The New Metrics of PR Measurement: Site Traffic, Downloads and SEO

How to measure PR effectiveness is one of the most debated questions in the field of marketing and public relations. A Google search for "PR measurement" returns close to 80,000 results and every PR agency, academic, department and trade association has a different opinion on the subject.

Some metrics border on the ridiculous such as "Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE)" whereby you measure the value of the space secured by a media placement versus what a similar sized ad would cost in the respective outlet). The absurdity of AVE is that the value of your baseline measurement (advertising) is in itself difficult if not impossible to measure.

Another popular metric is the number of stories a media relations campaign delivers. This was the most popular singular measurement mentioned by PR professionals in an unscientific survey by PR Opinions. Most agencies use a combination of metrics such as Web hits, sales leads, media coverage, AVE, etc.

The fact is, there is no right answer to the question "what is the best way to measure the effectiveness of our PR initiatives" because every company has different needs and goals at any given time. The metrics used to measure success for a PR firm representing the National Security Agency right now will be a lot different than the metrics used for a start-up about to launch a new HR software product.

A lot of the confusion surrounding PR measurement comes from the fact that companies confuse "marketing PR" with traditional PR. Traditional PR is usually associated with how politicians, celebrities, and large corporations deal with the public (fans, voters, customers, investors, etc.) - e.g., "damage control". Most HR service providers rarely need traditional PR and will get much more value spending their "PR" dollars on targeted "marketing PR" programs which are much easier to measure.

Marketing PR is the combining of what are traditionally two separate departments (PR and marketing) to one united front (Marketing PR) whereby all marketing and PR tactics support marketing objectives.

Here is a real world example of how one of our customer measures the effectiveness of their Marketing PR. The company, Leade Health is a leading provider of health coaching services for tobacco cessation, weight/obesity management, stress reduction and cardiovascular health. This company informed us that the primary metric they use to evaluate HRmarketer's effectiveness is traffic to their website. They also monitor the downloads of their white papers that are promoted via press releases sent through HRmarketer. The company values media placements, but considers them a means to an end to the more measurable and important goals of Web traffic and white paper downloads – both of which are easily measurable and generate tangible sales leads.

Since this company started using four months ago, traffic to their website is up considerably and there have been over 400 white paper downloads. The company has not done any other promotions so these results were clearly associated with their Marketing PR. By the way, if your company has a lot of simultaneous marketing and PR campaigns going on, use unique refer codes in your online press releases (that link back to a special landing page on your web site) to measure the effectiveness of individual campaigns.

Another metric Leade Health uses to measure the long-term effectiveness of their marketing and PR is SEO – specifically how high up in Google does the company show up for certain keyword phrases. Their goal was to show up on the first page top 10 for the keywords important to his company. More importantly, our media relations team was aware of what these keywords were so they made sure each of Leade Health's press releases included these keywords as hyperlinks back to the company's web site.

Before these Marketing PR campaigns, the company was not even in the top 100. Today, they are in top 20 and climbing.

Whatever your company uses to measure PR, make sure to follow these three simple rules:
  1. Choose metrics that are easily measurable and tied to tangible results.
  2. Make sure these metrics can be attributed to specific tactics and campaigns.
  3. Make sure that all stakeholders of the marketing and PR team know these metrics and are held accountable for achieving them.
And remember, your website must be designed for lead acquisition and if done properly, you will find a direct correlation between traffic to your website and closed business. This is why the metrics of site traffic, downloads and SEO make so much sense when measuring PR.

Good luck!