Why PR’s happy about attribution

We’ve long known that our online buying behaviour is far more complicated than “see it, buy it”, much to the dismay of those of us who are trying to measure, plan and make sense of it all. We may visit a site lots of times, through many channels and on different devices before finally making it through the checkout, like pre-payday window shopping for example (we’ve all done it).

While Google’s Attribution reports have been tucked away in Google Analytics for a long time (for free), they’ve recently announced the launch of its latest Attribution tool that integrates AdWords and DoubleClick. It’s part of a continued bid to move brands away from an overly simplistic last click attribution model, where 100% of the credit of a sale goes to only one channel: the channel that drove the visit that resulted in the actual sale. Don’t those other touchpoints deserve any recognition for their role in that journey?! Did you think that ad hadn’t worked? That’s what attribution helps you understand as a marketer.

This is great news for us in PR, a discipline with a history of measurement problems that’s been hard to shake, and an expectation to prove what we’re doing is working in ways that are (infinitely) more meaningful than AVE*. The challenge is that the role of PR isn’t direct sales; people by and large aren’t reading coverage with purchase intent, they’re in “browse” mode, so the last click model will never work in our favour.

That’s why channels that drive initial brand awareness; social media, programmatic and yes, earned media don’t look as effective if you’re only looking at how many sales they drive, because that’s not the primary role they’re playing. You’d never expect a goalkeeper to be scoring goals now, would you? Whereas at the bottom of the funnel, you get Affiliates and Email (or “thunder stealers” as I like to call them) swooping in and taking a lot of the credit. Attributionally though… now you’re talking.  

Using the Attribution reports section in your site’s Google Analytics account, we can see which channels, content and devices are more likely to bring people to your site in the first place, which are more likely to drive the sale, and the ones in between and of course, what’s genuinely not working.

For our campaigns, we can see how many people we’ve introduced to the brand, who we’ve brought through the front door. We can track these first touchpoints as a result of our campaigns – like referring traffic from coverage secured (with links) or visits to campaign assets that are hosted on our client’s website. And more importantly, attribution reports can tell us whether any of these people have returned and converted at a later date, whether that conversion is a lead, a sale or something ‘softer’ like a newsletter sign up or a white paper download. 

Our PR activity can also influence traffic from channels like organic search and direct. If coverage doesn’t have a link, and people like what they see, they’ll have to either Google you or come directly to your website to find out more. To explore this behaviour and find out if this is happening, we can check your Search Console report (again in GA) to see if there’s a spike in branded searches that correlate with your campaign activity, and what happened to that traffic next.

The data can be cut in all these lovely ways in Google Analytics, and they can help us see how our campaigns and coverage are contributing to outcomes in a much clearer way. And you, as a client, can understand customer journeys more fully (and where PR fits in), spend your budget better, and make better decisions. Hooray.

*Please don’t ever ask us for AVE ever**

**Ever, ever