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What is digital PR?

Hannah Byrne Head of Digital PR headshot

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What is digital PR?

Digital public relations (PR) is a marketing tactic used to increase a brand’s online presence.

In this article, we’ll explore exactly what digital PR is and how it draws on traditional PR principles but with an SEO-forward approach. We’ll get to grips with how digital PR uses a digital-first strategy that drives forward brand and SEO goals in equal measure.

So, what is digital PR?

Digital PR (digital public relations) is an online marketing tactic. It combines traditional public relations principles with a digital-first approach that puts brands at the forefront of the media while earning backlinks

(and brand mentions) back to a site.

To do this, digital PRs create newsworthy, engaging, informative, trending, and quality content to tell stories to their target audience. These are then sold into the media by way of press releases and outreach pitches – with the aim of getting journalists to cover the story. This helps to build brand reputation and brand awareness amongst key customers.

Having evolved from link building, digital PR works closely with SEO functions to drive links to key pages, using key search terms and keywords, to drive SEO performance that can be measured and tracked.

Digital PR tactics include:

  • Press release creation and distribution
  • Newsjacking and reactive PR
  • Proactive PR
  • Campaigns
  • Data, studies, and survey-led stories
  • Thought leadership
  • Case studies

By working to tackle some of the most important ranking factors in search – relevant content, optimised content, and link authority, digital PR earns media mentions and links to drive traffic to a website. This boosts organic rankings, increases revenue, and drives social following and engagement, meaning the benefits can be felt across a business.

Where – and how – digital PR started

Digital PR may still be referred to as ‘link building’ occasionally, and although things have changed, link building is what digital PR was borne out of.

Prior to 2012, link building was mainly about volume; getting the most amount of backlinks to a site possible. This resulted in many sites having spammy and irrelevant links pointing to their site. Tactics to get these links included guest posting, mass link exchanging, and buying links. And although we look back now in horror, it worked.

Google’s Penguin update

But then came the 2012 Penguin update and it changed everything.

Google’s Penguin update sought to reward high-quality websites while minimising the presence of websites that engaged in these tactics to acquire links, as well as keyword stuffing, in the search engine results pages (SERPs). As such, Google began penalising websites that relied on these tactics. As a result, many websites started to see huge drops performance.

From then, businesses started looking into more organic and natural ways to earn backlinks. And this was the beginning of digital PR as we know – and love – it today.

But, of course, it is constantly evolving. When digital PR first started, it was very much intertwined with content marketing; large digital PR campaign pages were almost exclusively created. These were often creatively-led and often included infographics and large pieces of data. And while these undoubtedly still have their place, the COVID-19 Pandemic changed the landscape of digital public relations.

Large data-led and creative ‘hero’ campaigns take time and resource to pull together. And with lockdowns happening all over the world, many of these campaigns were no longer relevant so could not be used – or simply didn’t achieve expectations. And so, we had to pivot.

This is where reactive and proactive digital PR really came into its own. Borrowing the traditional PR tactic, digital PR efforts focussed on snappy and timely PR to drive the same benefits. As these take less time to put together, we were able to follow the news agenda and create stories that tapped into trends to earn backlinks and mentions. And this tactic is still much used – and much celebrated – today.

From giving advice to budding entrepreneurs, to helping businesses pivot the changing remote-first world, and even myth-busting tips from social media, many good digital PR strategies now include reactive and proactive PR – alongside bigger campaigns, case studies, thought leadership, stunts, and more – in order to increase brand awareness and build high-quality backlinks and mentions on relevant sites.

How digital PR differs from link building

We already know that link building was the foundation on which digital PR was built, but the two are not the same.

Link building is still a tactic used today – albeit differently. While both are based on earning backlinks, they are different. Link building aims to gain backlinks by satisfying search engines and showing it is a brand it should trust. Digital PR, however, aims to naturally earn a backlink by creating quality content that adds value for users and showing it is a brand they should trust. And as Google evolves and updates its algorithm to become more and more user-first, digital PR will continue to play a pivotal role.

Why do I need digital PR?

Why do I need digital PR?

Some reasons why businesses need digital PR include:

Brand awareness

An effective digital PR strategy will increase your brand awareness and brand reputation.

Increased keyword rankings and SEO improvements

Relevant and quality content will work in-line with your SEO strategy to drive keyword improvements where you need it the most.

Stronger visibility

By supporting search engine visibility, it strengthens your domain authority and drives organic search traffic.

Drives demand

Digital PR drives demand for your business, which in turn, gives you more leads and sales.

Drives traffic

By using digital PR to drive demand, your website will see a spike in traffic. This can then be tracked so you can analyse the effectiveness of your campaigns.

Topic and sector authority

Targeting relevant media outlets, digital PR helps to build relevant links and mentions through topically relevant content, placing brands as experts in their sector.

