Talking to various people over the last weeks, it is clear that a small but growing number of PR firms are attempting to use Page Rank as a metric for measuring the value of online media coverage. However, it seems that some either don’t really understand what Page Rank is – or are misleading clients over the real Page Rank (and value) that their coverage has delivered.
For example, I’ve been told of a few firms who if they gain a piece of client coverage on, say, Computing’s web site, will claim that the value of the coverage is Page Rank 6. However, what they really mean is that the Computing home page has a Page Rank of 6 – the actual page where the coverage appeared will almost certainly have a Page Rank of 0. That’s a mighty big difference.
In fact, almost all press coverage (or indeed any new web page) will have a Page Rank of 0 to begin with. Any new page added to a site will first have to be indexed by Google. And it takes Google time to take account of factors that will determine what Page Rank should be assigned. It is certainly possible to get Page Rank up to 1 0r 2 relatively quickly if people begin linking to the coverage - but unless you get some very high Page Ranked backlinks rapidly, the chances that a piece of coverage will have gained a Page Rank of 5 or higher in the space of a few days is highly unlikely.
Traditionally, gaining a piece of coverage on a major site like the BBC would be cause for celebration. And I’m not saying it shouldn’t still be. However, we need to be honest about what value that might really deliver. And why we need to be careful about using Page Rank as a PR metric.
For example, the Guardian has a massive 3.8 million unique visitors and 130 million page views per month in the UK alone. Some PR firms might be tempted to say that getting coverage on The Guardian site provides an OTS (opportunity to see) of 3.8 Million. Of course, this is not exactly the case. The Guardian has roughly 20.3 million indexed pages – not of all of these are going to be editorial pages, but most will be. Fact is, not all pages are equal. Only the publishers themselves know the real data, but I’d hazard a guess that a smaller percentage of the total number of indexed pages gain the majority of site traffic. That’s the same for any website. The challenge with using Page Rank as a PR metric is that it is an indirect measure of traffic. If you think about it, if Google determines that a page has a higher relative importance than another then it is likely to have more traffic. In which case, try randomly sampling some pages from the BBC and other major sites and you’ll probably find that the Page Rank is o.
Here is another example. This story was one of the Most Popular on the BBC site a few days ago. However, it has a Page Rank of 0. In spite of 49 backlinks, including backlinks from pages with rankings of 7. Now the Page Rank may change over time, but again, this is unlikely unless further interest is generated via additional backlinks.
That’s not to say that over time, an article might not be able to build a higher Page Rank. But how many PR firms do you know that would recommend and implement an ongoing “merchandising” strategy to try and generate more backlinks and comments to a piece of coverage in order to improve Page Rank? Or would be able to track changes in Page Rank over time and demonstrate what factors may have caused that change in Page Rank? And have a plan for using that change in Page Rank to generate further traffic to the client’s website? (Disclosure: this is a standard approach at escherman)
The traditional PR mindset is one that says once a piece of coverage has appeared, the job is pretty much done (other than to prepare a clippings book and invoice the client). Part of the opportunity with online PR is that generating the initial coverage can in fact be the start rather than the end of the process.
So beware of PR firms touting Page Rank as a metric. Here’s a handy quick checklist of things to ask them:
1. Explain what Page Rank is and why it is important. Hint: go here to find out for yourself.
2. If a PR firm claims a high Page Rank for a piece of coverage that has appeared in the last 2 days, ask them to explain what factors have caused this to be the case.
3. Ask them if they have a plan for potentially improving the Page Rank of a piece of coverage – and how they would track that over time