Measuring Digital PR: Getting to grips with metrics that matter
With SEO, you can measure organic search rankings and the resulting organic traffic and conversions. With PPC, you can measure cost per click, cost per conversion, and return on investment but measuring digital PR is a little more tricky. Many digital PR reports are a chaotic hotpot of metrics, combining everything from social media ‘engagement’ to ‘average DA’ to ‘audience.’ These commonly used measurements tell you very little about measurable ROI (return on investment).
The beauty of digital marketing has always been that everything can be measured, but digital PR will always be that bit more difficult. In this article, we'll help you understand where you should focus; on those metrics that really matter.
At a glance
Digital PR - the origin story
Metrics vs Vanity Project
Metrics that matter
Digital PR - the origin story
The reason digital PR evolved from traditional PR was to solve an SEO problem. Recent years have seen digital PR develop as a discrete service and specialism. But it exists because the SEO industry needs it.
Digital PR grew because the SEO industry needed a scalable, repeatable method of building high-quality backlinks. As Google got smarter, SEO experts had to do the same. The landscape has changed. Search engines now know how to disregard and even penalise businesses for using paid-for links, so SEO experts had to change their approach - instead of paying for them - they had to earn. Thus the rise of earned media - more commonly known as Digital PR. Nowadays, storytelling with the purpose of linking back to a website is now commonplace for Digital PR professionals, SEO experts, journalists and storytellers.
Metrics that Matter vs Vanity Metrics
Getting links is the main goal of digital PR, but why does it get dressed up as something different? All too often, vanity metrics are thrown into the measurement mix and have somehow managed to escape scrutiny. That said, they can't be relied on for accurate, data-driven measurement of ROI. Here are some examples of such metrics.
i) Social engagement
Social engagement metrics typically comprise likes, comments, social shares, and even social mentions, all rolled into one. The value of each of these types of social engagement is so far from measurable. This metric doesn’t even factor in the sentiment behind the engagement – whether it’s positive or negative.
If you really want a social metric related to ROI, log into Google Analytics and measure conversions resulting from social channels. In most cases, you’ll see next to no impact from digital PR. Why? Because digital PR exists to support SEO and brand awareness, not social media.
Audience has been a key metric in traditional Public Relations. But now we can actually measure things in the digital world, the case for this metric is shaky. The ‘audience’ metric typically supplies an estimate of the number of eyeballs that could have conceivably glossed over any of the websites that link to you. If the Sun links to you, your ‘audience’ can quadruple in size. Why? Because the Sun is a popular website. Did you sell anything as a direct consequence of it? Did it have any traceable commercial impact on your business? The answer is - unlikely.
iii) Increased search demand
Another metric that has made its way into digital PR measurement is ‘increased search demand.’ This metric looks at the search volume for a keyword related to the campaign in a time period before the campaign, and a time period after the campaign. If the search volume happens to be higher at a convenient point after the campaign – voila! – the increase is attributed to the success of the campaign itself.
It should go without saying that a massive range of factors can influence fluctuations in search volume, such as seasonality, above the line marketing campaigns, social media and market demand. It is difficult to measure with any accuracy if the PR campaign caused the uplift.
Metrics that Matter
All the metrics above while can be viewed as vanity metrics in isolation - they are actually really compelling when they don't work in isolation and feature as part of a wider SEO strategy. Whilst the metrics above may give some sense of a campaign’s performance, Digital PR should focus more on solid metrics that matter. We do that by bringing digital PR KPIs under the umbrella of SEO. Why? Because digital PR and SEO serve the same master: organic traffic, conversions, and revenue.
Digital PR works best when it’s integrated as part of a long-term SEO strategy and measured against SEO KPIs: organic traffic, conversions, and revenue.
The Way Forward
Quirky concepts that generate a lot of noise can help get links, but they can also make people lose sight of the goal. What most businesses need is a steady trickle of quality, relevant links that support a rigorous content and technical SEO strategy. By focusing on SEO KPIs over the long term, digital PR can play a key role in growth. Detached from its SEO foundations, it can become little more than a vanity project.
To be effective, and to be measurable, digital PR has to be a part of SEO. Of course, digital PRs are accountable for getting links. That’s their job. But it must never be detached from the bigger picture of SEO KPIs.
So this is the proposal – focus on the metrics that matter. Digital PR success is best measured against exactly the same long-term KPIs as SEO. If you’re committed to growing organically online, it’s the only measurable way to do it.