Trackable results

While there are ways to measure success with traditional PR, digital PR benefits teams by offering more scope for tracking results and reporting ROI.

Most businesses can benefit from incorporating digital PR into their marketing strategy. By placing businesses and their leaders as experts in their field, it works alongside SEO, paid media, content marketing, traditional PR, events, and social media, and helps to improve brand authority and authority in the search engines. This, in turn, increases your exposure and awareness, leading to increased customer acquisition and lead generation.

Why should digital PR be part of your SEO plans?

Digital PR is essentially part of the SEO puzzle – just how technical SEO, on-site content, content marketing, local SEO and on-page performance are. And while it’s true that they can be done independently of one another, they create one powerful tactic when used in tandem.

By enabling SEO to feed into digital PR and connecting the dots, you are able to build both on-site authority and off-page authority which work together. But don’t just take our word for it; Google’s very own John Mueller said that digital PR is “just as critical as technical SEO” with the two disciplines working in harmony to drive organic website traffic through search engines and building brand awareness.

John Mueller - Google - Digital PR Tweet

How long will it take to see benefits from digital PR?

Just like SEO, it is not a quick fix; consistency is key for both tactics to drive value. As an organic channel, no one can give assurances as to how long it will take to see results from a digital PR strategy. However, once relevant links start to be earned on relevant websites, you can usually start to see an increase in website traffic immediately, with SEO benefits – such as ranking improvements – after a couple of months.

The businesses that see the biggest benefits from digital PR are often the ones who focus on creating quality content for their target audience regularly.

Digital PR v traditional PR

The lines between the two have become more blurred in recent years. As such, many traditional PR principles are now used in digital PR plans. The biggest difference, however, is the target media outlets; a digital PR campaign targets online media outlets to earn and gain backlinks and brand mentions, while traditional PR is focussed on both online and print media. However, at the heart of both traditional and digital PR efforts is the aim of driving forward brand perception and brand awareness.

Digital PR plans are also aligned to wider SEO plans, supporting topic authority, keywords and search terms, and priority pages.

What do I need to be successful with digital PR?

Reactiveness and speed

Just like traditional PR, timing is everything. While once upon a time digital PR was known for big, all singing, all dancing campaigns, times have changed. Nowadays, many digital PR teams include newsjacking and reactive PR at the heart of their plans. This allows them to place their business or clients at the heart of stories and better showcase their expertise.


Data is becoming more important to journalists than ever before. The latest State of the Media Report from Cision states that while storytelling has always been at the heart of journalists’ jobs, the majority of journalists are relying on data to measure success and shape their editorial strategy. The report found that data will play an even larger part of their role for nearly two in five journalists, while 61% of journalists said that original research reports (including trends, market data, etc.) is what they most want to receive from PR professionals.

While not every business has access to data, there are ways to tell a story using third-party data, such as from surveys or studies, freedom of information requests, and free-to-access data.


Having someone – or a number of people – in your business who can be the voice of your company is invaluable. Not only does this enable you to attribute quotes and comments to someone, but it also helps to build brand authority through them. You’ll often find that once they have been quoted a couple of times, journalists will start coming to you for their comment. It’s also a great idea to have these people media trained so they can jump on broadcast interview opportunities, such as TV and radio. While these are more traditional in nature, these often lead to digital coverage.

How do I create a digital PR strategy?

Your digital PR strategy should align to your marketing strategy, plan, and business objectives. This means that all marketing departments, sales and the business development teams are all working towards the same goal.

The truth is that many people confuse the terms ‘strategy’ and ‘plan’; a strategy is essentially what you are aiming to do. For instance, an accountancy firm’s strategy may be to raise the profile of their services amongst law firms in the South East. This strategy is what all the above teams will be working towards. A plan, on the other hand, is how you will do this using a myriad of tactics – one of which may be digital PR.

So, to create your digital PR strategy and plan, you must look at business and marketing objectives first, and build upon these in order to drive value for the business and your target audience.

How do I create a digital PR plan?

Once you know what you’re aiming to achieve, quite often, the plan writes itself. It’s important you ask yourself the following questions before starting work, however:

  • Who am I aiming to talk to? (Job titles, positions, locations, etc.)
  • Where do they get information from?
  • What topics are important to them?
  • What problems or pain points does my product/solution solve?
  • Where do they get their news?

From there, you’ll be able to create a plan that is of interest and solves problems for your target audience – wherever they get their information from. And putting your customer first will always please Google. After all, they are chasing users.

How to use digital PR with a digital marketing strategy

Every part of a business should be working towards the same goal, but this is especially true when it comes to digital marketing.

Digital PR can work in harmony with different digital marketing functions, including content marketing, SEO, paid media, content marketing, social media, and more, driving forward key messages and supporting campaigns to build topic authority.

How do I measure the success of digital PR?

