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, so few businesses really 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 goal #1: direct sales
- Example goal #2: become an authority figure in your field
- Example goal #3: gain influence, and a following, on social media
- Example goal #4: create an awesome email database & newsletter signups
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 it makes no sense to indulge it in here.
To this end, we’re going to use this blog to talk about:
A) Measuring the current success of your business
B) Identifying clear and achievable goals for your digital PR campaign
C) Measuring the success of your digital PR campaign, and making adjustments accordingly
If you set out to sea without any idea where you are going or how you are going to get there, it will likely be a very long time until you reach land again. The even more pertinent question to ask yourself is why you’re going out there in the first place? Without knowing this, there’s no guarantee that you’ll reach that paradise island you dreamed of and even less of a guarantee that it’s actually the place that you really want to be when you get there.
In the same way, your digital PR goals will map out your campaign and will let you know when you’ve successfully achieved at your final objective.
Different businesses should have different objectives. The aim of every business is to make money, but the best route to this goal will depend on the state that they are in. A multinational company might make the most money by expanding their existing product or service into a new market, but a small business might not even be known in their own hometown, let alone abroad.
If objectives are clearly outlined and measurable then they are much easier to achieve. 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.
The last important reason for having a plan is because it makes it much easier to reflect and make changes as you go along. Very few people get any marketing activity perfectly right first time around, but so long as you are measuring your targets you can see how or why you’ve drifted off course and take reasonable steps to get back on track. Doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t is an admirable business strategy, but to be effective you need to have “working” and “not working” clearly defined for your business.
Reviewing the Metrics of Digital PR Success
Sales, Traffic, Keyword Rankings, Backlinks, Domain Authority, and Klout
So let’s look at various ways of measuring the success of your business’s digital PR strategy. Many of the measures will be related to the success of your business’s website, which is of particular focus for any digital PR campaign. If you haven’t already done so, now would be a good time to get a free website review.
1. Increasing Sales
There’s one metric that any businesses can’t fail to track and that’s sales. Sales is 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, though obviously 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, and by monitoring the proportion of your customers that came through PR links and through increased organic search traffic, you can far more accurately assign sales to your digital PR activity.
Does your business take sales calls by phone? Rather than having your sales team ask leads where they discovered you (this generally leads to fuzzy and incomplete results), 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 to increase 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 commercial traffic to your site, increasing sales of the products featured significantly.
2. Generating Website Traffic
If your PR work isn’t focussed on driving sales of a particular product or service, but rather 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.
As mentioned above, Google Analytics provides plenty of useful traffic data that you can use to measure progress. It’s worth noting here that many of our clients who come to us complaining of a traffic problem (“not enough people are visiting my website”) are actually suffering from a conversion problem (of the visitors that arrive, too few are sufficiently motivated to enquire or buy).
It’s likely that everyone who is considering a digital PR campaign knows the importance of keyword ranking. If you rank highly in Google for a keyword like “buy Nike trainers” then you are just a move or two away from an early retirement on a beautiful Mediterranean island. The most recent 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 prominent organic ranking is top of many marketers’ priority lists.
A digital PR 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 backlinks. A stable of backlinks from respected 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 (getting backlinks), then you must be popular. And if all the coolest kids are talking about you, then you must be one of the cool kids too! 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 main audience actually looks like and tailoring your marketing efforts accordingly. Are your biggest customers 18-24 year-old Asian men that went to university, have no children, and have an income of $150k+? 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 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, funneling 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 (DA). Domain authority 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 of 100, whereas www.shadyspamsite.ly might have a score of 10 or lower. Websites that have a higher DA tend to be more profitable than websites with a lower DA and will usually rank much higher..
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 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/tools/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 follow. Celebrities, be they TV stars like Kim Kardashian or the Twitter/YouTube stars like Zoella that are followed by hundreds of millions of under-twenty-year-olds, 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 – $25,000 just to feature a brand’s product in one post; brands have been reportedly paying as much as $100,000 – $300,000 to appear in Kylie Jenner’s Instagram posts. The magnitude of these payments indicates the profit that this authority can generate, and if you’re already clued in on the digital PR game, you might be either thinking of working with one of these influential people, or building the people within your brand up to be influencers.
