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PR measurement: What does success look like for a digital PR campaign?

By Mike Davies

It is always one of the first things we ask any prospect or client when we get started on planning a new digital PR campaign.

“What does success look like for you?”

It sounds an obvious question – and it is – but you’d be surprised how hard it can to answer for some businesses.

Understanding and defining the goals of a digital PR campaign – or any PR or marketing campaign – is vital if you are going to determine its value in both the short and long term.

Part of the issue with failing to define what success looks like for a digital PR campaign is down to the industry being shockingly bad at providing accurate PR measurement and actually proving what value it is having.

Getting media coverage, securing media interviews and “raising brand awareness” are all clearly going to be measured as part of any campaign – if you’re failing to get media coverage from your PR then you’re failing.

But with the increasing rise of Digital PR and the use of data analytics, website measurement and keyword tracking tools available, PR measurement has to be more than just counting column inches in print or online.

Setting tangible PR goals

As we’ve said, public relations as an industry has historically failed when it comes to showing tangible impact.

Yes, you managed to get loads of really good coverage and maybe one or two covers in a trade publication – but what has that done for your business?

Generating a certain percentage of new links from media coverage to drive SEO improvement, generating 15% more referral traffic from coverage or social, or seeing 67% improvement in keyword performance.

These are all things that you should be looking to measure through public relations.

Previous public relations professionals couldn’t measure these things – and unfortunately too many still don’t – but with tools like Google Analytics, Moz, BrightEdge or even platforms like Hubspot, it is possible to easily measure the impact PR is having on your website.

Go to our case study page if you want to see how we've measured some of our previous campaigns - just click here

What should you measure for PR success?

While there a huge number of metrics that you can use to measure the success of a digital PR campaign, there are a few essential things that should be top of the list when it comes to your PR measurement:

  • Links generated from Earned media coverage – According to Google, legitimate links from high domain authority third party websites (like news websites) are the top factor which will determine where your website places in search rankings. The challenge is, these links are the hardest thing to earn. Luckily, digital PR professionals should be best placed to get these links as they understand what kind of content journalists will write about, and link to, and also have the relationships with journalists to get the articles placed in the first place. When it comes to links, there are a few things to consider:
    • Domain Authority (and relevance) of the website – News websites have among the highest domain authority of any site on the internet, save for educational websites, which is why getting links from these sites is like gold dust. But while domain authority is important, you still want to make sure the websites you’re targeting are relevant (and legitimate). Afterall getting a link from a fashion website isn’t going to do you much good if you’re a seller of accounting SaaS products. Similarly getting loads of links from low domain authority “blog farms” or spammy websites isn’t going to do you much good. When it comes to links, think quality over quantity.
    •  Follow vs No-follow links – This has been a long running debate in the world of Digital PR and SEO for years. Does a link have any benefit if it’s a no follow link (as in it isn’t indexed by Google something to follow) This has changed somewhat in the last few months after Google decided to treat no-follow links as a “hint” for ranking purposes (meaning they’re not useless) but you should still be aiming for follow links.
  • Increases in web traffic (both organic and referral) – Even in B2B, buying is shifting online and the majority of sales, even that don’t finish online, have some element of online within the buyer journey. If you want to have any chance of succeeding today you have to be easy to find online, and provide your audience with useful, non-salesy – information when they get there. Referral traffic is an absolute must for PR measurement today. Getting coverage and links is hugely beneficial, but how has that impacted the number of visitors to your website, and what kind of visitors are they? Are they going to actually buy from you? By measuring the increase in traffic from referral traffic (news websites and social) you can evaluate the increase in numbers, but also use tools like Google Analytics to understand what they are doing when they get to your website. Are they doing the things you want them to (whether it’s downloading an eBook or booking a call with you?) Similarly, you should measure the impact of organic traffic on any PR activity you do. “Brand awareness” is a wishy washy thing to measure but if your PR activity is bringing more people to your website then you must be doing something right.
  • Keyword performance – If you don’t have a list of keywords that people will use to find you, or aren’t measuring their performance on the back of PR activity then you’re doing something wrong. While PR material is never going to be “SEO optimised” by including non-branded descriptions of your company within articles and features you can help Google understand what your business does and help it to understand that you’re a website people should be going to – meaning you’ll rank higher in search.
  • Website visitors to leads to customers – Is it really the job of a public relations campaign to win customers, or is that the job of marketing? It’s still a contentious issue in the industry and is largely driven by the increasing closeness with which PR and marketing work. It used to be that these were two separate disciplines, but with Digital PR now coming to the front and demonstrating the impact it can have on a company website, it is increasingly required that PR agencies generate not just more website visitors, but website visitors that will eventually turn into customers. While you’re PR agency cannot ultimately influence what a visitor does once they’ve got to your website (unless they’re also running content plans and inbound marketing campaigns for you) Digital PR should be measured on the quality of visitors being driven to your site. For example, if you’re PR activity brings in 1,000 new visitors which converts in 10 new customers, is that better than an increase of 500 visitors but 50 new customers?

PR measurement must improve

Ultimately the way PR is measured has to fundamentally change. Traditional PR has been left behind and Digital PR is taking over. If you’re continuing to measure PR success purely on media coverage and column inches then you are missing a trick.

Making the most of web analytics tools and getting more of an understanding of what they can tell you about a PR campaign will put you in a much better place to measure PR campaigns properly and ensure you are getting the most out of your investment.

Considering that companies are spending more on Digital PR and social media now than in previous years, according to the PRCA’s latest “Digital PR and Communications Report” the pressure is increasing for digital agencies to prove the value of this investment – and that can only be achieved through effective measurement.

Slightly worryingly, the report did highlight that outdated measurement techniques remained prevalent within some agencies, while others simply weren’t measuring their activity at all.

It is important now that the industry moves on from discussing the failures of the past and looks ahead at how it can take measurement into the next decade and finally start to prove once and for all the real value of public relations – and digital PR – beyond the simple metric of counting coverage.

Still not sure how to set achievable goals for your PR campaign? Download our eBook which gives you more information of goals and other things you should consider when briefing a PR agency and setting up campaigns.

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