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Google Analytics - An introduction for PR teams

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It’s easy to get intimidated with analytics when you start your PR career. Brand awareness, trust, and relationship building aren't straightforward metrics that are easily measured. 

There are many different KPIs used including AVE, total reach and impressions to measure the overall potential of PR strategies. But PR professionals are often asked to dive in a little deeper and provide quantitative proof showing PR’s role in sales and business growth. This is where Google Analytics can play a role.

While not the perfect PR measurement tool, Google Analytics allows you to analyze online user demographics, behavior, interests, interactions, and more which are very important metrics to have when proving the value of your activities. In this article, we’ll cover some of the elements of GA that are most beneficial for PR teams.

Before we dive in, let’s go over some fundamentals that will help you start off on the right foot:

  • Know what’s the end goal of your PR channels, especially your newsroom. Does it exist to get more leads, increase reach, boost website traffic, or does it have a completely different goal?

  • Make sure you have defined your target audience, objectives, KPIs, and positioning.

  • Understand the limitations. Google Analytics won’t measure the lifetime value of an earned media. Use the metrics GA gives you to guide your PR campaigns, by bridging credible data with business outcomes.

  • Regular media monitoring and research (including surveys, focus groups, and social media monitoring) are essential to measure emotional appeal which allows you to collect more qualitative PR metrics.

Understanding the basics

  • After you register your site on the platform, GA prompts you to add a JavaScript code in HTML document of all web pages. This is how GA tracks the traffic on your website.

  • Google Analytics records every source that points someone to your website. It’s your job to correlate this data to audience behavior by investigating each link.

  • While GA cannot quantify sentiments, trust or awareness, it can show the visitor journey from first exposure to goal completion if you use the right tracking methods.

  • The free GA platform tracks 10 million hits––activities happening on your site like page visits, blog comments, link clicks––per month and is updated every 4 hours.

  • You can identify who is already engaging with your digital properties using Google Analytics’ Audience tab, under All Website Data.

It’s crucial to remember GA has limitations when being used for PR measurement. Google Analytics functions as a tool to analyze website traffic, while the goal of PR is to build relationships and ultimately boost brand awareness and perception.

For PR activities, we can only track tactics like higher web traffic, newsletter sign-ups, blog comments. This means we must collect data from different sections to prove the coverage led to an increase in CTA clicks (a potential goal), and in turn, is helping the business bottom line.

Terminology

As you start using GA and begin tracking your campaigns in the platform, you’ll often find these three terms repeated: User, session and interactions. What do they mean?

User: A unique identifier assigned to a browser of every device. Google Analytics uses this data to differentiate between new and returning visitors.

Side note - some users may clear their browser cookies before visiting your site again. When this happens, Google will show this returning visitor as a new one.

Session: A session tracks individual visits to your site. As soon as the JavaScript code loads, Google monitors the time a visitor spends until they either leave the site or stay idle for 30 minutes.

Interactions: Here, you’ll see how visitors interact with your site in the form of hits… from blog comments to contact form completions. This is an important feature to filter out high-value pages from poorly-optimized ones.

Key Google Analytics metrics that PR teams should monitor

GA tracks a variety of different metrics, and each one can give you a bit of extra insight into your audience and how they’re interacting with your content. Here are a few of the key metrics that matter most. Remember, keep your goals specific and measurable so you can get meaningful results when reviewing these metrics.

A word of caution: Google gives a representative sample of the data if you create a custom report. This can lead to discrepancies in perception and feedback within your team. Refer to this handy guide for best practices.

“Overview”

This is the first step to creating an effective GA campaign. As the name suggests, you get a surface level breakdown of the who, what, when, where, and how of visitor activity on your site.

Pro tip: You can create custom tags to directly monitor and link your PR activities to results using UTM tagging. For the few brave souls with technical know-how, here’s your guide to set it up.

Location: All Website Data/Home

‘Pages/Session’

This metric highlights how many pages a user visited in a single session. A significant indicator to determine if they’re engaged with your brand.

Location: Behavior/Overview

“Avg. duration”

Here you’ll get the average time a visitor spends on your site. You’ll want to strive for a period which goes beyond 2 minutes. Another metric, called bounce rate, shows a percentage of visitors who leave after visiting only one page. The lower the rate, the better job you're doing at keeping them engaged.

