalise on the work fully.
Getting links is one thing.
Getting the right links is a little trickier.
And optimising a site for a specific link-building strategy?
You don’t need a PR expert. You need an SEO professional.
From Bad To Worse: The Digital Stagnation
How did we end up in this situation?
Many PR agencies thought link-building would be an “easy-win” to bless their retainers with the juicy gift of continuity.
Link-building in the state of today is low-tier work. I’m sorry if this hurts anyone’s feelings. Automated outreach to webmasters via scraped email addresses is easy to sell and set up — and many clients don’t mind outsourcing this tedious work.
As a result, significant parts of the PR industry suffer from a backlash: Many agencies have even opted out of “digital PR” altogether because they tried their hand at SEO — and failed.
Because if you’re not optimising apps and websites, the targets for such link-building activities, you’re not doing strategic work.
(Does anyone remember all those pesky “campaign sites”?)
This has led to an unfortunate “digital stagnation” in large sections of the agency industry as agencies struggle to stay relevant and valuable to their clients.
Drowning the Business: The Link-Building Cesspool
The rise of search engines and their ever-changing algorithms have made search engine optimization (SEO) a top priority for businesses and PR professionals.
In this race for higher search rankings, link-building emerged as a necessary tactic to boost a website’s authority.
Unfortunately, link-building has attracted less-than-serious vendors, driving prices down — and undermining the practice’s credibility. (And this describes the state of current affairs mildly.)
As a result, many PR agencies fixated on link-building to demonstrate their digital PR prowess to clients. This tunnel vision led to a disproportionate focus on acquiring backlinks, often at the expense of more foundational and strategic PR work.
Digital PR specialists who excel in digital strategy, content creation, or influencer relations may feel undervalued or overlooked in an industry that seems to prioritise link-building above all else.
The Self-Perpetuating Cycle: When Link Building Isn’t Enough
Many organizations have suffered the consequences of this narrow-minded link-building approach to digital PR.
For example, a well-known e‑commerce brand invested heavily in link building, believing it would drive its online presence and increase sales. However, they neglected other critical aspects of digital PR, such as content creation, influencer relations, and social media engagement.
As a result, the initial burst of traffic rapidly resulted in more people developing unfavourable relationships with the brand.
The PR industry’s misguided fixation on DA mapping and link-building creates a self-perpetuating cycle that further hinders the growth of true digital PR.
With the industry at a crossroads, we must ask ourselves a simple but potent question: What is digital PR?
Owning the Definition: Digital PR Capabilities
Digital PR Capabilities
As digital PR specialists, we must champion a comprehensive understanding of digital PR and educate our clients, colleagues, and the public about our discipline’s true scope and value.
Here’s a comprehensive overview of digital PR capabilities:
Social Media Management
Learn more: Digital PR ≠ Link-Building
💡 Subscribe and get a free ebook on how to get better PR ideas.