Debate about measuring PR can range from whether impressions matter to which tools to use.
If a business is centered on the Web, its website analytics and search engine optimization must be at the heart of any PR measurement.
“We’re all going back to a much more simple, commonsense idea of what PR is all about,” says Bill Penn, chairman of London-based Aspectus PR. “PR is about a business outcome. … It’s about what people do when they come to your website and how well they interact with you.
“Do they buy stuff? Do they want to know more information? Are we changing their opinions? We can find all that out through their behavior when they come to your website.”
Here are some tips from Penn:
Define your business goals
Once your goals are defined, measurement of outcomes becomes clear, Penn says. The converging fields of marketing and communications are all trying to get people to come to a specific website and take a specific action, he says.
That could mean downloading information, engaging with a source on a client website, finding information, or buying a product.
Once you have defined your goals, you can evaluate the quality of the website visitors your campaign is driving. By this reckoning, a blog post from Halifax may be more meaningful—bringing more convertible traffic—than a piece in The Wall Street Journal.
Master SEO and your customers’ search terms
Web traffic and engagement are the key things that matter, making search essential. Content must be optimized around the same search terms as the client’s website (or your own, if you’re in-house), Penn says. PR pros must assess these terms as a part of the campaign.
“You’ve got to challenge some of those terms,” Penn says. “You’ve got to look at some of the longer-tail search terms and go for the ones that are basically a mixture of competitive and noncompetitive. Then make sure that it’s connected to your content.”
Anybody in PR, whether agency or in-house, should have ready access to an expert in engine optimization.
Understand how the big search engines work so it becomes second nature, Penn says. That helps them set up a search engine strategy that is consistent with their business goals.
The best way to master SEO is simply to work alongside someone who knows the subject—and learn from that person. “We need to get much more conversant with the finer points of search,” Penn says.
Good optimization will bring the right kind of customer to the place on your website where they can convert—something you can measure within.
Use Google Analytics.
Believe it or not, measurement is becoming ever simpler, Penn says.
“Google Analytics are playing a very key part of this right now,” Penn says. “So it’s really a question of how you set up your Google Analytics model as to how well you run your measurement and communication.”
When you begin a campaign, benchmark your site’s traffic. How many people are visiting? What pages they’re looking at? What is their behavior when they get there?
Then revisit to see how that behavior changes in the course of a campaign, Penn says. The goal is always to get a target audience to come to the site in increasing numbers and do something: download information, ask about services, and make a purchase.
Analytics should be most focused on this behavior of website visitors.
“We want action,” Penn says. “The behavior of people when they come will give you a pretty good indication of whether you’re reaching the right people or not.”
Create great content
Securing “media” doesn’t simply mean landing an article in a big outlet anymore. What also matters is creating sharable content such as pictures, infographics, and video.
“They are equal partners in the content game, because these are the things that get passed around,” Penn says. “It’s not long, boring articles or clicks from mainstream media. … When they come to a website it’s got to be a great experience.”
Penn recalls a particular client, a project management firm that handled contracts such as the relocation of a U.K. retailer’s head office and rebranding of its stores over three years. The firm provides methodology, software, and consulting to keep such projects from running off the rails.
When courting customers, the client had to reach much higher up the corporate food chain than the project management types it had been dealing with. The client wanted a crack at telling the top boss: “Take note, chief executive. You think project management is way down the track and a million miles from your office. It ain’t. It’s right on your doorstep.”
Aspectus had the client rethink, rebuild, and reorganize its website and its approach to SEO. The resulting spike in traffic drew a serious number of high-quality leads, many of which they converted. And the value of PR was proven: The client now had access to the top-level decision-makers.
“They were no longer getting bogged down at project management level decision-makers,” Penn says. “They were now getting traction with a much higher level of decision-makers though this process.”