REPORT: The death of the PR research or long live the data?

  • 9515 online articles covering PR surveys have been analysed over the past two years to reveal their success based on back links
  • PR surveys are a common tactic used to gain links back to a domain

Why was this research conducted?

I started working in SEO in 2012, a time when paying for links was the norm, a penguin became an animal to be feared and anchor text links were as fashionable as the newly found dance craze ‘Gangnam style’

As my career progressed we, as an industry, thankfully stopped paying for links and took a more PR led approach to link acquisition.

One of the most commonly used tactics within PR is the use of PR surveys. This tactic has also been adopted by digital PR’s as a way of gaining high-tier links back to their sites.

However, this may not be the case for much longer. I recently ran the numbers and found that data led surveys are less popular than 12 months ago.

According to the research I conducted via Linkfluence and manual searches, websites and blogs running story’s based on PR surveys has declined significantly over the past year (The below image details the number of online articles covering PR surveys per day, over the past 12 months)

Given this decline I wanted to investigate how successful PR surveys are and see if they still work when trying to increase back links to a domain.

How was the research conducted?

Social listening was conducted via Linkfluence and Buzzsumo between 14/04/2017 – 14/04/2019

Social listening analysed articles covering [surveys OR research OR study]

The results

Data found on Buzzsumo showed me that:

  • 32% of PR surveys gain no back links
  • 39% of PR surveys gain less than 10 back links
  • 11% of PR surveys only gain 1 link

Now its worth noting at this point that not all PR surveys are meant for links, and I completely understand that. However, the issue is that good content (and certainly good data) should at least get some natural links as a minimum.

So the question still stands, why are we seeing less and less success with PR surveys?

My personal opinion is that PR surveys do work and they work well when the story is good (although I rarely use them myself). The increase in the use of surveys has caused a spike in the number of companies offering them. This has in turn made it easier for PR’s to run surveys and allowed for more terrible ideas to put into a survey database in the hope of a decent return. On top of this, the selling of a PR survey to the media has become an everyday occurrence, and therefore likely to be ignored (as its nothing new)

So what kind of surveys do deliver a result?

As stated above surveys can deliver a good return, but you have to be clever in the story you tell.

A simple survey with simple stats is no longer enough to build links. You have to think bigger, find multiple stories and angles within the same data set and be creative.

Now, there is no ‘hack’ for thinking of good ideas, but inspiration from other successful surveys may help you, should you choose to adopt a survey led approach. Because of this I have detailed a couple of surveys which I found creative and that delivered a good number of links:

1.Dirtisgood.com – Prisoners spend more time outside than Kids

A great campaign consisting of a survey asking kids how long they play outside and then comparing that data to the legal minimum of time a prisoner needs to spend outside. This creative survey gained 238 referring domains including The Guardian, Weforum and Tree Hugger.

2.Provident – Unbroken Britain

Now maybe I’m a little biased as I actually ran this campaign however we gained over 150 links to a ‘hard to market’ company via a survey revealing the happiest and safest areas of the UK.

This campaign got a loan company links from places such as the NHS, BBC and Ladbible and worked due to its relatable content.

Summary- The future is more creative data

So with surveys on the decline (both in numbers and results) what’s the next big thing for digital PR?

Well my link hungry friends, I think it’s still data – its just more creative data.

There is a wealth of data sources out there many of which are free and are just waiting to be manipulated into a press worthy story.

These could include everything from company data, government data and even stats about different countries. So why waste money on a PR survey when you can be more creative in finding publicly available data and making it press worthy?

I have included a short list of free data sources below, however always make sure you check there copyright before using them! Also make sure whatever story you create is linkable!

Data source Data available
http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/datasets-and-tables/index.html UK government data
https://www.google.co.uk/trends/ Search trends
https://www.nationmaster.com Stats on comparing different countries
https://datahub.io/search Search datasets 
http://landregistry.data.gov.uk/app/hpi/ Housing data
http://data.un.org/ UN data
http://gs.statcounter.com/ Tech and social data per country
https://www.wri.org Resource data
https://toolbox.google.com/datasetsearch Dataset search