Digital PR is a marketing activity, and marketing activities should be judged primarily on their ability to bring in a return on investment (ROI).
Generally, if something costs more money than it brings in, then it should be either tweaked or dropped. And yet, many businesses don’t know whether their marketing activity is bringing them ROI or not.
Why? They just aren’t tracking the figures.
In this blog:
- What does digital PR success look like? Reviewing the metrics of success
- Setting SMARTer goals
- Example digital PR goal #1: direct sales
- Example digital PR goal #2: become an authority figure in your field
- Example digital PR goal #3: gain influence on social media
- Example digital PR goal #4: gain blog readers and influence them
- Example digital PR goal #5: create an awesome email database
Now admittedly some activities are easier to track than others. If you spend $500 promoting a product and you make a profit of $1,000 as a result, that’s simple. But calculating the value that a social media campaign or a digital PR campaign adds to your business can be trickier.
Still, too many business people throw their hands up at the first hurdle and say: “Well it looks kind of tricky so I won’t even try.” This is an attitude that is unacceptable in every other area of running a business, so don’t allow it here.
To this end, we’re going to use this blog to talk about:
- Measuring the current success of your business objectives
- Identifying clear and achievable goals for your digital PR campaign
- Measuring the success of your digital PR campaign, and making adjustments accordingly
As with a traditional PR campaign, your digital PR goals will be based on the need of your business. Different businesses should have different objectives. Every business aims to make money, but the best route to this goal will depend on the state that they are in.
One company might make the most money by expanding its existing product or service into a new market, but another might do better by expanding its range of products or services.
An effective digital PR strategy is only possible if your objectives are clearly outlined and measurable.
A plan such as “be the best accountancy firm in my city” gets points for ambition but falls flat because best is something that can be defined in multiple ways. Are we talking about being the firm that makes the most money, is best known, or delivers the best service here? The three aren’t mutually exclusive but each requires a very different plan to achieve them.
A clear objective makes it much easier to assess your performance and make changes as you go along.
Very few people get any online marketing activity perfectly right on the first attempt, but so long as you are measuring your targets you can see how or why you’ve drifted off course. Doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t is an admirable marketing strategy, but to be effective you need to have “working” and “not working” clearly defined for your business.
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Reviewing the Metrics of Digital PR Success
Sales. Web traffic. Keyword rankings. Backlinks. Domain authority. Klout.
So let’s look at various ways of measuring the success of your business’s digital PR strategy. Whilst a traditional PR campaign might be judged on the number of mentions you earn in print publications, a digital PR campaign will be firmly related to the success of your business’s website or social media channels. If you haven’t already done so, now would be a good time to get a free website review.
1. Increasing Sales
Tracking sales is mandatory. Sales are the oxygen that keeps any business alive and is a perfectly good metric for tracking your digital PR success. Sales results are also numbers that are fairly hard to argue with or misinterpret. However, it’s important to identify which of your sales are the most profitable.
Remember that tracking sales, or any other metric, isn’t simply a case of comparing your January numbers to your February numbers and attributing any increase (or lack thereof) to the digital PR campaign that started on February 1st.
We’re big fans of conversion tracking using analytics software such as Google Analytics. By seeing how many of your customers came through PR links (referral traffic) and increased organic search traffic, you can far more accurately assign sales to your digital PR activity.
Does your business take sales calls by phone? As well as having your sales team ask leads where they discovered you, consider using call tracking software to generate trackable numbers which give accurate data down to the outcome of the call.
If you’ve got a niche e-commerce property and your goal is more sales, for example, a blogger outreach program that has high authority niche bloggers reviewing and running contests giving away your products can drive a lot of highly qualified and convertible traffic to your site.
2. Generating Website Traffic
If your PR work isn’t focused on driving sales of a particular product or service, but rather on raising awareness of your business as a whole, then website traffic can be a good measure of performance.
A certain percentage of the visitors to your site will convert to customers (your website’s conversion rate) and a certain percentage of visitors will click off of your website without taking any meaningful action (your website’s bounce rate).
