After decades of debate about the tangible ROI of public relations; the ability for Digital PR to contribute to marketing objectives in a measurable way could be what insulates our channel in the midst of slashed marketing budgets.
A recent study by Warc on the decline on marketing investment shows an overall 8.1% decline in global ad spends, with traditional media being hit hardest (estimated 16.3% contraction this year).
It’s not new news that online is growing, but in PR, add to that the final blow that COVID-19 has had on struggling print titles, and we need – more than ever – to switch to digital. And this means a lot more than simply getting coverage in online publications.
The full suite of Digital PR benefits
Digital PR delivers the same brand raising awareness metrics that we’ve always used, complemented by improved ‘reach’ and ‘share’ tracking capabilities. But the additional, arguably longer lasting, benefits lie with its SEO value – which looks remarkably similar to offsite SEO – coverage and links from high authority domains, branded mentions and high link relevance (links that get clicked on). This increases search visibility in three ways:
- Growing and maintaining ranking positions for generic keywords
- Increasing brand awareness, which translates into people searching for the brand by name (branded search) and coming directly to the site, avoiding the competitive tussle of generic searches. A far cheaper stream of traffic than PPC.
- Growing the number of keyword variations you’re found through. Not just product searches, but researching questions, topic and interest-based questions.
A digital PR strategy requires two strands – offsite and onsite. The offsite strategy must deliver on the reason why people – specifically journalists for media publications (and people on social, blogs etc) – would talk about you in the first place. The onsite strategy must ensure there is a compelling reason for a potential customer to visit and a reason for a journalist to link. Done well, they both ladder up to one and the same thing: unique, valuable or entertaining content.
Understanding your digital audience
Thanks to a variety of insights and analytics there has never been more data available to us to learn about our audience. We can find our audience and learn about how they show up online: on social media, what sort of brands do they follow, what do they post about? Conversely how do they search: what are their burning questions and where are there knowledge gaps? This is essential when creating your on and offsite content. But you need to keep your audience front of mind (not just the desired journalists). It’s helpful to split keyword research into the following categories, as each informs a different part of the plan:
- Product keyword research. Based around the product and proposition itself, this informs what keywords you should be aiming to rank for, taking into consideration search volume and competition.
- ‘In market’ keywords. These are questions that people search for in and around the product, signalling they’re getting ready to buy but require more information or reassurance. This can inform some nice evergreen content that sits on your website and hopefully allows these people to stumble across you before they know who they want to buy from.
- Interest-based keywords. These are searches that aren’t about the product but are within the interests and topics of your intended audience, for example cat owners, HR managers or parents of young children. Understanding what answers they’re looking for informs the content you plan and publish onsite.
There’s a trade-off between search volume and purchase intent. More people are performing interest-based searches while not necessarily in market – but that’s why the content strategy should stretch across all three areas.
The media plan needs to work alongside your website content strategy. In digital PR, a varied-yet-relevant link profile (i.e. the collection of websites that link to yours) is important. Media publications are important of course, just like in PR, however also consider niche publications, specialist verticals and sites influential in their field. Broadening out your target list will require storytelling from multiple angles – what’s the ‘new news’ you’re contributing? What are you offering their readers that’s fresh, valuable or relevant?
The power of relevant links
A crucial part of these offsite stories is the ‘reason to link’ (for journalists), which we also like to call ‘reason to visit’ (for the audience). A link to the homepage from coverage crediting you for a quote, a stat or an image is good, however these links almost never get clicked on. Clicks on links (or referral traffic) were not originally the aim of building links from an SEO point of view – the links were there to serve Google rather than the user – however now, whatever is good for the user is what Google optimises, clicks are significant.
Firstly, the click itself is a signal that the link is relevant – but if that person stays on your site for a significant amount of time and views several pages, that’s an even stronger one. We have found that clicks coming from links we’ve built are the most engaged traffic source for our clients, with over double the dwell time.
Entice the click by linking to something valuable on your site; whatever that means to your audience. An asset, guide, article, resource, glossary – an extension of the offsite story that makes sense from a user’s point of view. Make it so functionally irresistible that journalists won’t want to strip the link out.
Insights-driven content is powerful (or sometimes just really useful)
Using tools to understand your audience and their search behaviour can inform the kinds of content you create. Google Trends (free) and Answer the Public (free and paid for version) are great tools for giving a macro and micro view of what people are Googling. Sometimes the shift in search volume is the story, or at least the news hook – for example, Google searches about punctuation, grammar, biology and history have all spiked sharply during lockdown as we give ourselves a crash-course in home-schooling. Sometimes answering the most Googled questions is the content (provided it’s a query that you can answer differently and/or better than your competitors).
How this translates into measurable progress
The tactics above work to grow your online presence, your ‘digital footprint’. High quality coverage and authoritative (and relevant) links will tangibly improve your site’s ability to rank for generic queries and increase people searching for your brand – both of which show up in your website’s analytics under ‘organic traffic’. This can also be forecasted and modelled: a projected increase in organic traffic based on search volume and click through rate can be applied to the conversion rate of organic traffic… which then gives you a pounds and pence figure.
Digital PR and growing organic traffic is a marathon, not a sprint; it requires sustained, consistent effort. But at a time when brands are scrutinising every penny of marketing spend, and prioritising on value, now is the time to super charge the power of Digital PR at both the top AND the bottom of the funnel and grow its share of the marketing budget.