Debate has long swirled around the measurability of public relations activities and communication initiatives.
Our impact on the bottom line has been difficult to prove with any certainty. Today, that demand for measurability and accountability has only increased.
Rather than get bogged down in philosophical arguments about PR’s role in an organization, let’s take a quick look at some of the ways you can—and should—start measuring PR’s impact from a website traffic perspective.
Here are some website metrics available in Google Analytics to help you parse the data you will need when presenting monthly results to your senior leadership team:
Broadly speaking, website traffic shows a company’s ability to be found online. Traffic comes from a variety of sources, with these four leading the way (excludes paid sources like Google AdWords):
- Organic search: A user finds you by searching on a generic keyword (e.g., health care cloud compliance) and your website comes up (because you provide that service), and the user clicks on the link in the search engine results page (SERP).
- Direct search: A user enters your website URL directly into a search engine, such as Google or Yahoo, and is taken directly to your website.
- Social media: Inbound traffic comes via your online network postings (e.g., a post on LinkedIn about a product launch).
- Referral: Traffic comes to your site from another site that features your company’s URL (e.g., a backlink on a website).
Why focus on traffic? When you run a media outreach campaign supported with a press release and you get media coverage, then it’s likely that you will see traffic generated by that content. Also, any social media posts you issue in the campaign might also generate clicks.
If the media coverage is limited to a one-week window, measure website traffic during that time and compare it against past trends (even year over year) to see whether there is a spike you can attribute to that coverage.
Don’t include in your measurement other marketing initiatives running simultaneously, such as an email marketing campaign. Avoid conflating the results from competing efforts by using unique URLs in your media outreach—a campaign-specific web page where you direct readers.
Ditto for the email campaign—use a dedicated landing page to track your results and separate them from other traffic generating activities. Most marketing automation platforms—such as HubSpot, Pardot and Marketo—will enable you to create unique landing pages and even capture leads to measure the impact on sales.
Final note on traffic:
Go to the Filters section in the Admin panel, and exclude the IP addresses for your key employees who spend more time on your website. Why? This helps exclude their traffic from the overall traffic measured, to prevent skewing of metrics.
To figure out whether your media outreach is connecting your brand with a wider audience, measure the number of returning users versus new users. A spike in returning users is a sign that your avid followers (customers, prospects, influencers) are engaging with your content. New users is a sure sign that your media coverage has reached a wider audience and puts more eyeballs on your website for future conversion.
Pages per session
Though not necessarily tightly correlated to traffic from media coverage, spotting a spike in pages per session during your campaign window can indicate that you drove visitors with more purchase intent, or at least industry alignment, then the random traffic that hits websites these days (such as bots).
Average session duration
This is time on site. This metric should see an increase, given that traffic originating from media websites will have higher affinity with your website content. Measure the increase relative to traffic generated in between media outreach campaigns; this metric might generally be lower when you are not running PR campaigns. If time on site runs low, try to figure out where traffic originates. If a given media outlet is sending low-performing traffic—rather than high-engaging traffic—to your website, consider avoiding or de-emphasizing that outlet.
Pay close attention to the source of referral traffic since media outlets will show up here during your campaign. Did some generate more than others? Did others drive better on-site performance as measured by your metrics above? Knowing this will help you allocate more time and resources to the media outlets that move the digital marketing needle for your company.
Though this may not see much, if any, increase from traffic generated by media coverage, why not measure it just the same? Maybe some visitors have been sitting on the fence about buying your product when a favorably written article triggers the decision. Whenever possible, PR pros should point to their role in lead conversion as part of the company’s overall marketing strategy. The key is to observe this metric for campaigns run over the past year. If you spot positive trends, call them out to senior leaders.
This merits attention since some B2B tech companies may have geographically defined media campaigns. Say a wire release and corresponding media outreach campaign target northern European countries. It stands to reason that an increase in traffic from countries like Norway, Sweden and Germany would stem from that campaign. Again, support your PR initiatives with specific, measurable data points from Google Analytics, and company executives might just start paying attention.
A short word about demographics should include gender and age. Though not as crucial to making your case for PR’s effectiveness at driving higher potential traffic to the website, it can indicate how well your PR strategy aligns with your company’s established buyer personas, targeted influencers, etc. If your campaigns (and broader marketing initiatives) target female executives in their 40s to 50s and you are seeing a spike in male visitors in their 20s, rethink your media outreach strategy.