How to Measure the ROI of Digital PR

  ●   October 4, 2023 | PR
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October 4, 2023 | PR

There is a lot of noise, miseducation, and misunderstanding when it comes to measuring digital PR success. For businesses and brands that engage in digital marketing and link building, it’s vital that KPIs are agreed to ensure everyone is working towards a common goal. 

When we look at digital PR as a channel, we need to ask ourselves how digital PR can support the client’s digital goals. What is the client’s business strategy and where do they want to be in 6, 9, or 12 months? Digital PR can provide immediate results, but there also needs to be a mid to long-term strategic mindset to see the most success.

We are very lucky to work with brands of all shapes and sizes, budgets, and across a variety of sectors, so we know that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Some brands need a volume of links or they need links from new or specific domains. Whereas other brands want high-authority links and some want to build brand awareness around their services and products. 

A big misunderstanding of value often lies in confusion over what the goal really is. Unlike advertising, PR doesn’t always have a direct correlation to sales. The end goal of most digital PR campaigns is to produce a volume of quality, relevant, and new links in order to support wider SEO efforts and actually deliver business impact.

But one question that most digital PRs will encounter during their career is “How do I measure Digital PR ROI that I can show to our stakeholders and my boss?”. These types of questions tend to come at the early stages of onboarding a new client, and in the current landscape, it’s more important than ever before that markets and digital PRs can clearly articulate the value of their work and the business impact. This is key!

How NOT to measure digital PR success

Not via AVE

AVE stands for Advertising Value Equivalency, and it attempts to measure the value of earned media coverage by assessing how much it would cost to buy advertorial placements of a similar size. This is a way for PR professionals to place a monetary figure on the value of media coverage.

For example, our digital PR team recently earned this placement in the Huffington Post for a client, and it took us 1.5 days of the time sold to achieve it. But, for the client to go and pay to get a full-page sponsored post it would cost around £3,000. Therefore, it’s good ROI and value for money to come to a PR agency as our day rate and cost to produce is lower than £3,000. 

This confuses ‘value’ with ‘cost’ as AVE does not take into account the quality of the coverage, the audience, or the SEO impact. Advertising and PR are two different things, and should therefore be treated as such.  AVE is an outdated measurement; even the CIPR has penalised members who use AVE. 

Not with link target KPIs

I’ve had this conversation with clients and prospects for years and, to be completely honest, this is one of the main reasons I’m writing this blog. Digital PRs are being pushed to give hard link targets to indicate ROI and success. I’ve recently had an influx of questions and requests on if “I invest £XX, how many backlinks will I get?”. 

There could be a few reasons for this, such as increased pressure to demonstrate ROI, rogue agencies misinforming clients, sales teams not understanding the channel well enough, low digital maturity, etc. 

I am passionate about ‘best in class’ digital PR and being ethical in our work, therefore, I feel it’s important to help educate and provide a solution for anyone who asks for link targets as part of their digital PR strategy. 

Unfortunately, there are some agencies that still work to link targets, but in my opinion, they are focusing on the wrong thing. On a side note, digital PR staff have hard enough jobs as it is without working in a pressurised target-driven environment like that. 

I was intrigued to understand if any of my connections/digital PR network on Twitter offer guaranteed link targets…

And the below results show that only 14.7% of those who replied work to link targets. 


Here at Semetrical, we can provide a rough guide on what a good return of placements might look like based on sector and budget, as we have the data and results for all campaigns and digital PR work delivered. But this is indicative, and only on request. 

Instead of volume or quantity of links delivered, there should be equal (if not more) weighing to the quality and relevancy of links earned. The focus should be on reporting quantity, quality, AND relevancy. We know quality is rewarded by Google, and that recent algorithm changes such as the Helpful Content Update all centre around quality. 

It’s also worth mentioning that links are not equal. To reduce a quality link of DR 78 and assess it as a single number alongside other links of lower quality in order to try and hit an overall link target misses the value. 

Not with cost per link

This just doesn’t make sense. A lot of the reasoning for why link targets aren’t a recommended way to measure digital PR applies to why cost per link is also not a good measurement of success.

