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Measuring the impact of Digital PR: If you’re focusing on just one metric, you’re missing the point

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PR isn’t new. In fact, some historians suggest that its origins can be traced back to Ancient Greece and the work of philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, who wrote about the art of public persuasion.

And yet, thousands of years later, it can sometimes feel like we’re not much further along in demonstrating the value and impact it can have.

As with all things, PR has evolved a lot, especially in recent years. It’s now an incredibly broad umbrella term for a variety of tactics. Many agencies and practitioners are specialising in certain aspects of PR – after all, it’s better to be a master of one, than none.

Here at WMG, our focus is on digital PR, which in itself is also a broad term with multiple potential streams of activity. Our expert team combines the fundamentals of PR storytelling with data and insight to help deliver earned media placements.

Regardless of your area of PR expertise, there are a few things that most experts will agree are at the heart of what we’re all trying to do…

  1. Help get a brand in front of their target audience
  2. Help positively influence how people feel about the brand
  3. Help influence how much people know about the brand (i.e what it does)
  4. Help ensure that when the target audience is in the position to buy, they think about that brand first or are easily referred to it by trusted advocates

So, why is it that the success of PR is often distilled into a single metric of success such as the number of media mentions you get, or even the number of backlinks? Volume of results seems to have become the primary focus, with relevancy, quality, reach and action metrics often sitting quietly in the background.

Yes, volume of results may be the easiest way to help show what you got for your investment: I spent X and I got Y. But it can become an arbitrary metric of success if it is not reviewed in context, and alongside other indicators of impact or value.

So, how can we do better at reporting on our PR efforts?

Well, to begin with, it’s about assessing what’s important to you as a brand, or your client. If we refer back to those original four goals of PR, how far along are you already and what is the priority?

To do this, we need to be able to understand…

  1. Who the target audience is
  2. How well-known the brand is to them already
  3. What the current brand perception is
  4. How easy or likely it is that a potential customer will buy when the time comes.

We also need this insight in context which means looking at competitors. In my experience, especially among those brands who are looking to invest in digital PR purely for backlinks, it’s common to skip points one to three. Instead, brands focus only on the ‘how easy or likely it is that a potential customer will buy from them when the time comes’ element. This is usually determined through SEO analysis, and exploring how well the brand’s website pages perform in the SERPs and what traffic, sales/conversions are being driven from these at the minute.

While this is understandable, missing those first three points can be a mistake, especially if you want to really demonstrate the value and impact that PR activity is having.

One of the main reasons why these factors are often skipped is because it can be expensive to undertake this sort of analysis. Investment in a specific tool or report may be required to establish a benchmark, and this will need repeating as activity gets underway. Another common reason we come across is that brand teams and SEO teams often don’t work closely together in-house, and therefore insight that covers these points may not always be shared.

Whatever the cause, if you don’t or can’t answer these questions and lay a foundation of brand insight, then you must be realistic about what reporting a PR team is going to be able to deliver. Don’t expect to be able to report on brand awareness or perception if you’ve not got tools set up to track these.

Once priorities are clear and benchmarks are set (as much as feasible), it’s up to PRs to help steer on the type of metrics that should be tracked ongoing, and ultimately what the KPIs should be. Keeping it simple and having just one or two metrics of success can be really tempting, but once again, the issue here is that we’re only telling a very small part of the story.

Typical digital PR success metrics include:

  • The number of brand mentions earned
  • The number of links earned
  • The DA or DR of the websites you’ve been featured on

These are then typically presented as part of a wider SEO report as ‘contributing factors’ to success, although it’s incredibly hard to pin down how much impact they had.

If SEO performance is good, then you may not worry too much about the individual contribution of each tactic. However, if rankings drop, budgets are cut, or competitors start striding ahead this is usually when questions are asked. And PR is often the first thing to go if the impact feels wishy-washy.

Adding multiple metrics is key to demonstrating value

There are a few extra things that could make a big difference to how successful your digital PR efforts are seen to be. Fortunately, weaving these into your reporting doesn’t have to take a lot more time or effort.

What’s more, this doesn’t involve changing the PR work you’re doing – if you’re already getting great results, then this really is about making sure that’s seen and understood. After all, we know that earning great results isn’t easy, so if you’re already doing well then you’re 95 percent of the way there.

