The team and I had an ‘orientation’ session on SEO analytics and research tool Searchmetrics on Friday, looking at how we can better measure PR results.
And why am I telling you this?
Because, while AI in PR is the headline-grabbing bogeyman du jour, we really are ambling blindly into a much bigger issue, where Zuckerberg and the Googleclan wind up EVEN richer, as clients divert PR budgets to social ad spend.
When I first started working in PR, I quickly learned and took to heart the mantra that you’re ‘only as good as your last story‘. No doubt intended to instill conscientiousness, but also, I’ve seen it play out first hand many times and have never had a reason to doubt it.
One proactive story or campaign flies for a client; the next doesn’t – there’s a good chance you have an unhappy, or at least concerned, client. Especially when that client is new to PR, or has investors and other stakeholders on their case. This might sound alien to some in the industry, especially if employed in a strategic capacity, away from the coalface, or at a bigger agency where they might be protected from business ups and downs, but it’s a reality for smaller agencies certainly, and, having worked at a mid-sized agency, them too.
Measurement and the 3 Pillars
I’ve talked endlessly for years now about just how PR can prove its worth, both online – like here – and to prospective clients. It’s one of the things I think sets us apart from other agencies.
Another thing I think marks us out is (creative) link building. We’re very, very good at it, put simply, with plenty of PR case studies on the homepage. If an SEO-conscious client needs relevant links from high authority sites, we have hundreds of examples of how we can do exactly that.
Now, that’s not (ahem, just) willy-waving, that’s to give some context to what I’m about to say.
Clients are more measurement-savvy than ever before. The pressure for PR to prove the service we provide is more than just a way to vaguely build ‘awareness’ comes up in every single new business meeting and pitch I have. And I think I’m grateful for it.
I say think, because the pressure for each story to work feels like it’s only increased. Not only now does it need to work from an output perspective (meaning coverage, mainly), it needs to work from an outcome perspective, too – by which, traffic, follow links, data capture, sales, hopefully, and more. And clients will gladly bugger off if you can’t deliver.
This is where I’ll come back to Searchmetrics, ably demonstrated by the dashing Anthony Tuite of Barracuda Digital, SEO and digital marketing specialists we partner with for some clients, to deliver the ‘3 Pillars’ of good SEO.
The 3 Pillars are:
Technology – basically, the technical aspect of a site. Is it built well enough to be properly crawled by search engines?
Relevance – this is where content and keywords come into play. In short, are the pages and blogs of the site well-written? Are there title tags and meta descriptions that would aid a search engine in determining that your site (and content) deserve to be seen by those searching?
Authority – links! This is the aspect PR people are incredibly well-placed to deliver on. The more trusted and authoritative sites link to a site, the more ‘visible’ it’ll be in Google – assuming all 3 pillars are being done well. Getting coverage – and links from authoritative sites – is absolutely the domain of PR, and serves as a vote of confidence that your client’s site should be returned in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages – I’ve only chucked this bit of jargon in as you’ll see/hear it)
If you’re after a more detailed explanation, State of Digital has a good primer here.
When we work with Barracuda, as digital channel strategists, they are more than adept at handling the technical aspects of the 3 Pillars – number 1, certainly, and we handle number 3. Number 2 can be split neatly down the line of well-written copy – again, something a good comms agency should be able to do – and smart tagging.
OK, so what is Searchmetrics?
I’m comfortable using Google Analytics to assess the impact of PR now, and we use Majestic’s Site Explorer to regularly highlight two very basic SEO scores based around quality and quantity that our work positively affect, but Searchmetrics scared me a bit, to be honest. I looked into using it a year or so back, and it appeared to be a completely different language.
It’s only through being shown what it actually does by somebody that knows what they’re talking about that I have come to the conclusion that it’s not that we have to learn a completely different language from scratch. We just need to learn, like heading off on holiday, enough to help us get by.
This is a visibility graph, demonstrating the SEO visibility (blue line) and paid visibility (green line) of one of our clients. We work with Barracuda on this client, splitting the 3 pillars between us. Can you see where we started?
As mentioned, as well as providing a wealth of analytics, Searchmetrics is also a research tool. Barracuda and other SEO agencies use the keyword research and competitor features to look at how clients rank for key search terms – but, there’s also a public relations benefit to keyword research that’s not immediately obvious, and that’s using them to help us come up with PR ideas.
Here’s a demonstration of what it can do for the comparative market share of various buckets of agreed-upon keywords – as you’ll see, versus another client’s three closest competitors, we’re dominating for all but one of the groups of terms using this 3 pronged-method.
How does this help us get past short-termism?
From startups with a bit of investment in the bank through to global brands, budgeting for PR is under constant and particular scrutiny. I don’t feel like I’m doing my team nor the industry a disservice when I say that we’ve recently lost a client as key stakeholders there felt that social ads and pay-per-click Google ads are a safer bet than PR.
‘Put £1 in, get £1.50 out’ is the (understandable) sausage machine thinking we’re up against.
Although with Google Goals we can prove a £ value of PR results, PR just isn’t a direct sales function, and it never will be. So, while clients can now divert their thousands of pounds a month PR budgets into targeted ads that give them an investor-pleasing CPA (cost per acquisition), there’s a lot that isn’t doing for them, and site visibility is right at the top of that list of things.
A story that gets just a few pieces of coverage/a handful of links is, traditionally and considering the ‘last story’ adage, a story to be somewhat ashamed of. However, it all counts towards site visibility. More than 3.5 billion daily searches are made on Google alone (which has a 75% share of all searches), and everything done to intelligently and measurably improve a client’s chances of being seen is A Good Thing.
Of course, we all want those big story wins, based around smart and creative ideas – and they’re obviously more beneficial than the ones that comparatively flop (too many of these and you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of that client’s notice), but it all adds up to a bigger whole. It’s important not to throw the baby out if the odd story doesn’t land as well as hoped, assuming you have a strong ongoing strategy.
Now, I hear you, voices in the back shouting at me about reputation, product launches, smart press office work and everything else that a good agency should do. This isn’t a replacement but a data-led addition that ensures our seat at a particular table.
This macro, search-conscious approach gets us beyond the idea that we’re only as good as our last story, and enables us to demonstrate, from the top-down, that our work is not just useful short term, but fundamentally necessary long-term, too. Especially when, with link velocity accounted for, regular link-building and adherence to the ‘3 Pillars’ becomes essential to stay on top.
Thanks to Google’s insistence on relevance both in terms of content and how up-to-date said content is, search results change regularly, and you can’t rest on your laurels even if you’ve had years of success.
As a test, and with more time to work on it thanks to a growing team, I’ll be working to start building this very site’s visibility, because right now, it makes me want to do a cry. It’s like a gardener looking out of his window to see a Triffid uprising.
I’m still learning and, to be frank, I have no designs on becoming a technical SEO expert in the same way many SEO agencies would be playing serious catch-up to get anywhere near us from a creative and media relations POV, but will update as this aspect of our work progresses.
I think it can only be positive for both the SEO and PR industries and the clients we work with to consider this joined-up way of thinking. And if you’ve got this far, you probably care, too.