How to Measure Digital PR: A Data-Driven Approach

The beauty of digital marketing is that everything can be measured.

With SEO, you can measure organic search rankings and the resulting organic traffic and conversions. With PPC, you can measure cost per click, cost per conversion, and return on investment. With email marketing you can measure open rates, click through, and revenue.

Almost every digital marketing channel allows you to accurately measure results. And, vitally, digital marketing makes it possible to measure the last click revenue (and assisted conversions) that each channel generates. For data-driven marketers, that’s extremely powerful as it removes the guesswork. It provides data from which you can draw insights to make your business grow.

Unfortunately, measurement in the world of digital PR, up to this point, has not been quite so elegant. Many of the measurements used in digital PR are vague, helping neither clients nor agencies. Many digital PR reports comprise a mishmash of metrics, combining everything from social media ‘engagement’ to ‘average DA’ to ‘audience.’ These commonly used measurements tell you very little about measurable ROI (return on investment).

In this blog post, we propose a more rigorous framework for measuring digital PR metrics. This framework promotes meaningful, transparent reporting, enabling you to get a far more accurate measurement of long term ROI. This is achieved by bringing digital PR KPIs under the umbrella of SEO KPIs, which is where digital PR belongs. 

The Origins of Digital PR

The reason digital PR evolved from traditional PR was to solve an SEO problem. Recent years have seen digital PR develop as a discrete service and specialism. But it exists because the SEO industry needs it.

Digital PR grew because the SEO industry needed a scalable, repeatable method of building high-quality backlinks. As Google got smarter, SEO practitioners needed to get smarter. As search engines increasingly learned how to disregard or even penalise paid-for links, SEO practitioners realised that they had to earn links. Thus the rise of ‘earned’ media (another name for digital PR).

From around the 2010s, the embryonic digital PR community started to learn from traditional PR. They learned that journalists have certain needs, and that digital PRs can help them meet those needs. First and foremost, journalists need stories. So digital PRs started to get better at providing those stories. And, more importantly, digital PRs got good at providing stories which encourage journalists to link back to a client’s site.

That’s how the relatively young digital marketing discipline of digital PR got to where it is today. The story of its evolution also explains why It looks a little bizarre at times. Today, it is not unusual to see metal garage retailers publishing infographics about the life expectancy of animals, or bingo companies publishing blog posts about sexual fetishes, all in the name of link building. It’s certainly more creative than old-school link building tactics, such as spamming the comment section with backlinks to your client’s site. But the end goal is the same: get links.

Vanity metrics?

Nobody doubts that getting links is the raison d’être of digital PR. The question is, why do so many digital PRs dress it up as something different? All too often a wide spread of loosely relevant campaign metrics are thrown into the measurement mix. For the most part, these metrics have managed to escape scrutiny. But one thing is certain – these numbers cannot be translated into any accurate, data-driven measurement of ROI. Here are some examples of such metrics.

Social engagement

Social engagement metrics typically comprise likes, comments, social shares, and even social mentions, all rolled into one. The value of each of these types of social engagement is so far from measurable. This metric doesn’t even factor in the sentiment behind the engagement – whether it’s positive or negative.

If you really want a social metric related to ROI, log into Google Analytics and measure conversions resulting from social channels. In most cases, you’ll see next to no impact from digital PR. Why? Because digital PR exists to support SEO and brand awareness, not social media.


Audience has been a key metric in traditional Public Relations. But now we can actually measure things in the digital world, the case for this metric is shaky. The ‘audience’ metric typically supplies an estimate of the number of eyeballs that could have conceivably glossed over any of the websites that link to you. If the Daily Mail links to you, your ‘audience’ metric goes through the roof. Why? Because the Daily Mail is a popular website. Did you sell anything as a direct consequence of it? Did it have any traceable commercial impact on your business? 

In the case of getting expert comments featured in the media, this metric may still mean something. But this metric is mainly irrelevant in many digital PR cases where the story is only tangentially related to the business.

Domain Authority

Domain Authority (DA) or Domain Rating (DR) metrics purport to bring clarity to the murky world of link building. Besides the fact that these figures do not account for relevancy of links, and the fact that they are merely indicators to be taken with a broader context, this metric tells you nothing about ROI.

If you get a link from the BBC, that’s probably great news for you in the long term, and something to be celebrated. But how are you going to measure the value of it? The Domain Authority metric is unable to provide a meaningful answer. The ‘Average Domain Authority’ metric is even more bizarre. By the logic of Average Domain Authority, a campaign is apparently less successful if it has a range of natural low DA links in addition to high DA links. In this respect, the metric runs counter to reality.

Short term spikes

Short term traffic spikes can be beneficial, but should not generally be treated as a goal of digital PR. A digital PR campaign might drive traffic to your website in the short term, but what is the intent of those users? 

A small number of well-executed, product-focused digital PR campaigns do generate relevant conversions. Such campaigns are great, but they are rare. 

In the majority of cases, referral traffic off the back of digital PR is low-intent traffic. You don’t need a data expert to tell you that a 300% traffic spike that lasts a day and leads to no conversions probably isn’t providing measurable ROI.

Increased search demand

Another metric that has made its way into digital PR measurement is ‘increased search demand.’ This metric looks at the search volume for a keyword related to the campaign in a time period before the campaign, and a time period after the campaign. If the search volume happens to be higher at a convenient point after the campaign – voila! – the increase is attributed to the success of the campaign itself.

It should go without saying that a massive range of factors can influence fluctuations in search volume, such as seasonality, above the line marketing campaigns, social media and market demand. It is difficult to measure with any accuracy if the PR campaign caused the uplift.

Metrics that Matter

The solution is simple. Whilst the metrics above may give some sense of a campaign’s performance, Digital PR should focus more on solid metrics that matter. We do that by bringing digital PR KPIs under the umbrella of SEO. Why? Because digital PR and SEO serve the same master: organic traffic, conversions, and revenue.

Too many digital PR campaigns burn bright and fizzle fast. The glitzy promises of being featured in Forbes are flattering for everyone. But if all you’re motivated by is a cool campaign that gets you a mention in Marie Claire, you’re looking in the wrong places for measurable impact. Digital PR works best when it’s integrated as part of a long-term SEO strategy and measured against SEO KPIs: organic traffic, conversions, and revenue.

The Way Forward

Quirky concepts that generate a lot of noise can help get links, but they can also make people lose sight of the goal. What most businesses need is a steady trickle of quality, relevant links that support a rigorous content and technical SEO strategy. By focusing on SEO KPIs over the long term, digital PR can play a key role in growth. Detached from its SEO foundations, it can become little more than a vanity project.

To be effective, and to be measurable, digital PR has to be a part of SEO. Of course, digital PRs are accountable for getting links. That’s their job. But it must never be detached from the bigger picture of SEO KPIs.

So this is the proposal – focus on the metrics that matter. Digital PR success is best measured against exactly the same long-term KPIs as SEO. If you’re committed to growing organically online, it’s the only measurable way to do it.

Want to grow your business with digital PR? Get in touch with The SEO Works today.