Justin Cutroni is one of the acknowledged masters of Google Analytics, right up there with the godfather himself, Avinash Kaushik. Currently an Analytics Analyst at Google, Justin has written a number of books on the subject – including one that had a big influence on my thinking: Performance Marketing with Google Analytics. I’ve long followed his blog – Analytics Talk - and pointed people towards it on numerous occasions.
So when he recently published a blog post entitled Google Analytics for PR, I was very pleased. Dare I say it, excited. Here at last was someone with unquestionable web analytics expertise bringing their focus and attention to the world of PR. Not even Avinash has done that (to the best of my knowledge)
Given my long interest in the subject (as readers of this blog will know), I couldn’t not comment. However, my comment turned into a bit of mini-dissertation. So Justin suggested I post it as a full blog post rather than a comment. See below for my response to the original piece. I’d certainly welcome people’s thoughts and views on this.
My response to Google Analytics and PR by @justincutroni
First, may I say how delighted I am that you have written about the relationship between Google Analytics and Public Relations. This is a subject very dear to my heart!
I’ve been banging on about the value of Google Analytics to the PR profession for years in the UK:
It was Avinash Kaushik that opened my eyes to the possibilities back in 2008:
And your book (Performance Marketing with Google Analytics) was also a great inspiration ;)
(This next bit isn’t intended as a plug for me, but just to put some context on my analysis)
I have worked in PR for 26 years. I run training courses on Google Analytics for PR professionals for one of the main UK PR trade bodies – the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) – which represents around 10,000 PR people. The numbers of people attending these courses is on a rapid rise – and I get invaluable feedback from past attendees about how Google Analytics is proving to be hugely valuable in demonstrating the value of what they do. I also work directly with organisations to help their PR and communications people implement Google Analytics (or more accurately, help them access and use the data their organisation is already collecting).
I thus have a pretty useful sample of how people are attempting to use GA in a PR context. Here are some of the challenges.
No goals, no insights
I take my cue from Avinash – why does your website exist in the first place? Such a vital question and yet often not answered, or at least not in a concrete manner. The start point for getting value out of GA for PR is defining goals (and associated values). PR people often think that GA is only relevant to e-commerce sites – or that goals can only be defined in terms of sales. When they learn that any activity or event occurring on a site could be defined as a goal, their eyes light up. Imagine if the role of PR is to raise awareness of a brand or issue with a target audience. Persuading people to read content relevant to that brand or issue could be a proxy for awareness. So a simple URL goal with an associated value now means people can view the impact of their work through the lens of a meaningful objective. And far greater insight into what things really do lead to the result they want. Of course, there are even greater levels of sophistication that can be achieved – but even this simple step is often an eye opener for PR people.
PRs often struggle to get access to GA
Once PRs realise what they can do with GA, they get fired up and go back to their organisations only to find they meet internal resistance from those who currently hold the keys to the GA account (IT, marketing, etc). “What has this got to do with PR? Don’t you just write press releases?) The idea that a PR pro would want to start defining goals in GA and proactively seeking to prove their worth sometimes strikes people as odd or threatening (or both).
For PR pros working agency side, their requests for access to client GA data also meet with similar resistance (“why do you want to know?”)
In both cases though, it is important that PRs continue to push for access and for the right to define relevant goals that so they can begin to evaluate their activity (and value) in relation to meaningful communication and business objectives.
Stakeholders and custom variables
PR in its true sense is about managing reputation amongst a variety of stakeholder audiences eg customers, press, local communities, government, etc. When PR people learn about custom variables and how this opens up the possibility of tracking the behaviour of discrete stakeholder groups (set up in the right way), again, they get very excited. Imagine being able to view journalists visiting a site as a discrete audience – and being able to improve the journalist experience of your content – but based on real evidence rather than opinion.
When PR people learn about multi-channel funnels and attribution analysis, they can’t quite believe it.
When they learn that there is way for them to prove the direct and indirect contribution that their online PR and social media activity has with respect to a defined goal, you can hear the cheers ;)
Here is a common scenario. Senior management are sceptical about the value they are getting from PR and social media. They look at their web traffic and conclude that as search delivers 70pc of visitors, they are going move more budget in that direction.
Once you introduce attribution analysis, a different picture emerges. Online press coverage and social media often play an assistive role ie they may not directly translate into the immediate goal, but they are the vital first step in a multi-step conversion process. One client realised that a single piece of online press coverage from 3 years ago was still delivering visitors (albeit in small numbers) – but that virtually every single one of these visitors returned via a second or third visit (PPC, social media, etc) and bought something. Conversely, even though they saw people use 7500 different keyword terms to arrive at the site via natural search, only 24 of those actually resulted in somebody buying something. It brought home the importance of valuing the quality of traffic rather than quantity – and the importance of not undervaluing the contribution of PR and social media.
Apologies for the lengthy comment, but I absolutely believe that PR professionals everywhere owe it to themselves to learn more about Google Analytics and how (if used correctly) it can be an amazingly powerful aid to demonstrating the value of what they bring to the party. Let’s face it, PR has always suffered from an inability to prove its worth.
(Bill Gates once said that if he was down to his last marketing dollar, he’d spend it on PR. And if asked, most business leaders would agree that PR is the most valuable part of the marketing mix. And yet, that hasn’t – and still isn’t – reflected in PR budgets – at best it still on average represents around 10pc (at most) of a typical marketing budget – this is largely due to a traditional inability to demonstrate the true impact and value of PR activity.
Google Analytics may not be the Holy Grail of PR measurement, but at least it offers a far more robust opportunity for PR pros to prove their value than they’ve ever had.
So I appreciate someone with your huge influence in the area of Google Analytics bringing to bear your thoughts on its relationship to PR ;)
Here’s to more conversation in PR circles about Google Analytics (and measurement in general).
For anyone in the UK who is reading this, I’ll be speaking on the subject of Google Analytics and PR at the PR Analytics Conference in London on February 28th:
See below for one of Justin’s GA dashboards: