Digital PR vs brand PR – what’s the difference?

Digital PR vs. brand PR vs. link building is a hotly debated topic, and there are many differences between them. Yet, with the right approach, you can develop a strategy that utilizes the benefits of all to deliver brand and SEO performance and achieve maximum ROI. 

As VP of Organic Media at a Performance Marketing Agency, something prospective clients often ask me is, ‘doesn’t my PR team already cover this?’. 

The answer is usually no, as PR team goals and objectives are purely brand-led metrics unrelated to SEO performance. 

Brand PR teams (also referred to as ‘traditional PRs’ or brand-led PR agencies) are usually communications specialists who are responsible for sharing brand news externally, securing coverage in print, online, broadcast channels and, in recent years, social media and podcasts. 

Their main objective is to build a positive reputation for the brand, increasing trust and awareness by regularly sharing their news and messaging with the world. 

This often includes thought leadership, product-led press releases and news bulletins to targeted press. 

In digital PR, we are ultimately responsible for creating news around priority keywords to support SEO activity through engaging and creative content and ideas. Our goal is to earn high-quality, relevant links into third-party publications and websites. 

That’s because Google uses links as a trust signal, as part of its ranking algorithm. 

Digital PR is, therefore, often significantly more creative-led, with supporting assets sitting onsite, to provide journalists with resources (and a genuine reason) to link back. As such, the main targets for digital PR activity are online sources. That being said, due to the creative-led nature of our work, it’s always recommended to incorporate social media to maximize creative assets and drive further positive signals to Google through audience engagement. 



The biggest difference – measuring what success looks like

Historically, PR was a notoriously tricky channel to prove tangible benefits and, for brand PR metrics, it still can be. For brand PR, the following metrics are usually tracked:


  • Pieces of coverage 
  • Website links
  • Reach and impressions
  • Sentiment and engagement
  • Brand messages included 
  • Spokesperson quote included
  • Product image included


All these are useful metrics for understanding how a piece of coverage performed and how it was potentially received. 

But how do you prove the ROI of your spend? AVE (advertising value equivalent) was a metric that was used historically but has now been binned by many PR professionals as the numbers were often inflated. I remember 10 years ago getting a tiny brand mention of about two sentences in The Sun, and our cuttings service reported it was worth over $2000 in AVE. I didn’t buy it then, and I certainly wouldn’t buy it now. 

Enter digital PR’s biggest strength. Due to the performance-led nature of the channel (everything we do is rooted in SEO insight), activity is trackable and, therefore measurable. This is why I fell in love with digital PR in the first place (and swiftly moved to the DPR dark side after starting in brand and social PR!).

Not only does digital PR report on all the metrics above, but we also report on: 


  • Volume of links
  • Type of link 
  • Average Domain Rating 
  • Topical relevance (powered by our Proprietary tech Salient™ 
  • Uplift in keyword rankings (based on the topics covered) 
  • Incremental and referral traffic 
  • Incremental revenue (based on the keywords our coverage and links focused on)


Digital PR for Marks & Spencer

We’ve implemented controlled testing to show the impact of digital PR activity vs non, for global brand Marks & Spencer.  As this was the first time the business had used a digital PR strategy, to ensure a fair assessment, we implemented a Control Group analysis. By comparing the performance of sections targeted with digital PR to untouched sections of the website, we could accurately measure the difference in growth rates.

As a result, we drove over 3000 keywords to page one rankings with over 200 high-quality linking pieces of coverage. This increase in rankings drove a measurable increase in traffic, and, therefore, trackable conversions and revenue. On average, the target group had higher relative revenue growth than the control group by approximately 5%. You can read the full digital PR case study here.


Why digital PR is not just ‘link building’ 

I really believe that when done well, digital PR is the sweet spot between brand-led PR and link building. Our approach goes beyond mere link acquisition; it’s about creating meaningful connections and driving tangible results.  

The problem is that many ‘link building’ agencies don’t do it well.  These agencies are buying links or churning out irrelevant content just to desperately hit a high link KPI and keep their clients happy (the irony is that this type of approach will not make Google or their target audience happy). 


The disadvantages of black hat, spammy link building tactics

One of the reasons many Digital PR specialists don’t like to be called ‘link builders’ is that there are a lot of negative connotations associated with the term, due to some agencies and so-called ‘link building specialists’ buying links and churning out irrelevant and spammy content. This goes against Google’s webmaster guidelines (from 2007!), and they have made it very clear in the recent spam update that buying and selling links, more than ever, will not be tolerated. This means that, at best, Google will just ignore any paid links, and at worst, they will penalize you and your website rankings will totally tank. 

This is why a digital PR approach is so important to a successful link-building strategy. You can use public relations techniques to earn links and drive positive publicity for your brand, generating quality content that your target audience wants to read, and Google rewards (not penalizes!). 


Work smarter not harder – why one agency is better than two 

Unless you’re looking to put on an event, need crisis comms, or a communications strategy for a very niche (or taboo) industry like tobacco or gambling, the good news is it is possible to create a digital PR campaign that delivers on both brand and SEO performance. It can meet search engine expectations and your target audiences. Win-win! 

We also have  extensive experience working closely with internal brand PR teams and find, with our tried and tested processes and ways of working, we’re able to be very efficient and drive success, for less effort,  to achieve our objectives.  We unite to deliver against one main goal (usually to drive more sales and revenue!). 


We have three approaches in our toolkit: 

  • Create the news – through data journalism and/or creative assets that can be amplified by paid media and influencer investments 
  • Enter the news – putting our clients front and center of the news agenda – by reacting quickly to breaking news with quick-win content and expert quotes, piggybacking onto existing cultural stories 
  • Reclaiming what’s rightly ours – often our clients have been featured in the press or in publishers but haven’t secured a link – or there’s a link, but it’s broken – we’re here to fix and turn appropriate brand mentions into links


The Journey Further approach

At Journey Further, we don’t just ‘build links’ – we earn them through thoughtfully crafted narratives and compelling storytelling. We never buy links and we never undertake spammy tactics. We are PR specialists trained in SEO and digital marketing. 

Our team consists of brand-led PRs, SEO-outreach specialists, and journalists.  With diverse and unique backgrounds, our team has helped develop the fastest-growing digital PR team in the US.