Like authority, influence is a metric that can be measured. Your Klout Score is a number between one and a hundred that measures your ability to drive action across social media networks. Someone with a high Klout score, such as Justin Bieber (92), can drive people into a buying frenzy when they’re shown wearing a particular jacket or trainers for instance. For more information about Klout, read here.
The good news is that you don’t need to be Tweeted by a Kardashian to profit from online influence and we’ll be looking at how to identify the most suitable influencers for your business in another blog post of this series.
5. Cultivating Brand Trust & Credibility
In order to get any traffic that comes to your website to convert to actual paying customers who are spending all their green ones on your products or services, you need to create a brand that people 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 build brand trust is through working with influencers and having them vouch for your brand on their blog or social media channels. People will quickly start thinking, “Well, if this this guy that I follow and trust recommends this product, then it must be good!” Essentially, you’re piggybacking off the back of other people who are already trusted online.
Gaining product reviews is a particularly important aspect of building brand trust. How you go about gaining product reviews will depend on your business. E-commerce websites like Amazon and Argos have an on-site review section under each product listing where customers are able to leave reviews, and this also works well for new e-commerce websites. Local, often service-based businesses may look to Google Local listings or Facebook to collect reviews.
Off-site reviews are another option. These are reviews of your products or services that are written on other websites or blogs, usually including a link back to your business website. 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 fast way to get credibility with your audience. If you’re looking for a personal trainer, for example, and you have two choices. Would the fact that one of them has been featured in newspapers and interviewed live on national TV in front of millions of people sway your decision? What you’ll find is that your conversion rates go up and you’re able to sustain a higher price relative to your competitors, because being associated with this sort of authority has a hypnotic effect on 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 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 don’t really 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.”
Setting goals needs to be smart, and we’ll use the painful but effective SMART acronym to help us do it.
- 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. How exactly are we going to sell more stuff? Instead of “sell more stuff” we could have a goal that instead says “increase sales through my website by 50%.”
- Measurable: The next step is to make the goal measurable. What counts as success in this instance? An increase in traffic of one extra visitor is still an increase, but most would not call it a success. Instead, we can say “increase traffic to my website by 10%.”
- Agreed on: Here is where we come to the place 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 task. It’s normally the work of a team or, at the very least, a manager who sets the task and an employee that carries it out. If you want your goal to be effective, it is essential that every single person involved understands and agrees to the goal. This is doubly important if you are outsourcing work. Make sure that the company that you are working with understands what your goal is and agrees that they will achieve it.
- Realistic: This is an obvious one but it needs saying regardless: any goal set needs to be realistic otherwise it is at best pointless and at worst demotivating. We all want to be page one of Google as of immediately, 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 strategy and check what’s working and what isn’t.
Action Point: Using the smart criteria outline 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, backlinks, DA, and klout) could be useful depending on your aim.
Once you have your goal, it’s time to think about the best way of setting out to 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 first time. 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 four different examples.
Example Goal #1: Direct Sales
The most obvious goal of all is increasing the amount of sales that you make from 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. Then you need to set a realistic target and a timeframe for achieving that target by.
Your sales figure will be broadly driven by two different components 1) the amount of people visiting your website (your traffic) and 2) the number of visitors that convert into customers (your conversion rate). Both components 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 value to your product or service, optimising your website for conversion (removing barriers to sales and positioning your products in an attractive way) can help you unlock hidden profit from your existing website traffic.
Where digital PR really 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 valuable and keyword-rich content on your website, using paid advertising, getting featured in relevant publications, using blogger outreach, and using 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, then we suggest claiming your free website review.
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 too large ones, and one of the key mistakes we see small businesses making is undervaluing their knowledge. You might think that something in your industry is obvious because it has become second nature to you, but that doesn’t mean that it’s 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 offering the exact services they’re known as experts for. 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.