To show why having this mindset is wrong, I’ll ask a simple question… 

“Would you rather have 10 links from a low domain rating, with low brand relevance to the brand at £300 a link? Or would you rather 4 links from domains with a high domain rating, high relevance to your brand with your target audience at £750 a link?”

I know what I’d want, and I know what Google would weight higher, and what would ultimately have a more positive impact on a client’s website. For clarity, the answer is authoritative and relevant links. 

Not with direct digital PR ROI

Digital PR can get sales and links that drive referral traffic. In my career, I’ve reported on lots of assisted conversions for my clients, and any big campaign tied into seasonal events like Black Friday can also drive sales. However, these are one-offs and in isolation, this is a by-product of good digital PR. It is not a sustainable result.  

It is important to recognise that links earned are not the only way to measure success, but rather a consideration among a variety of metrics and channels that will help a brand meet its wider business goals.

In short, to be effective and to be measurable, digital PR has to be a part of a broader SEO strategy. Off-site SEO support, on-page activity, and digital PR combined are the most effective ways to earn links and should be vital components of any organic strategy. When reporting as a whole and looking at the broader strategy and channels, we can look at ROI and other growth metrics that have a business impact. 

If you’re not using digital PR as part of your SEO efforts, you’re effectively lowering your chances of success. When you do SEO for your website, what you want is an increase in rankings in the search engines and more visitors. You want your brand to be seen on the internet. Using digital PR is one of the most effective ways to improve your search visibility, as the more links you earn in relevant publications, the better you rank, and the more visible you are.

However. the caveat is that better rankings and higher numbers of visitors are difficult to attribute to digital PR only, even though it has a huge contribution and is proven to be one of the most important ranking signals, as it is a combined effort across multiple channels. 

When doing digital PR for SEO, the goal should be the same. You want to improve ranking positions for highly relevant keywords and, as a result, an increased organic traffic. This can be tracked, and this as part of an overall strategy can provide ROI. 

Our approach to measuring digital PR success

There are a whole variety of metrics and focus areas to report which will vary depending on the client’s goals. 

Our digital PR teams report on Domain Rating and Trust Flow changes, Reach, Share of Voice, Social Shares, Backlinks, and more. This gives a well-rounded view of how our digital PR work can positively impact a client. All these are worth celebrating and are good indications of a great digital PR strategy, but what is the business impact of your domain rating increasing a couple of notches?

For full-service clients we link up Google Analytics (GA4) with Looker Studio to create custom dashboards that: 

  • Centralise data, ideally in BigQuery (GA4, other campaigns, CRM etc.)
  • Use this to create an integrated data platform to build custom reporting for all of our clients to focus on the metrics that matter most to your business
  • All campaign data will be visualised in one dashboard, making it simple to analyse channel performance and identify trends
  • With daily refreshes automated, we will ensure you have access to the most up-to-date data available

For digital PR reporting, we often split our monthly and quarterly reports into the following Primary Owned Goals: 

  • Volume of links
  • Quality of links
  • Relevance of links
  • Domain Rating 
  • Trust Flow

In addition, digital PR can offer further benefits, such as establishing your expertise, authority, and reputation as an industry leader. We can deliver the key messages surrounding a brand or product, and explore ways to best communicate those messages. This is to ensure that your product or service is featured in relevant publications with an already engaged audience, as well as offering SEO impact. We want the right eyes on our client’s content. We also add in the share of voice and sentiment analysis if these contribute to the client’s goals. 

Digital PR offers the opportunity for brand discovery, provides trust points to clients’ customers at the awareness stage all the way through to conversion, and it gets the right eyes on your brand.

We then split our reports into Secondary Shared Goals (SSGs):

  • Keywords/rankings
  • Traffic/sessions
  • Conversions
  • Revenue growth

Essentially, we want to analyse ranking and keyword changes in line with links acquired and then the impact on traffic and sessions. This can also tie back goal completions and any revenue driven as a result. 

The key to measuring ROI and business impact here lies with the secondary shared goals. We look at the whole SEO strategy, of which digital PR is a vital component.

Get in touch with us today for a no-obligation digital PR audit, and find out how digital PR can raise your online visibility to the next level.

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