Getting a lot of traffic is important, but it won’t mean anything for your business if you have a low conversion rate or a high bounce rate, because these generally mean that either your website isn’t up to scratch or the traffic you are generating isn’t qualified.
(Quick caveat, a high bounce rate can be okay in some cases, depending on the page’s purpose!)
As mentioned above, Google Analytics provides interesting data that you can use to measure progress.
Many clients who come to our digital PR agency complaining of a traffic problem (“not enough people are visiting my website”) are suffering from an even worse conversion problem (of the visitors that arrive, too few are sufficiently motivated to enquire or buy).
Ranking for a target keyword might help you reach your organic traffic goals. If you rank highly in Google for a keyword like “buy phone online” then you could be just one or two moves away from an early retirement on a beautiful Mediterranean island.
Studies show that ranking in the top ‘organic’ (free) position will get you over 30% of the clicks from that search results page, so it’s no surprise that ranking well for appropriate target keywords is top of many marketers’ priority lists.
A strong digital marketing campaign is one of the most effective ways we’ve found to improve the ranking of any website because it’s a good way to attract quality links.
A bunch of backlinks from relevant websites is one of Google’s three main ranking factors. This is because the internet is a lot like a popularity contest — and a backlink is just like being talked about. If you are being talked about (shown by how many links you are earning), then you must be popular. And if you’re being mentioned online by a credible source, then Google will think you must be one of the cool kids too!
It’s worth mentioning press releases here too. Done correctly, online press releases may be a good source of relevant links for your website. However, there are also some spammy online press release services that should be avoided.
For more advice on improving your website’s ranking, check out the book How To Get To The Top Of Google.
Perhaps more important than the amount of traffic you receive is the type of traffic you receive. As alluded to before, you are rewarded when visitors have meaningful engagements with your website and you get penalised when people bounce off it. This means that you really should be identifying what your target audience actually looks like, taking time to understand its pain points, and tailoring your online marketing efforts accordingly.
Are your biggest customers 18 to 28-year-old Asian men that went to university, have no children, and have an income of $120k+? Then you should be advertising in (or at least emulating) The Economist, a website that is most often read by people of the above description. One tool for target audience analysis of this kind is quantcast.com.
While a good digital PR campaign will increase your website’s traffic, a Ninja digital PR campaign will emphasise driving the right kind of traffic.
As an example, creating high-quality infographics that get shared in the right places can be an extremely effective way to increase traffic as people share and repost them, funnelling more traffic to your site each time.
3. Building Authority
So far we have been thinking in terms of easily quantifiable stuff such as sales, traffic and ranking, but what about those concepts that are fluffier but no doubt business-defining, such as influence, trustworthiness and authority?
These concepts have always existed in business. For as long as there have been traders, there have been traders that people trust and traders that are known to cheat. Traders that are known to have the best goods and traders that are known to have the worst goods stand out from the crowd. Until the digital age, this kind of knowledge was difficult to measure.
But now that everyone is online and our conversations, emails, and interactions are stored in Google’s archives and the NSA’s databases, it is becoming possible to quantify previously intangible concepts such as authority.
One of the most useful tools for measuring a website’s authority is domain authority, which was popularised by Moz. Domain authority, known as DA, looks at a website’s popularity, age, and size and gives you a number between one and a hundred. The most authoritative websites are scored highly, while less trustworthy sites get a lower score.
The venerable BBC website has a DA of 100, whereas a brand new site might have a score of 10 or lower.
A website’s DA is not yet a measure that typical customers use knowingly, but users are more likely to buy from a high DA website as this score reflects website ranking on search engines as well as website quality and user-friendliness. A site with a high DA might also have many authoritative links.
A higher authority website is likely to be one of the first, good looking websites someone lands on when searching on Google. You can add a toolbar to your browser that lets you see a website’s DA at a glance over at moz.com/products/pro/seo-toolbar.
We’ll look at how to get your business covered in the media in a later blog of this series on Digital PR and you’ll learn how it’s possible to get your business featured in many of the highest authority sites online, piggybacking their authority in the process.
4. Exerting Influence
Influence is a key concept in public relations.
