Public relations, done well, should generate two core kinds of behaviors and one tangible, objective, measurable output. If you’ve got a great public relations staff or agency, you should experience behaviors that indicate increased awareness and trust, meaning that people should know who you are and should trust your brand more rather than less. The measurable output of public relations is new audience, the number of people who find you by any means. From there, it’s marketing’s job to take that new audience, build on that trust, engage, and ultimately convert new audiences to grow your business.
Measuring awareness is relatively straightforward. If you’re a coffee shop, for example, the number of people who walk by the front door, stop, look inside, maybe even poke their head in, is your level of awareness. Measuring trust is significantly harder because it’s subjective and qualitative. Trust is less of a “what happened” question and more of a “why” question, and you can never measure “why” questions with web analytics (which only measures “what happened” questions).
With that in mind, let’s look at two simple ways using web metrics that you can start to see the impact of your public relations program on growing new audiences. The screenshots below are taken from the most popular web analytics program, Google Analytics, but other programs provide (or should provide) substantially similar simple metrics.
The most important top of the funnel statistic that should tell you whether your public relations program is contributing to your audience building efforts is, of course, new visitors to your website. Note that we don’t especially care about the ratio of new to returning visitor, but whether the absolute quantities of new visitors are increasing over time:
If you’ve had more new visitors over time, then your public relations efforts may be helping.
An indicator that you’re generating awareness through your PR efforts of your brand, products, services, and company is through branded organic search. For example, there’s a difference between someone who types in “San Francisco PR agency” and someone who types in “SHIFT Communications”. The former is looking for a PR agency.
The latter is specifically looking for us, which means they have awareness of who we are. Most web analytics and keyword ranking software packages should offer you the ability to track branded search term volume; in Google Analytics, you’ll find it under Search Engine Optimization Queries.
The danger with these two metrics, and with all web analytics in general, is conflation. If PR is all you’re doing, then any increases in growth in these two metrics is clearly the result of PR, and you know it’s working. However, if you’ve got multiple activities happening at the same time, then you are likely to have conflation. For example, if you’re running advertisements at the same time as PR, you’re using two different forms of media. Not only is it difficult to attribute the brand impact of one or the other, but they can have synergistic effects where an ad combined with PR can create a bigger impact than either channel alone.
The way to solve for this right now is straightforward: ask people. This is an essential step you must take in order to determine what’s really working. It’s labor intensive to deal with the data, but it’s the only way to get at the “why” once the “what happened” gets muddy.
Start looking at your new audiences through these two web metrics, and see what you discover about your PR efforts!
Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology