Can we talk about search and AVE?

I’ve never blogged about AVE before. It’s a noisy space and the debate is generally pretty cut and dried. It’s a reasonably lazy and inaccurate way of measuring that forgets how PR works through a third party – an independent journalist, who filters your news and is far more trusted than an advert that people know you’ve paid for directly. It’s that trust, that filtering, which lends PR greater value.

Here at Firefly, we do a lot around search. Some publications will provide backlinks, which bring traffic to your home page, enhance your domain authority and push specific pages or the domain further up in the search rankings. We’ve never been able to formally quantify which inputs lead to which outputs, because every search term and brand is different – not to mention that Google and Bing change their algorithms weekly, if not daily.

But recently I’ve seen organisations offering ‘search’ advertising equivalent as a measure superior to AVE.

I feel like this is snake oil. Smoke and mirrors.

Isn’t it the same thing?

‘Display’ (traditional) AVE works on the basis of how much your PR editorial is worth by looking at a display advert of corresponding size. Search AVE works on the basis of calculating the value of sending traffic to a site or sub-page using search advertising, and combines it with the likelihood of someone seeing your page to ascribe a corresponding value.

The problem is that this still misses the fundamental value of PR. We are saturated by adverts. We see a zillion every day and generally, we switch off unless it’s really good, clever or funny. But we’ll read editorial because it’s curated by journalists. That’s the value, and it’s simply not commensurable to compare it to advertising. It’s like trying to put a monetary value on your friends, your dog or cat. They’re not the same.

PR is about generating awareness, about creating debate, advancing ideas, presenting interesting stories and changing minds. For many of our clients, if it doesn’t lead to a sale at some stage, it’s not working – and that’s fair. But similarly, anyone who expects a prospect to read one story in press and instantly think ‘I must buy this SAN system’ – or who believe that the value of PR is the same as an advert prompting you to buy a SAN system – desperately needs a reality check.

Does PR have a role in search? Absolutely. Is S-AVE a good way of measuring PR’s impact? I don’t believe so.

What we really need is a more holistic understanding of attribution; one of our team tells a great story about trying to work out who is responsible for a couple marrying. After all, is it the minister / registrar who marries them? Or is it the friend who introduces them? Or someone entirely different? Allocating the responsibility for a sale purely to a salesperson is rather like answering that question with ‘the minister’, or looking at last-click attribution.

The reason why we buy things is dependent on a complex web of interactions, attitudes, and past experience – as well as good or bad salespeople – and we must firmly hold this in mind when evaluating any campaign, be it sales, PR or broader marketing.

Photo credit: Igor Ovsyannykov


Christian Sharp is an Account Director at Firefly, specialising in technology communications.

Posted in Editor's Picks, Marketing, Public Relations, Social Media Tagged with: , , ,

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