Google Analytics and attribution analysis for public relations by Andrew Smith
In this extract from his CIPR Social Media Best Practice Guide, Escherman’s Andrew Smith explains how Google Analytics can be used to analyse the financial impact of public relations. Google Analytics is a powerful measurement and evaluation platform that can encompass both digital and offline environments. Not only that, it can provide powerful insight into the economic contribution of all public relations activity in both commercial and non-commercial environments.
Aligning goals with purpose
The typical approach to looking at Google Analytics is to simply dive in and have a look. After a few minutes, most people tend to glaze over at the vast amount of reports and data.
But before you go anywhere near an account, you must always ask a basic question: why does my website exist?
If you stripped everything back, what would be the single focus or purpose for your website?
If you have an e-commerce site it may be fairly obvious - sell products for a profit. Or for a business-to-business site, you may view lead generation as a key objective.
All organisations, whether commercial or non-commercial, have a purpose for existing, and a website should align with that purpose.
Put another way, can we translate or correlate our organisational and communications objectives in such a way that this would be reflected in an observable website behaviour?
Even more simply, what defined group of people do we want to visit the site and what do we want them to do? Is this behaviour evidence that our organisational purposes are being achieved?
Setting measurable goals for public relations activity
In the context of Google Analytics, goals have a specific meaning, and there are three basic types of goal.
#1 Destination goals. In other words, if you can persuade the right visitor to visit a specific page on the site, this counts as success. For an e-commerce site, the “Thank You” page after purchase would have specific economic value. But simply getting the right people in front of the right content would also count as success.
#2 There are two types of engagement goal – time on site and number of pages visited per session.
#3 Event goal. This is a catch-all for any other observable behaviour on the site such as watching a video, downloading a PDF and so on.
Ideally, there will be some way to correlate web behaviour with a desired audience behaviour.
For example, if we've been tasked with “raising awareness” of a particular brand, service or message to a defined audience.
Perhaps if we could understand whether our defined audience had not only visited our site, but had actually visited specific pages of content and spent sufficient time on them to indicate they may well have consumed that message.
We could also understand which particular elements of our public relations activity had delivered the right kind of visitor. Better still if there is some observable real world behaviour that could be correlated with this web behaviour.
For example, the use of search engines is a proxy for awareness. By default, in order to search for information about something, you must already have prior awareness and intent to seek out information about the subject or topic.
In this case, increases in search volume could be indicative of raised awareness levels.
Free Google tools such as Google Trends and the Google Keyword Planner can provide insight as to whether public relations activity has indeed had an effect on observable behaviour. Namely, the number of visitors generated via search activity who subsequently do the things we want them do.
Time spent on defining goals and determining their economic value has major downstream benefits in terms of reporting, metric selection and the ability to gain meaningful insight into return on investment (ROI).
Measuring the impact of integrated public relations activity
Public relations has struggled for decades with providing a robust way of measuring the value of their work in economic terms. When the discipline was largely characterised by media relations, these metrics tended to focus on easy to count figures such as the number of press articles generated and similar.
Even so, this didn’t address the key issue – what effect did the appearance of those press articles have on the behaviour of the target audience? Did that behaviour then translate into a direct impact on an organisation’s objectives? Not only that, but what about the potential cumulative effect of this activity over time?
These questions went largely unanswered for a variety of reasons, either because the means of identifying these causal connections was deemed too costly or time consuming, or just not possible to understand.
Public relations measurement remained in the area of outputs, or worse, the creation of faux metrics such Advertising Value Equivalence (AVE).
The increasing use of digital technologies in communication has certainly led to the creation of more data and additional techniques that may help to answer some of these questions more fully.
The ability to use attribution analysis is one that holds great promise for the public relations practitioner.
What is attribution analysis?
If your end goal is to sell a product. In order to demonstrate the value of public relations activity you may seek to see if you can see a direct causal connection between a positive press article, Tweet or Facebook post and a sale.
In the context of a website, it is perfectly possible to see whether a particular visit resulted in a goal being achieved. But realistically, not every visit will see the goal achieved. In fact, when it comes to activity typically under the remit of the public relations practitioner, you are likely to be disappointed.
However, this doesn’t mean to say that public relations activity has little value. It is just that it fails to acknowledge the effects that public relations activity has on a goal being achieved. More specifically it fails to account for the largely assistive or indirect nature of this kind of communication.
The challenge for public relations professionals is to understand the contribution pattern, and the direct and indirect roles played by various elements of the communications mix.
Google Analytics has for several years provided the ability to gain precisely this kind of insight. However, in order to gain this insight, by definition, you need to have goals defined and values associated with those goals. As well as a clear definition of exactly what elements are going to be considered as part of the campaign.
The benefits are self-evident.
Using Google Analytics you can show what combination of activity such as press articles, Tweets, Facebook posts, or online display ads were the most likely combination to deliver your desired result. For the business of public relations, that is incredibly powerful.
Download the CIPR Best Practice Guide
You can view or download of a copy of the CIPR's Best Practice Guide Google Analytics for Public Relations Measurement and Evaluation written by Andrew from Slideshare.
About the author
Andrew Smith is a specialist social media, PR and analytics consultant with a career spanning 29 years of public relations and journalism. He has provided social media and digital marketing training to over 500 organisations in the last four years ranging across commercial organisations of all sizes, through government departments, NGOs and charities.
Andrew is a regular speaker and media commentator on the integration of PR with social media, search optimisation and analytics. He is also co-author of two bestselling social media books, Share This and Share This Too, and a member of the CIPR's Social Media Panel. You can connect with Andrew via the Escherman blog or via Twitter @escherman.