Link Building vs. Digital PR: How to Know the Difference

In personal branding, there’s an old saying that goes something like: “If you need to question whether you have a personal brand, you probably don’t have a personal brand.”

In the cheerful echo chamber of business advice offered online, the above statement would be an outlier. In fact, in 1997, Fast Company predicted that the personal branding revolution was just underway. If you read the piece, it sounds like something a management ‘guru’ would post on LinkedIn today. But it just isn’t true. In 2005, Fast Company published a moratorium on this idea, concluding that not everyone needs to be “the CEO of Me Inc.”

But to this day, the idea persists that every service-based company and individual who provide a service needs a strong personal brand. But in the modern world of e-commerce retailers and software as a service (SaaS) solution providers, driving the right kind of traffic to your website through link building may be more important than the conversations surrounding your company through the use of PR placements, at least from a sales point of view.

The real wisdom is to know the difference between the two methods, and know whether a strong brand will actually help your company continue to provide services and expand into offering even more. Likes, comments, and views are nice, but they aren’t major drivers of sales and won’t do much for your bottom line in the long run if they aren’t followed up with a strong digital PR strategy. 

With that in mind, here’s a comprehensive look at the practices of Link Building and Digital PR as it relates to SEO.


The Methods of Link Building

When evaluating the digital marketing needs of your business, you should first look at who solicits your services or buys your products (your buyer personas), and what methods they use to connect with your company. The second part of this can be done simply by looking at your referral traffic from your website and pinpointing where it is coming from.

If the answer is primarily search, you may want to double down on that method and consider SEO Link Building as your primary method of connecting with your buyer personas. Unlike PR placements, link building involves writing and placing content on relevant websites within your niche. For example, if you are a SaaS solution provider, you would want to have content placed on business technology sites, particularly ones that talk about big data, analytics, and software.

These are typically niche sites that might not have the highest traffic metrics (views, social shares, comments) but they are both relevant and authoritative to Google and have solid Domain Authority (in the 40-70 range). The types of articles published on niche sites are almost always editorial content, meaning that they will reference your company in the context of a larger conversation, usually in the form of an informative content asset, such as a blog post or an informational page on your website.

In essence, linked mentions of your business on these types of sites will signal to Google that your business’s website is also relevant and authoritative and your search rankings for relevant will organically increase due to this repeated association with relevant and authoritative publications. This will especially be useful if you have targeted anchor text you can use based on a comprehensive content asset that you’ve had created.   

The Tactics of Digital PR

If you do determine that you want to be a more public-facing company, then a digital PR strategy might be what you’re looking for. With this method, you will be using search and social in tandem to drive traffic to your website, and viewing social media as another form of search. There will be a stronger focus on long tail keywords and intent in search rankings, and you will bolster your social media profiles so that they rank in Google searches alongside your business’s webpage.

The types of links you will be getting here will be primarily aimed at branded publications. Here, you will have to determine between featured links and sponsored content. As of 2016, new FTC guidelines have mandated that all sponsored post in digital publications are required by law to have nofollow links. This means that the point of these types of articles, which are run by every major digital publication and meant to be disguised as feature stories, are as an advertisement in a publication and not as an SEO asset. 

That is why a digital PR strategy that involves SEO as a key component will rely on featured posts. These types of posts differ from the editorial posts of link building in that they explicitly talk about the product or service offering that your company provides and link to you as a provider of this service, either directly or indirectly. A quality content asset is often needed for featured posts as well, and these posts tend to be at branded media publications, and will likely generate social shares, views, and comments. This makes them an effective way for someone to discover your company without the use of Google.


Ultimately, link building and digital PR are two sides of the same coin. Both tactics need to be used to effectively drive sales. Before delving head-first into digital PR though, you need to consider if you are even strongly identified online for your service offerings. If the goal of PR is perception management, then you need to have a perception to manage. Keep this in mind as you continue to explore options to best market yourself online