The challenge of how to measure PR value has plagued the industry for years. As a discipline that deals in brand and reputation, we often have few solid metrics to work with unlike more direct forms of marketing.
You can’t easily work out who’s seen what, how they felt about it or most crucially, whether they took any action as a result. Traditional methods of measuring PR have involved totting up the amount of coverage generated, the number of readers reached, along with the much-maligned Advertising Value Equivalents (AVEs). However, none of these have ever really cut the mustard, leaving PRs unable to show definite outcomes, demonstrable impacts or the much sought-after ROI (return on investment), that helps to drive bigger budgets.
However, as PR is increasingly focused on digital channels, including online publications, owned content and social media, measurement has entered a whole new realm. All of a sudden, PR professionals are faced with clients wanting to boost their search rankings, drive page traffic or maximise their social shares.
On the one hand it’s great, giving PRs loads of new metrics to show their value. But it also means getting your head around how best to access and interpret all this new data. So, how can you drill down into your digital stats, and learn a bit more about the impact your coverage and content is really having?
What’s your objective?
It’s PR 101, but always worth remembering that what you choose to measure should reflect client objectives – so ensure you’re clear on these first. For some clients, search rankings are the be all and end all, whereas for others, it’s reach, or having an impressive publication to namedrop to their clients. Understanding this will not only ensure your campaign is delivering, but also that you’re presenting your achievements in the right way.
Once you have an idea of what you want to achieve, here are the main options:
- Reach vs impressions. As with traditional PR, reach is still a really important metric, showing how many people have seen your coverage or content. Reach can be calculated by looking at a publication’s ‘unique user’ figures, or on social by calculating the sum of all your followers, along with the followers of anybody who shared your post. However, another important metric, particularly on social, is impressions, i.e. the number of times your content has been displayed. This differs from reach in that one person can see the same piece – for example a Twitter or Facebook post – many times, but that doesn’t mean you’ve reached any more people. They can both be valuable, but again, it depends what your objectives are. For example, if you want to target new customers, then you should be aiming for a higher reach, however if you want to show greater engagement with your existing audience then impressions are more useful. You can find both these metrics by enabling analytics on your social accounts.
- Engagement. This is the number of times people engage with your content, whether by commenting, liking or sharing it with their networks. Engagement metrics tend to be used more on social media, however some online publications have comments sections or ‘like’ buttons, while blogging platforms like Quora and Medium also show you how many people have engaged with your content. You can also use engagement metrics to show how many shares your online coverage has had on social channels via a link, or how many discussions it has created – leading to an amplification effect. There are also loads of tools you can use to see how people are engaging with certain campaigns, content, brands and hashtags, for example BuzzSumo, Keyhole and Tweetreach. Engagement metrics are extremely valuable because you can see how many people have actually responded to brand in some way.
- Links, links, links. Backlinks are the new holy grail for digital PR, as they are one of the best ways to increase a website’s search ranking on Google – more on that here. Demonstrating how many links you’ve secured as part of your PR coverage is therefore one of the best ways you can measure and report back your value to clients, particularly if they’re a web-focused or ecommerce business.
- Check domain authority. Having said that, all links weren’t created equal, which is where domain authority (DA) comes in. The higher a website’s domain authority, on a scale of 1 to 100, the more valuable the backlink, so the greater it will boost your search rankings. For example, the BBC has a domain authority of 95, whereas a small independent blog might only have a DA of around 20. You can check the domain authority of any site using tools like MozBar. Anything over 20 will impact your search ranking, however 50 is considered pretty decent.
- Leads and referrals. While PR alone shouldn’t be used as a lead generating tool, you can also track whether your content and coverage has driven any new business via link referral traffic. You can see how many people have visited your web page via a specific link via Google Analytics, thereby demonstrating the real impact that a particular piece of coverage or a social campaign has had on the bottom line. In the case of social, always ensure you have used a trackable (UTM) link, so you can clearly see how much traffic has originated from it.
These are the most popular and useful metrics for digital PR, however that’s not to say that some of the more traditional ways of showing PR value should fall by the wayside. One of the big advantages of PR remains increasing brand awareness and often a nice piece of print coverage is way more valuable than generating a backlink on a trade website, even though demonstrating that isn’t easy. So, ensure you take a holistic approach and try not to get too fixated on the figures.