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And then there were the PR agencies

When we set up BMON back in the noughties, we were very much guided by what our potential client base wanted …and what it wanted was search advert management. We could have become a PR agency, because we’d all come from editorial backgrounds, but that seemed to be falling out of favour at the time. We could also have been tempted by the (bigger) demand for search engine optimisation services, and gone down that path. The SEO business however has changed radically, not once, but twice in the last ten years.

Back then, SEO was a relatively undocumented set of techniques, some legitimate and others risky and unapproved. Hiring outside expertise for SEO made a lot of sense, because it was highly unlikely that anyone in-house would know what worked. When my own publishing company was bought by a much larger publisher, meeting their web team had been the first time I’d come across anyone who really knew what SEO was all about who was not working as a consultant. (Today, that person has gone on to become one of the UK’s best known SEO experts, and I’m proud to say that BMON employs her as a consultant to help our clients).

Soon, however, the search engines made it clear what would and wouldn’t work in SEO, and the role of most good SEO agencies became either to clear up legacy messes or just to be an outsourced service to implement the (known) rules. Plenty of less scrupulous organisations continued to claim there was some sort of black art, but there wasn’t.

More recently, most sites have got their on-page SEO act together, with it often being provided out of the box by their content management system. The key to SEO has become the quality and quantity of original content – which is not an SEO job at all, but something we’ve traditionally associated with in-house marketing departments or external PR agencies.

So if BMON had been set up as an SEO consultancy, we’d probably have ended up as a PR agency, if we’d survived the intervening period. Today, if you’re looking for help in making your website perform better, I’d contend you should be looking for a PR agency that understands how to make the content it creates work effectively online. The role of an SEO consultancy for small and medium sized businesses will be more as an emergency service.