For decades, PR has been seen by many marketeers as “cheap reach via editorial” – in other words, the goal of PR was to gain editorial coverage that provided the greatest number of opportunities to see – at a significantly lower cost than advertising.
Because the means of providing a verifiable link between editorial coverage and business impact was either prohibitively expensive or just not possible, there has been a largely accepted assumption that positive press coverage is valuable – period.
In the past, the notion of measuring engagement with editorial content was largely theoretical. Circulation and readership figures were treated as proxies for engagement (if a newspaper has a readership of 2 million, then we assume that a large proportion must be in some way engaged with some or all of the content – we just aren’t sure which content and to what degree. Or whether this engagement results in a meaningful business outcome).
However, you could argue that Google data now provides for a much deeper understanding of editorial engagement. At least online.
For example, by using the Google search “site” command, you can easily see how many pages of a site the search giant has indexed (ie are likely to be found). And with Google’s Doubleclick Ad Planner tool, you can get a fix on a specific engagement metric – namely, time spent on page. The more time someone spends reading content, the more likely they are to be engaged with – and influenced by – that content (of course, it could mean that people are having difficulty understanding the content – but if that extended to all of a site’s content, you would presume its readership figures would tail off rapidly).
In conjunction with Adam Parker, Chief Executive of RealWire, the online press release distribution service, we took it upon ourselves to analyse a selection of 50 online, newspapers and magazines, examining three core areas: readership, engagement and UK relevance of content. Adam provides an excellent analysis of the results on his blog, Show Me Numbers.
For example, the average UK visitor to The Economist site spends around 122 seconds per page. While the average UK visitor to the Reuters site spends around 214 seconds per page.
So what does a difference of 92 seconds per page mean? If you accept that a typical reader can consume around 200 words of content per minute then in principle, a Reuters UK visitor is going to consume around 713 words vs 406 words for The Economist – in other words, a Reuters visitor is going to consume nearly 75pc more content than the typical Economist reader.
If you look at the average number of pages consumed per visit, there are some interesting things to be drawn out. Across the whole sample, the average number of pages consumed per visit – either globally or in the UK – is around 4. And if the average number of visits per month per visitor to a site is around 3, then the total number of pages consumed per month by a typical visitor is around 12 pages of content. Clearly, some site’s visitors will come back more often than others. But the likelihood that the majority of news site visitors will consume more than 20 pages of content in a month is low.
However, before Avanash Kaushik beats me up, I’ll be the first to say that all averages lie – and this analysis rests upon averages. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that this is a useless exercise. If the average engagement time per page is 60 seconds, that almost certainly means that some people spend longer reading a page, while others spend less time. By definition, the number of people spending longer reading a page is going to be less than those spending a shorter time than average. Which means that the vast majority of people visiting an online news site are engaging less with the content than the average. The same applies for average views per URL. Some URLs are going to get more views than the average (clearly a big story is going to get significantly more than the average). This means that the majority of URLs are going to be viewed less than than average. Which means an 80/20 principle applies – namely, a minority of a news site’s content, is going to get the majority of the engagement.
The implications for PR are clear. Getting positive client messages into the first few hundred words of a piece is going to be nigh on essential for sites with lower average page visit times – otherwise, the likelihood is that your message just won’t be seen by many of a news site’s readers – all in spite of the effort you put in to get a journalist to write about your client in the first place. Having said that, as a general rule, specialist titles seem to have lower numbers of visitors and page views, but tend to have far higher engagement with content. And what of offline media? In spite of dwindling circulations, a case could be made for the fact that engagement time with a print newspaper may well be much longer than that of an equivalent site visit – and thus the chance to be exposed to more content is higher (then again, the average shelf life of a daily national newspaper is a few hours. At least web content is in theory available continuously – assuming of course that Google indexes it).
Looked at another way, if you are really interested in maximising engagement with a client’s message (as opposed to maximising its theoretical reach), then this kind of analysis may well help you clearly delineate where the ability to genuinely create a causal impact may lie.
Engagement or reach – what will you be advising your clients to focus on?