Digital PR: How to Define What ‘Good’ Looks Like & Drive Measurable Gains via @impressiontalk

Failure.

This concept comes up from time to time in digital PR.

And lockdown – with its many webinars, social media updates, and the inherent challenges of the media landscape right now – has brought the idea of expectations to the forefront once again.

There are various viewpoints around this.

Some webinars/events/content have spoken of unfair expectations and the notion that the campaigns we publicly celebrate could be setting false ideas of what’s possible.

At the same time, digital PR is a difficult job – and for good reason!

Link building and the more traditionally SEO-based techniques that underpin any good link acquisition strategy are relatively straightforward.

But the value of digital PR lies in its ability to earn links from highly targeted, high quality, important publications that drive equity and move the needle when it comes to rankings, traffic, and sales.

Rather than suggesting we be more open about failure, I believe we, as an industry and as individual practitioners, have an opportunity to improve the way we set expectations and to target success through our strategies.

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The purpose of this post is to explore that topic and hopefully inspire some more discussion on ensuring our craft continues to evolve in a positive way.

Redefining Failure

In the many webinars and social chats I’ve attended through lockdown, one of the common themes has been that of perceived failure in digital PR.

What is usually meant by failure is that the campaign has failed to live up to the expectations that, if we’re completely honest, we’ve put upon ourselves.

This notion that every single campaign will gain widespread national coverage is the one many of us seem to cling to when we commence our own outreach, and when it doesn’t happen, we feel bad.

But this isn’t about what other people/brands/agencies are shouting about on social media, nor is it about the highly linked campaigns celebrated at awards events.

It’s about us. As individuals.

Deciding that what we see external to ourselves is what we should strive for internally.

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Not achieving a million links every day is not a failure.

Not meeting client KPIs, however, is.

Setting Expectations

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned (in my decade, plus a bit, in this industry) is to always set clear expectations.

If you/your client don’t know what good looks like, it’s difficult to know when you get there, right?

It’s a simple premise, but one that holds true in digital PR more than (I’d argue) most professions.

That’s because the scope of what can be achieved is so vast but the reality still remains that if we want to celebrate, we need to know what we’re aiming for.

This means setting clear KPIs (key performance indicators) with your client/team. What are the metrics we need to address to understand how well a project is going?

Defining Our ‘Owned Goals’

One concept I’ve found works really well in setting expectations is to define the goals that we as digital PRs can genuinely affect.

Now, this doesn’t mean the goals set here are going to be easy.

It isn’t an easy job.

That’s why it’s full of such amazing people.

Celebrate the struggle.

What it does mean is taking ownership of those things that, bottom line, we’re paid to do.

That might mean we need to measure ourselves against KPIs relating to:

Number of Links

That’s the crux of it, right?

As link builders / link earners / PRs, much of the time our job exists with the purpose of gaining links to our/our client’s site.

Simple.

Did they include a hyperlink to our target website?

Yes?

Excellent – celebrate!

No?

Meh, try again.

The number of links needn’t be tens or hundreds or thousands.

In fact, on the basis that Google assesses how natural a link profile is as well as how good its links are, the benefit of a consistent though lower volume link acquisition is arguably greater than that of flash in the pan mega-wins that drive hundreds of links to one-off campaign pages.

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(In fact, I have a deep-down fear that one day Google could just say, “You know what, that’s your lot, we’re no longer valuing massive influxes of links into orphan pages” and boom – a whole bunch of PR campaign value would be lost. But, I digress…)

The number of links should be specified, either with actual numbers (we’re aiming for X links) or with, at the very least, articulation of the need – which usually comes down to whether the website will benefit most from more links or a higher quality of links.

How do you know?

Well, for me, I focus on what the data tells me.

So tools like Ahrefs will show quite clearly the quality and size of the existing link profile.

If the website has a lot of links already but they are not of great quality, it would benefit from (maybe a disavow and) high quality, relevant links to address that balance.

If the website doesn’t have many links at all, it’s likely they need more.

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And, coming from a starting point of having not many, it’s likely they’ll struggle to achieve super high DR links, so the focus is more on high DR/DA.

Some agencies/businesses also use link scores, which is a concept I’m really interested in and would love to know your thoughts on in the comments.

Quality of Links

On the whole, the links we achieve are the ones we seek.

OK, scratch that. In the early stages of a campaign, the links we achieve are the ones we seek.

What I mean here is that a campaign may snowball and pick up links organically, but in the outreach stage, we’re targeting specific publications.

So in this way, we take ownership of the quality of the links we aim to gain, which I would measure in terms of DR (or DA).

Of course, quality isn’t just about a score out of 100…

Relevance of Links

This is (I believe) more difficult to quantify (let me know if you have a way though!).

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The relevance of links is so important, especially in light of Google’s E-A-T focus, so ensuring the publications we target to give us links are relevant to our brand and topical focus is a really key part of what we should be doing as PRs.

One framework I like to use to help with this is that of circles of focus.

It encourages us to define the topics of greatest relevance to us/our clients at the core and then to agree on the topics we’re willing to explore one or two steps away from that.

The further away from the core topic we get, the higher up the marketing funnel the consumer is likely to be.

We also ensure the topic is relevant to some level of the funnel and never completely irrelevant to the brand.

Placement of Links

The placement of links refers to where on the site the publication linking to you targets its link(s) – whether it’s going to the homepage or to the campaign page or to the product page.

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If we think about how links pass value, perhaps comparing it to a champagne fountain (pour in the top and the champers runs down), we can visualize how the passage of equity will benefit our/our client’s site.

So if we’re trying to affect broader goals relating to the ranking position of a specific page, for example, we’ll want to:

  • Consider whether we’re trying to earn links to that page or whether it makes sense to drive links to an adjacent page.
  • Recognize the reduced value that will pass through, crafting strategies that drive as much value as possible so the internal link equity loss is not a problem.

Defining Our ‘Shared Goals’

The shared goals refer to those wider aspirations we’re trying to affect with our actions, that we as digital PRs might not directly control.

This might be:

Keyword Ranking Positions

The concept of building links to drive ranking improvements is the very basis of digital PR as a discipline, so it’s not uncommon to work on campaigns where the ultimate goal is to drive better keyword visibility.

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The important thing here then is to ensure that your PR team works closely with your SEO team to define the keywords you’re trying to improve.

This might be a specific keyword, or it might be a set of keywords, such as a category of products on an ecommerce site, or the topical focuses of a content hub.

Traffic

Traffic to a site is often part of the wider aspirations of a brand.

By focusing on increased rankings and visibility, the traffic to the site will likely be expected to improve.

It is possible to be more strategic in your thinking here than just more traffic.

I’d argue the PR team should be fully briefed on aspirations from SEO, wider marketing and the business in general around the type of traffic to be attracted.

For example, there might be a specific set of products that you/your client wants to sell more of, perhaps based on:

  • Profit margins.
  • Warehouse space availability.
  • Or maybe you’re looking to move into a new market.
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Similarly, it might be about attracting a type of person, using data to identify that the decision-makers around a purchase are typically of a certain demographic or job title, then targeting campaigns to those personas to reap greater rewards in terms of sales and revenue.

A technique you might use to support this is to review your data.

Utilizing audience insight from the likes of GA, reviewing CRM data, conducting audience profiling, investing in Mosaic data, and so on can inform you as to the audience types with the greatest propensity to buy and the greatest value when they do.

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