What PPC ad spending can tell you about the UK PR sector and other digital tales

As part of a recent SEO analysis of the websites of PR Week’s Top 150 agencies (*), we found that only 37pc of them contained the keyword term “PR” in their home page titles. And barely 15pc used the term “public relations” (a fairly bog standard SEO technique).

We then realised that many firms referred to themselves as communications agencies and/or consultancies. So perhaps they were optimising on these terms?

Nope. A mere six agencies had either of these terms in their page titles.
You might argue that PR firms are using other terms to optimise around. But it doesn’t take much analysis to realise that most PR Week top 150 agency websites pay little or no attention to SEO.
But do they need to optimise their sites? Perhaps they will rank highly on Google in any case for standard industry keyword terms?
At first blush, this looks plausible. For example, for the term “communications consultancy”, Hanover, FD and Freud occupy the top 3 slots. And the term is searched for 29 times per day in the UK on a broad match basis.
But perhaps, these PR firms (and others) are missing a trick?
For example, on the term “communications agency”, no single top 150 PR firm ranks in the top 10. And with the term being searched for 217 times a day in the UK on a broad match basis, that is a lot of potential click throughs (and business) going elsewhere.
But are agencies making up for lack of natural search rankings by using Pay Per Click advertising?
Again, no. We estimate that around 60 companies spent money on Google Adwords around the term “communications agency” in the last 12 months. But not one of them was a top 150 PR firm. The same applied for the term “communications consultancy”. (Even those firms that are using PPC seem to be doing so in a fairly crude manner – they don’t test different ad copy and rarely provide a dedicated landing page).
So what does this all mean? Are top 150 PR firms failing to invest in their own SEO and PPC approaches because they don’t know how to do it? Or because they don’t think it is worth the effort?
Or does it say more about the clients who buy PR services? In other words, PR firms are sticking to non-SEO/PPC business development because they’ve tested it and found that this isn’t the way that their prospects decide how to choose a firm?
Perhaps. But even if this were the case, surely client side PR buyers are still looking to PR firms to give them genuine digital communication insight.
According to a joint PR Week/Brands2Life survey from December 2009, 54pc of communications directors think that their key challenge for 2010 is executing a digital strategy. On the agency side, you’d be hard pushed to find one that doesn’t tout its digital capabilities. For example, the following, taken from a top 150 PR agency site, is typical of what you will find in most PR firm’s marketing collateral:
“Search engine rankings are key to increasing the reach and visibility of your activities online. We optimise content across a range of formats for search engine visibility, from press releases to video content. We also ensure any new campaign is designed with natural search results factored in, to ensure that the right content is ranked and easily accessible.”
In which case, what are clients to make of the fact that most of the content on top 150 PR web sites is patently unoptimised. Or betrays a lack of understanding of other elements of the digital marketing mix such as PPC?
If the PR sector is to take a lead on digital communications, it needs to provide better evidence it can provide clients with the most rounded advice on executing a digital strategy. Its own backyard might be a good place to start.
(*) I’ll happily email the full SEO analysis of the PR Week top 150 to anyone who asks me. Nicely.


  1. […] In summary, this year’s NMA league table shows that even the search sector is not entirely immune to the general woes of the economy. Having said that, search firms continue to generate very respectable profits – certainly compared with the PR sector. And search firms are making no secret of continuing their land grab for PR work. The PR sector must therefore continue to up its game in terms of the quality and value of the digital services it offers. […]


  2. […] firms are making no secret of continuing their land grab for PR work. The PR sector must therefore continue to up its game in terms of the quality and value of the digital services it offers,” says […]


  3. […] Analysis by ­Escherman’s Andrew Smith shows that the majority of the PR Week Top 150 agencies are failing to make even basic efforts to optimise their own web sites. […]


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