Location: Behavior/Overview

‘Interests/Devices/Demographics’

With these metrics, you can get some insight into understanding what products/services your visitors are interested in, which devices they’re using to browse your website, and what age group and gender they fall under.

Location(s):

  • Audience/Interests/Overview
  • Audience/Demographics/Overview
  • Audience/Mobile/Overview

‘New vs Returning Visitors’

The percentage of new visitors (combined with an increase in total visitors) is an indication that you're increasing brand awareness, whereas the percentage of returning visitors shows if your existing audience is staying engaged and keeps coming back. PR teams often aim for a healthy percentage of returning visitors to their newsroom, to identify if the target media is regularly coming back for brand-related news (like press releases).

Location: Audience/Behavior/New vs Returning

‘Events’

Since this will be your first face-off with GA, you must set up goals in the form of events––i.e. specific predefined actions visitors take once on your site. For example, you could track how many users who visit your release end up downloading your presskit. This will also help your team tie in your PR activities to business outcomes. 

Location: Conversions/Goals/Overview

‘Referrals’

Referrals reveal which sites, blogs, and social media channels send people to your site AND entice them to stay. You can also spot channels with lower bounce rates, better pages/session count and longer session periods.

Location: Acquisition/All Traffic/Referrals

‘Compare to’

Use this metric to measure evolution and improvement of your PR goal (say, social media engagement) over a period of different time frames. You’ll know whether your PR plan is contributing to the audience and brand growth.

Bonus tip: You can connect Answer The Client, a free third-party tool, to determine the traffic your press coverage sends to a specific site.

Google Analytics attribution models

Every touchpoint in a visitor’s unique online journey matters. And PR professionals cannot personalize messaging unless we understand their digital behavior and interaction with our brand and market.

Attribution modeling in GA is a system which credits channels responsible for conversions and ROI. This makes analyzing visitor journeys easier by providing insights on events that guide the target audience from brand exposure, awareness, acceptance to action.

There are six GA attribution models used to map the buyer journey until a visitor converts and takes the desired action.

To understand the different attribution models, let’s take an example: suppose a visitor interacts with your brand in this order: Twitter post –> PR coverage –> email –> company blog post–> direct visit.

Let’s find out which of the five channels gets credit within different attribution models.

First click (single touch): Here Google gives 100% credit to the first touch point, which is the Twitter post from our example.

Last touch (single touch): This model only acknowledges the last event––direct visit––which triggered the conversion. From a visitor to a subscriber or follower or client based on your objectives.

Last non-direct (single touch): When you use this model, Google doesn’t count direct visits and assigns all the credit to the last non-direct event––company blog post––that encouraged a visitor to act.

Linear (multi-touch): This model assigns equal attribution to every touch point in a buyer journey. So, all five touch points get 20% credit each.

Time decay (multi-touch): Higher credits are given to events closer to the final conversion. So, the Twitter post gets 5% credit while direct visit receives 45%.

U-shaped (multi-touch): Google gives greater attribution (40%) to first and last channels––Twitter post and direct visit––while the rest––PR coverage, email, and company blog post––get an equal portion out of the remaining 20%.

Google Analytics attribution models are essential to discover:

  • What resonates with your target audience at each stage of their online journey.

  • Which PR channels push visitors from targets to ambassadors.

  • How to create a smart PR campaign using the right digital channels.

  • Which touch point deserves what percentage of your PR budget.

  • Why some channels perform better than the rest in goal conversion.

Final thoughts

Although GA collects the right tangible parameters––traffic, referrals, site behavior, it isn’t the perfect tool for PR (yet). Be sure to correlate these tangible metrics with the core of PR (awareness, identity, vision) to get meaningful, accurate results.

Implementing GA for effective PR measurement isn’t an easy task, but it will help you in demonstrating PR’s value in an organizational hierarchy.

About the author

Sphoorti Bhandare is a PR and Content Marketing specialist. She helps B2B tech companies grow brand relevance and trust through simple, effective messaging. Sphoorti is fluent in traveling solo, eating sushi and dancing at the drop of a beat. Check out her site.

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