Context indicators

How does the volume of your PR-earned media mentions and links vary with your competitors in the same timeframe? Investment levels in tactics may vary, so this needs to be taken into consideration. But ultimately, is your audience more likely to have seen your brand because it’s ‘out there’ more?

Moz and other SEO tools can help show backlink volume growth of any site over time, and Google News can be useful for identifying media mentions. Or, if you have a media monitoring tool these are very handy for this as well.

Another consideration is how your media mentions (in relation to a specific topic) compared to the total number in a set timeframe. If only five new editorial articles have been written about a topic like ‘inheritance tax’ in the last month, and you’ve been featured in four of them, that’s a high infiltration rate.

Context Metrics

  • Volume versus competitors
  • Volume versus editorial opportunity / rarity

Quality indicators

How good are those media mentions and backlinks? DA is handy but it’s very general and not brand specific. Weaving in citation flow, trust flow and PA insight adds extra value.

Something as simple as manually tracking how many times a brand’s key message is included in any earned editorial can also make a world of difference. A key message could be a brand’s focus area, for example, ‘experts in electric car leasing’ or ‘printing specialists’. This extra message is telling the audience, and Google, who you are and what you do.

On more of an SEO level, digital PRs may also track where an earned link is pointing and anchor text. While we only have so much control over these things, anchor text that is keyword rich is of course likely to be considered ‘better’ by Google. Alongside this, links that point to specific target pages rather than a blog/guide or homepage can also be more directly beneficial to particular keyword rankings.

Quality metrics

  • DA
  • PA
  • Citation Flow
  • Trust Flow
  • Key message penetration
  • Linking page
  • Anchor text

Relevancy indicators

It may seem obvious, but if you’ve got coverage or a link on a website that is really relevant to a brand’s audience or services, then this needs highlighting.

We create wishlists for the businesses we work with using supplied audience insight. And sometimes a bit of SEO insight like a link gap or intersect too. Reporting on wishlist ‘hits’ can help show that you’re not just targeting any old site with your PR content – you’re being strategic.

Relevancy metrics

  • Wishlist placement (based on audience / topics / industry)
  • Link gap placement

Reach indicators

Tools such as Releasd can help show how many article views or social shares were driven by your earned media, which is another handy metric.

Some agencies will also report on a publisher website’s overall traffic. This can add context as part of the bigger picture, but we don’t make a fuss about really high reach figures, as they aren’t especially accurate or representative of actual ‘views’.

Reach metrics

  • Overall website traffic (but take this with a pinch of salt!)
  • Article views
  • Social views or engagements

Action indicators

While PR coverage won’t always lead to immediate audience action, that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth keeping an eye on. Using Google Analytics to track referral traffic is easy to do and helps to demonstrate added value.

You can also look at whether a landing page you created is ranking for specific keywords to show that the content is considered ‘good’ in the eyes of Google and is driving traffic to site. You may even be able to report on assisted conversions, although this will depend on your PR strategy and the brand’s industry / services / products.

Action metrics

  • Referral traffic
  • Ranking of landing page and traffic to these
  • Assisted conversions

Looking at the bigger picture

Overall, there are lots of extra factors that can be pulled into reporting to show a bigger picture view of digital PR impact over time. Many of them are simple to implement, although they can take a bit more time. We believe it’s often worth it though, and we’d suggest cherry picking the metrics that are the best fit for your brand.

A mix of metrics is far more valuable than volume figures alone. While we expect the ‘how many links have I got?’ question to continue being asked, the more we report on the bigger picture, the less likely we are to also face the dreaded ‘why have I got less links than last month?’ question. Instead, we’ll have already shown how what was achieved was of high quality, relevant and drove action.

New tools that could be helpful

One new tool that we’ll start to explore and potentially weave in as part of our ongoing reporting is Moz’s new Brand Authority score. While this looks to be in the fairly early stages of implementation, with results not always seeming especially accurate at the moment, this is likely to improve over time.

Alongside things like DA/DR, CF, TF and the various reach and action indicators provided, this 1-100 score could help show how authoritative Google may perceive a brand to be online, and also how digital PR efforts are helping to feed and improve this over time. Once again, as a single metric, it’s not that powerful, but when combined with many others, it helps build a richer and more engaging story. It’s likely that other tools will develop too, and we’re constantly considering if and how we can develop our own proprietary assets that help add further value and context to our reporting.

If you have questions about digital PR reporting, please get in touch with us to speak to our friendly and experienced team.