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How to measure and evaluate online PR coverage

How to measure and evaluate online PR coverage

By Heather Baker, Director of PR at TopLine Communications.

Only a decade ago, the success of a PR campaign was judged in terms of column inches or air time secured. But the rapid emergence of blogs and websites which get industry news in front of readers at the click of a mouse has meant that the way we assess PR has had to change.

Measuring the impact of coverage and its equivalent monetary value has always been tricky - using AVEs (Advertising Value Equivalents) to demonstrate print pr value only tells a fraction of the story.

Throwing a new medium into the mix complicates this further. Some principles remain, but online coverage is unique, with the following characteristics:

•    Content can be disseminated at the click of a mouse, eliminating the need to wait for the next print run.
•    Online coverage can have an immediate and tangible effect on an organisation through hyperlinks that direct readers back to a website (Contributing to SEO). This can be very desirable to an organisation.
•    Content is archived, meaning it will always be available to the interested ‘Googler’, good and bad content never goes away (unlike other media that tend to have finite lifespans).
•    Audiences can be reached on an unprecedented scale, unconstrained by geographical boundaries.
•    The influence of unregulated blogs rivals that of many online media, requiring new strategies.

How do we know what is good online coverage?

I don’t seem to be able to get hold of a paid online coverage analytics company that will explain their methodology – they’re all rather cagey (correct me if I’m wrong please!). But to judge the value of your web hits, you should be looking at:

1.    The quality of the source. I judge it by:

•    Do you look at the site and think ‘hmmm this is useful?’
•    What is the page rank of the site? (used Google’s PageRank toolbar to tell you this – and look at the rank of that page, not just the homepage – this simple exercise will give you good insight into the value of newswires)
•    How many people visit the site? The site owner should be able to tell you.
•    How much do they charge people to advertise? They’ll be keen to tell you that!
•    What are the visitor demographics? (again they should be able to tell you)

2.    The quality of the content:

•    Is it unique, or has it just been replicated from another site?
•    Who is it authored to and what else have they written about? Are they respected?

3.    The quality of the links:

•    Does the article contain backlinks?
•    Are they dofollow links (the kind that Google can index)
•    How many people have visited the client’s site from the piece of coverage (your client should be able to measure that).

All well and good, but how do you calculate the monetary advertising equivalent of online coverage? With difficulty is the answer.

Cuttings agencies will tell you of ‘a number of individual factors’ such as traffic volume and coverage format to inform a specific method for calculating this. This secret KFC type formula is only available to those willing to pay for the service, so how does it work on a ground level?

Manually calculating online AVEs is the most accurate (and unfortunately time consuming) method.

After identifying an outline of advertising costs for each online source, discretion is required in judging how closely the amount of content and brand mentions match the equivalent level within a specific online advert type (ranging from banner to more extensive contextual advertising).  

Far from ideal in terms of the variables but the most logical, in absence of being able to outsource online analysis.

Ensuring there is a function in place (verbal or electronic) to record the number of enquiries that are made as a result of viewing backlinks is essential – where assessing online AVEs encounters a number of variables, the direct results generated by backlinks can be far more accurately measured

We are still a long way from securing a unified approach to calculating online (as well as print) AVEs.– the very nature of online activity means the PR professional will always have to judge impact (in monetary terms) on a case by case basis.

However, for most clients, a general indication of the monetary value should be sufficient – if the coverage is good, they will be noticing the impact anyway!

We’ve had clients attract job enquiries from employees at competitors, generate new business enquiries and win monetary prizes off good pieces of online coverage – in these cases, the actual advertising equivalent value becomes quickly irrelevant!

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