To measure your influence and authority online, we’re going to be looking to improve your domain authority. DA is calculated by three factors: your website’s age, size, and popularity. Not a lot can be done about age other than getting your website online as soon as possible if it isn’t already! Size, on the other hand, can be achieved by creating engaging web pages for your different product and service categories. Remember that while people like pictures, Google is still better at reading text than images, so to appeal to both we’re going to include a decent mix of the two. Everything should be original, clear, and engaging — duplicating content simply to create a bigger website will most likely earn you both an indirect Google penalty and a high bounce rate.
To improve the popularity of your website we’re going to want to build high quality links to your website (links are a hugely important way that Google and Moz calculate popularity). The best way to build quality links is to write engaging articles and get them placed in publications that are read by your target audience, along with an all-important link back to your website. This establishes you as an authority figure both in the eyes of your readers and Google.
It’s worth pointing out that DA is just a unit of measurement, but it’s one that is increasingly accurate and being used as standard across the industry. It’s a simplified version of what Google measures when it’s deciding on the authority of a website. However, while Google’s ranking algorithms are top-secret and the source of endless speculation, DA is transparent and therefore a useful tool. DA is determined by taking a snapshot of your website, rather than an exhaustive index, so don’t become obsessed by it, but it’s certainly a useful indicator.
Example Goal #3: Build your Website’s Blog into an Awesome Resource that Attracts Traffic and Converts
There are a whole bunch of reasons why you should include a blog on your business’s website, and if you don’t do it you’re bananas. Most importantly it’s your soapbox where you share content for your social media channels and to build links to. It can build up a brand image of your company or you personally, as well as attracting more potential customers to your website. Then, of course, you have the Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) benefits: it gives search engines more text content 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. Someone has on their to do list “write a blog” each month, and they do this with the enthusiasm of a child doing their homework whilst 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 a chore is a chronic waste and a sign of a lack of strategy.
There are various measures 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 clickthroughs to products pages on your website, the number of social media shares that your blog posts garner, and so on. To build your blog into an incredible resource that answers all the questions your target customers might have, and to use it as a means of converting new customers, 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 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 is relatively low effort because we’ve already taken the time to do the research and formulate an opinion on the topic.
Example Goal #4: Gain Followers and Influence Them (on Social Media)
Social media is, generally speaking, not the place to make direct sales, but it is the place to engage with your customers and even make some of them into living, breathing, Tweeting, liking, sharing spokespeople for your service or products. Social media comes with its own wide range of metrics that you can use when setting goals — perhaps you want to reach a certain number of followers, likes or shares.
As mentioned above, Klout is a good tool to use if you want to focus on one metric that tracks your progress across multiple networks. It also measures engagement rather than activity which is very important in social media. 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. You might have noticed that if you write some overly self-promotional posts for Facebook that get relatively little attention from your audience, subsequent posts have significantly less visibility. Meanwhile 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 my Klout score from x to y by future date”. You’d go about achieving that goal by creating compelling social media profiles on the platforms that are used by your customers and creating content that is likely to be shared, liked, and Retweeted (i.e. probably not just pictures of your product and invitations to “check out our website”). 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 campaign hinges on successful social media. As always, regularly review 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: make the 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 doing this now if you haven’t done so already. Collecting emails is useful on a number of levels, but the key reason is that it is a relatively easy way of retargeting old or potential customers that at one stage were interested in your business.
The goal is clear, get a certain amount of customers to sign up to your newsletter, 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 generally 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, and ‘sign up for our newsletter’ has about as much appeal as a 5am telesales call). 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 (and don’t forget to include social media too). You can use a simple software such as rafflecopter.com to get a competition live and online in a matter of minutes (more on this later).
If giving away products isn’t relevant or is too expensive this early on, you can give away information instead. If you run a HR software, for instance, you can invite people to attend webinars on popular topics related to HR software. Collect the email addresses of those that sign up in exchange for a free place at the event.
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