One of digital PR’s biggest benefits is that it is measurable and trackable – usually in a short space of time.

How to measure the success of digital PR

There are many ways to measure the success of a digital PR campaign and digital PR activities, including:


The most obvious is the number and quality of links the digital PR activity or campaign achieved. The quality of links are usually measured in a number of ways, including domain authority, relevancy, and the number of new referring domains.

Brand and topical mentions

While digital PR’s main goal is links and not mentions, Google does look at brand and topic mentions, so don’t discount attributions and wider topic authority.


If links are included, you are able to track them back to the landing or target page to monitor effectiveness from individual media placements.

Social shares

Many digital PR campaigns are shared on social media – either from the source or via the coverage. In fact, many journalists have social sharing KPIs, so actively promoting the stories on social media will encourage sharing.

Revenue and leads

You can use tools such as GA4 to track ROI in terms of revenue and leads. These really help to show the value of the activity to key stakeholders.

Organic traffic

A successful digital PR campaign or prolonged activity will lead to increased traffic from organic sources. These can be: direct traffic and referral traffic from media websites and social networks.

Share of voice (SOV)

SOV measures a brand’s visibility across different marketing channels against competitors. As digital PR tactics gain traction, you’ll find your share of voice increases, and in turn, your competitors’ decreases as you close the gaps.

Ultimately your digital PR strategy should concentrate on providing useful, informative, and quality content for your audience. You should also ensure that your content is integrated into the content pillars and SEO strategy for the wider business.

What does the future of digital PR look like?

Digital PR is becoming more popular, but it is changing. While digital PR strategies used to pull almost exclusively from SEO, they are now working with more digital marketing channels than ever before, alongside public relations teams to align messaging. And this is something we see becoming even more important. As Google becomes more intuitive, relevancy and integrity will be key in digital PR, so we must align our digital PR campaigns to give Google what it wants – which is what we want, as consumers.

In fact, a recent ‘Google Search document leak‘ revealed that links do, in fact, matter, and that link diversity and relevance are still key.

Hero campaigns

While newsjacking and reactive PR has become a large part of digital PR, that doesn’t mean to say that ‘hero’ digital PR campaigns are dead. The truth is that creative large-scale, data-led digital PR campaigns still have their place. And when they use insights to tell a story that is relevant to the brand, they are powerful ways to establish themselves as experts.

Newsjacking and reactive digital PR

Newsjacking and reactive PR is the perfect way to pitch insights from your subject matter experts in a timely and cost-effective way. As budgets are squeezed, we foresee newsjacking and reactive PR playing an even bigger part of brands’ digital PR plans. By securing high-quality, relevant links that position you as an expert in your field, it perfectly demonstrates Experience, Expertise, Authority and Trust (EEAT), giving Google exactly what it wants.

Proactive digital PR

In a similar vein to newsjacking and reactive PR, proactive PR helps to place brands as experts in their respective sectors, while creating a continuous flow of PR activity to keep brands at the forefront of the news agenda.

Helpful Content Update and EEAT

Google’s 2023 Helpful Content Update means that digital PR has an even bigger role to play by feeding into EEAT – as long as it is relevant. Digital PR stories and campaigns that have no relevancy – or are tenuously connected – to the brand and its offering will potentially do more harm than good.

As such, your digital PR strategy and plan for 2024 needs to:

  • be relevant to your brand
  • be relevant to your target audience
  • relate to the keywords you want to rank for
  • be of interest to relevant publications
  • get the timing right, considering the wider news agenda
Cutting through to get links

It’s no secret that PR is getting harder; with fewer journalists and publications – but with more PRs than ever before. So, to cut through the noise, we need to give journalists stories that are important to them and their audience, in a timely manner, and that reflect the brand we’re working for.

Making links work harder

On average, campaigns are getting fewer links – partly due to the above. So, for those links we do earn, we need to make them work as hard as possible. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to work collaboratively with other digital marketing teams, including SEO. This ensures that target keywords and terms, as well as URLs, will drive authority where you need it – such as product and category pages – and will move the needle.

What is digital PR at Smart Monkey like?

At Smart Monkey, we are a digital marketing agency first. This means that our digital PR services always take an SEO-first approach. By working closely with technical and on-site SEO, all digital PR work is centered around SEO goals to improve rankings, drive website traffic, and drive demand.

All digital strategies for clients are created to feed into their business goals first and foremost. This not only ensures all work delivers the biggest impact, but it also means that we quickly become an extension of the business. By working towards the same goals, we show value quickly and measurably, focussing SEO, PPC, paid media, and digital PR strategies and plans on the areas that are important and will make the biggest impact.

Hannah profile picture

About Hannah

Hannah has over 10 years’ experience building brands through the power of PR, content marketing and digital marketing campaigns. With experience working within FinTech, SaaS, FMCG and automotive, Hannah excels at B2B PR and supporting demand generation.