The idea is simple: some people are particularly influential and these people set the trends that the rest of the world follows. People like Elon Musk and Billie Eilish are followed by hundreds of millions of people and can catapult businesses to new levels of popularity with a Tweet, photo or video featuring one of their products.
Top fashion bloggers can command $5,000 to $25,000 just to feature a brand’s product in one post. Brands have been reportedly paying as much as $100,000 to $300,000 to appear in Kylie Jenner’s Instagram posts. The size of these payments shows the perceived impact of such a mention on a brand’s reputation.
If you know that your target audience is obsessed with a particular influencer, then having your product appear on that influencer’s social media feed could be a game-changer for your business.
5. Increasing Overall Brand Awareness & Brand Reputation
Converting traffic into customers requires trust.
We already touched on the fact that a higher authority website is more trustworthy because it is well established and already used by lots of other people.
Another way to increase brand awareness is through influencer marketing and having influencers vouch for your brand on their blog or social media channels. The saying “people trust people” rings true; it’s easier to trust a face than a logo.
Gaining online reviews is a particularly important aspect of building brand awareness.
How you go about gaining product reviews will depend on your business. E-commerce websites like Amazon have an on-site review section under each product listing where customers can leave reviews. This also works well for new e-commerce websites.
Businesses may also look to Google or Facebook to collect reviews.
Off-site reviews are another option. These are reviews of your products or services that are written on external online publications, including websites or blogs, that include a link back to your business website. It’s important that the blogs or sites you use here are trusted by your target audience.
Many potential customers will search google with a phrase like “[product name] review” before making a final decision to purchase. By inviting prominent websites and blogs to review your products, you can make sure that these searches throw up highly authoritative reviews. Off-site reviews can be organised with bloggers through a blogger outreach strategy (we’ll look at how that works later on).
Whether your business is new or established, being seen in high authority publications is a quick way to get credibility with your target audience. Imagine you are looking for a personal trainer, for example, and you’ve narrowed it down to two candidates. Finding out that one has just been interviewed by the BBC and been on television might well sway your decision.
Being associated with this sort of authority has a hypnotic effect on potential buyers.
Now that we have the tools for measuring success at our disposal we can begin to set goals. This involves looking at where we are, where we want to be, and then identifying the correct marketing strategy for our desired outcome.
Setting SMARTer goals
We’ve been consistently amazed at how poor most business owners are at setting goals for their marketing. Most business people simply don’t think about their long-term and short-term goals beyond “make more money by selling more stuff.”
If they do think about it a little more, it rarely gets further than “sell more of my most expensive stuff.”
We can use the tried-and-tested SMART acronym to help us set goals.
- Specific: “Sell more stuff” is what all businesses want to do, but it is a terrible goal for a business because it is so unspecific. Does it matter which stuff we sell and how? Instead of “sell more stuff” we could say “increase sales of product X through my website.”
- Measurable: The next step is to make the goal measurable. What counts as success in this instance? An increase in sales of one compared to the previous month is an increase, but most would not call it a success. Instead, we can say “increase sales of product X through my website by 10%.”
- Agreed on: Here is where most people come unstuck. It’s unlikely, unless you are still in the very early caffeine-infused days of your start-up, that there will be only one person involved in setting and completing a goal. It’s normally the work of a team of people. If you want your goal to be effective, every person involved must understand and agree on the goal.
- Realistic: Any goal needs to be realistic otherwise it is at best pointless and at worst demotivating. We all want to be on page one of Google as of this very second, but realistically these things take time. You want to hit that sweet spot where a goal is stretching but not demoralisingly impossible.
- Time-bound: Perhaps most importantly of all, your goal must be attached to a time frame. From “increase traffic to my website by 10%” to “increase traffic to my website by 10% within the next 12 weeks.” Set milestones and break longer tasks up into achievable sprints. If you haven’t seen a 2.5% increase by the end of week three, then you may need to evaluate your SEO strategy and check what’s working and what isn’t.
Using the smart criteria outlined above, set a goal for your first digital PR campaign.
You can use any metric you like to measure your success, though the ones mentioned above (sales, keyword ranking, conversion rate, bounce rate and backlinks) could be useful depending on your aim.
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Once you have your ultimate goal in mind, it’s time to think about which digital PR strategies will help you achieve it!
Picking the right strategy for your goal is something that takes years of practice to master. One thing is for sure — few people get it completely right on the first attempt. That’s why it’s important to break your goal up into distinct sprints and review and readjust at the end of each sprint according to your progress.
To help you identify which method might work best for your particular goal, we’ve run through five different examples:
Example Goal #1 — Direct Sales and Generating Leads
The most obvious goal of all is earning sales through your website. First of all, you’re going to need to calculate your current sales (a number you should be holding close to your heart!) as well as your projected sales.
Remember to factor in seasonal changes that might affect your business, such as Christmas shopping. It may help to compare a given month to the same month in a previous year if you have a lot of seasonal fluctuation.
Then you need to set a realistic target and a timeframe for achieving that target.
Your sales figure will be broadly driven by two different variables:
1) the number of people visiting your website (your traffic) and…
2) the number of visitors that convert into customers (your conversion rate).
Both variables are important. A website with lots of traffic but no conversions is most likely unprofitable, and the same applies to a website with a high conversion rate but only a small handful of visitors.
Broadly speaking, a website with high ticket items can get away with (and even expect) a lower conversion rate, as people need more time to decide that they want to spend a significant amount of money. The opposite is true for low ticket items.
While digital PR has a role to play in increasing your conversion rate through adding perceived value to your product or service, optimising your website for conversion by removing barriers to sales can help you unlock hidden profit from your existing website traffic.
Where digital PR excels is in driving more traffic to your website. Ways to do this will differ depending on your circumstances, but it will probably include the following:
- Creating quality content on your website.
- Getting featured in relevant publications.
- Using blogger outreach and influencer outreach.
- Amplifying your successes with an engaging social media campaign.
A key metric that will determine the amount of traffic that your website gets will be your keyword ranking, so take some time to determine which keywords are most relevant for your business (that you can compete on).
If you need some help identifying suitable keywords, or on how to optimise your existing site for conversions, then we suggest claiming a free website review from one of our marketing experts.
Example Goal #2 — Become an Authority Figure in your Field
More subtle than directly selling your product to as many people as possible, is being seen as an authority in your industry.
This is a goal that is just as applicable to small businesses as it is to large ones. One of the key mistakes we see small businesses making is undervaluing their knowledge. You might think that your insights are not valuable because you learned them a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean that they are obvious to your customers.
In all likelihood, your market is craving an expert who takes it upon themselves to educate the masses and build their credibility at the same time. Think of TV personalities who have side businesses relating to their area of expertise. This is no accident, and they’re not usually doing it for the fame – they are using their public visibility to build their authority in their field.
There are many ways to measure your influence and authority online. One method is to track your subscriber count on a social media platform such as YouTube.
It’s a good idea to target an engagement metric alongside your subscriber count. Subscribers alone aren’t worth much if they don’t ever engage with your channel.
Example Goal #3 — Build your Website’s Blog into an Awesome Resource that Attracts Traffic and Converts
Some marketers classify blog content as content creation or content marketing, rather than digital PR. But content creation can be a key part of an effective digital PR strategy, even if it sits outside the normal limits of what most people think of as PR. There are a whole bunch of reasons why you should include a blog on your business’s website.
A popular blog can contribute to brand awareness or your personal branding, as well as attract more potential customers to your website. It’s where you can promote other marketing channels. Blogging also has Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) benefits. Creating content gives search engines more text to crawl and more pages to rank.
What we see all too often is random, undernourished content on whatever topic has come to mind thrown for the sake of just getting new content on-site.
Somebody at a company, normally not someone hired for this person, gets “create content” in their list of tasks for the month, and they do this with all the enthusiasm of a child doing their homework whilst their friends play outside on a summer’s evening.
Building a blog can be an incredible tool for maximising your reach, keeping potential customers on your website and making conversions, so for it to feel like a chore is a chronic waste and a sure sign of a lack of strategy.
