Google Analytics a ‘Game Changer’ for Ambitious PR Pros Who Aren’t Afraid of Left-Brain Thinking

We’ve heard more than one communications professional say, partially in jest, that entering PR was a way to to avoid numbers. Yet the digital age has made PR measurement a joking matter no longer. You may be risking career advancement should you continue to shun analytics. Fortunately, the basics of Google Analytics are within the grasp of those whose strength is not in numbers. Kidding aside, having knowledge of Google Analytics is critical for PR professionals.

“It’s a game changer,” said Christopher Penn, VP of marketing technology at SHIFT Communications. In fact, Penn believes learning Google Analytics is the most important thing communicators can do to improve their lot. Google Analytics Academy, which offers free online courses, is a good place to start, he added.

“Most PR pros are right-brain folks, creatively driven, whereas the left brain is data-driven. [But] to be successful in PR today you have to be adept with both sides,” Penn added. “Learning Google Analytics is not scary. There are certain functionalities you build that will be good enough and then you may find you have a hidden aptitude for it, in which case you can take [analytics] to another level.”

Adds Sally Falkow, strategist at Meritus Media, “By using Google Analytics you will find out which content is working and which channel is going to help the brand the most...give you the best results.” Using Google Analytics could change your thinking about long-held beliefs. “In PR, we talk a lot about influencers and the idea that someone has a huge influence simply by having big numbers,” Falkow said. “But the real definition of influence is what happens as a result of the coverage.”

For example, Falkow recently executed a PR campaign for a home decorating company. She got the client coverage on The TODAY Show, as well as a story in a niche-like blog covering home decoration. The TODAY Show appearance likely was sexier, but the blog post seriously outperformed the NBC program in terms of attracting the kind of potential leads the client desired. This is why Falkow stressed that Entry Pages, the Google Analytics function that shows which Web pages are driving the most site traffic, and Bounce Rate, which indicates the percentage of visitors to a particular website who navigate away from the site after viewing only one page, should be part of your measurement dashboard.

Google Analytics is designed to make the numerical side of PR more manageable and get PR pros to think in terms of “outcomes,” which can be monetized, rather than “outputs,” Falkow added.

Penn’s “game changer” sentiment is illustrated by one of SHIFT’s clients, the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL), which advocates on behalf of family literacy and has an annual budget of $6.8 million.

The NCFL uses Google Analytics Standard, which is free. Google Analytics Premium costs $150,000 annually.

By using Google Analytics, “We were able to quantify that people were accessing our platforms using mobile devices more than desktops,” said Emily Kirkpatrick, VP of NCFL, who runs the group’s PR and marketing.

“Based on that metric, we chose to increase funding on mobile audiences in terms of site design and going with a mobile-first strategy. That was directly a result of using Google Analytics,” she added. ( See chart below.)

MEASURE FOR MEASURE: Wonderopolis, an interactive learning platform marketed by the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL), answers an intriguing question daily. NCFL uses Google Analytics data to inform decisions on how to improve and grow the platform. The above graphic covered a period when the use of mobile technology increased greatly and led NCFL to develop features tailored to mobile devices.
MEASURE FOR MEASURE: Wonderopolis, an interactive learning platform marketed by the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL), answers an intriguing question daily. NCFL uses Google Analytics data to inform decisions on how to improve and grow the platform. The above graphic covered a period when the use of mobile technology increased greatly and led NCFL to develop features tailored to mobile devices.

As it gathered data using Google Analytics Standard before changing its focus to a mobile-first approach, NCFL traced the following indices:

  • New Users. Spikes help show how much impact big media hits, paid advertising campaigns, and social campaigns generate for your site. You want the number of new users to increase. If not, the PR/communications strategy should be revisited and refocused to increase awareness of your brand/cause/campaign.
  • Return Users. This is even more important than New Users, especially for content-based sites. It shows your content is valuable and interesting, and that users are building trust in your brand and even advocating for it.
  • Audience>Technology. This Google Analytics index provides a clear picture of how users are accessing content (desktop/phone/tablet). This information helps set strategy and priorities for development work.

“It’s not one and done with [Google] Analytics, but an ongoing discipline,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s a cascade of information that provides us with a summary of our audience and waypoint for decision-making.”

She added that with a mobile-first strategy, NCFL now is confident to share results from Google Analytics with the group’s investors, which include major brands such as Toyota and Verizon.

Amid the bevy of tools available via Google Analytics, sources said there are four major components that PR pros need to track closely:

  • Audience: What demographic is visiting your site?
  • Acquisition: How did they get to your site?
  • Behavior: What did they do once they got there?
  • Conversion: Did they take any action or exit the site?

Once you have aggregated data you need to take action based on that data, said Serena Ehrlich, director, social and evolving media, Business Wire, who recommended the following process:

  • Determine the type of traffic your content is generating
  • Track which articles drove the most traffic
  • Track if there are problems with converting that traffic
  • Share the data with your marketing counterparts

Google Analytics Fast Track

  • Take a Google Analytics class. Let’s face it, no matter how easy a software program is to use, there always are tips and tricks you can learn to ensure you are gleaning the best insights possible. To this end, we highly recommend taking a quick tutorial on how to maximize your Google Analytics knowledge.
  • Track action with URL Builders. Append links to your website with Google Analytics URL Builder. These URL extensions are added to the end of all links that direct readers back to your website. This allows you to monitor the inbound traffic generated from your news release, blog post, social messaging or online ads. Simply create the URL extension, add it to the end of your website UR, and insert it via a hyperlink or link shortener, such as Bit.ly, into your communications.
  • Build a better landing page. One of the best information you can get from Google Analytics is understanding if the landing page you are directing traffic to actually works. Once you have identified the traffic you are sending to the site, it is time to look closer at how well your landing page converted visitors into interested parties. Did they leave the page immediately or did click on to learn more about your business? If your audience is leaving within seconds after arriving at your site, you need to update your landing page or create a new one more aligned with your outbound marketing message.
  • Refine your pitch list. One of our favorite parts of Google Analytics is the source/medium/referral traffic data. This is perfect for tracking which media outlet, influencer or social network is responsible for driving the most traffic. This data will help you modify your media pitch lists and social channel messaging/frequency.
  • Understand real-time results. An interesting feature of Google Analytics is the ability to view traffic to your website in real time. Have a big launch; once your news has crossed the wire, watch the inbound traffic come in and use this data to make real-time updates and tweaks to your landing page and social support messaging.

Serena Ehrlich, director, social and evolving media, Business Wire, wrote this sidebar.

(To learn more about Google Analytics, attend PR News’ Google Boot Camp, which takes place August 5 in San Francisco. To register, please go to big4conference.com/google-boot-camp-agenda/. Falkow will speak at the Google Boot Camp, while Penn and Ehrlich will speak at the Big 4 Conference, which takes place August 6, also in San Francisco; ditto on the above URL to register.)

CONTACT: Serena Ehrlich, serena.ehrlich@businesswire.com; Sally Falkow, sally@meritusmedia.com; Emily Kirkpatrick, ekirkpatrick@familieslearning.org; Christopher Penn, cpenn@shiftcomm.com

This article originally appeared in the July 13, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.