There are various metrics you can use to determine the impact of your blog, such as:
- The amount of traffic coming to blog pages.
- The number of blog subscribers or newsletter signups.
- The number of clickthroughs to product pages from blog pages.
- The number of social media shares that your blog posts earn.
- The number or percentage of readers who convert into customers.
To build your blog into an incredible resource, you could set a goal along the lines of “gain X new leads from my blog each month by producing and promoting y amount of content.”
When we’re working on client campaigns, we’ll usually write a blog post or series of posts around a certain topic whilst we are doing outreach to promote high-quality articles about that subject.
To be able to show publishers an example of our writing on that subject or a close variant is useful and it is relatively low effort because we’ve already taken the time to do thorough research on the topic.
Example Goal #4 — Gain Followers and Influence Them (on Social Media)
Social media is a great place to engage with your customers and even make some of them into living, breathing, Tweeting, liking, and sharing spokespeople for your products or services.
Social media comes with a wide range of metrics that you can use when setting goals — perhaps you want to reach a certain number of followers, likes or shares.
Both Twitter and Facebook increase the visibility of profiles that attract engagement and decrease the visibility of profiles that don’t get any responses, creating a virtuous cycle for engaging profiles and a vicious one for those that are seen to be spammy.
If you share content on your pages that has proven viral spread, you’ll notice that the odd self-promotional post gets significantly more reach.
An example of an influence-related goal might be “improve the average number of times that promotional posts are shared by followers from X to Y by Z”.
As always, having a couple of key metrics can keep you honest. You might also have a goal follower count, as you wouldn’t necessarily want to hit an engagement goal but lose all your followers in the process.
You could write a whole book on the intricacies of social media marketing and we have, it’s called Profitable Social Media Marketing and you should read it if your digital PR work hinges on successful social media.
As always, regularly review your goals so that you can do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.
Example Goal #5 — Create an Awesome Email Database
The vast majority of underperforming websites have only one goal in mind: to make a sale. If the visitor is not ready to buy right now, there is little for them to do but wander in, have a look around and wander off.
The highest performing websites will often segment their visitors into multiple levels of ‘willingness to buy’. Those who are ready to buy right now can do so, but those who are in the research phase, curious or just killing time are catered for too.
By offering lead generation ‘bait’ such as a free guide, sample or some other tasty tidbit, high converting sites collect the names and email addresses of people who, whilst they’re not ready to buy now, might be ready to buy in the future.
Creating this type of email database of existing and potential customers to market to (email marketing) is something that every business will need to do at some stage and most of them will say to themselves, “I wish I had started doing this earlier! It would have made life so much easier!”
Make life easy for yourself and start collecting emails now if you haven’t done so already.
Collecting emails is useful on many levels, but the key reason is that it is a relatively easy way of retargeting old or potential customers who at one stage were interested in your business.
The goal is clear, get a certain amount of customers to sign up for your newsletter by a certain date, or simply get a certain amount of emails in your database for use at a later date.
The methods for achieving this goal vary, but you have to think in terms of “what’s in it for them?” We all strive for an empty inbox, so I have to be getting something of value if I’m going to give a company my email address.
One of the most effective lead generation baits we’ve found is a giveaway.
Run a competition and give your most sought after products away to a couple of lucky winners in exchange for the email addresses of everyone who takes part. You can use a simple tool such as rafflecopter.com to get a competition live and online in a matter of minutes.
If giving away products isn’t relevant or is too expensive this early on, you can give away information instead. If you sell HR software, for instance, you can invite people to attend webinars on popular topics related to HR. Collect the email addresses of those that sign up in exchange for a free place at the event. Don’t forget to ask for social media followers while you’re at it!
To run a strong digital PR campaign, you need to create a digital PR strategy tailored to the needs of your business. That might mean increasing brand awareness and bolstering the client’s reputation, it might mean doing what it takes to generate leads, or it might mean going after high-quality backlinks.
Whatever your digital PR goal, I hope this blog has helped you think more clearly about your strategy!
First written in October 2017. Revised in June 2022.