PR is a tricky beast for small companies. Do you let growth happen organically, hoping the fantastical nature of your product will sell itself, or do you try to kickstart your customer count by getting some media coverage?

Now that we’re all grown up we’ve been lucky enough to have been featured in just about every big national newspaper, a slew of industry magazines and a bunch of trade press. Print media is inherently an unknown quantity – it doesn’t have the lovely trackability of links, so to work out its impact you have to guestimate a bit (unless you want to do something daft like use a QR Code). We’ve been looking at how much impact various media outlets had on our website traffic, and we thought we’d publish the results here for anyone who is interested.

For this exercise we’ll be comparing average non-referral website traffic (i.e. traffic that arrived directly or through a search engine) for the relevant period to the non-referral website traffic on the five days after we appeared in various publications. It’s not the perfect way to measure their impact, but it’ll do.

Which will cause the biggest spike in traffic? Place your bets now!

Sunday Times

ST Traffic

In June 2012 we recorded a 15% traffic increase after featuring in the Sunday Times, a newspaper with a circulation of about 900,000. Not bad, although I’m sure we can do better.

The Guardian

Guardian traffic

In August 2011 we were mentioned in a Guardian feature on becoming a successful freelancer (they know how to spot a good accountant when they see one, those Guardian journos) and registered a noticeable shift in traffic (more people visiting us at the weekend – i.e. during their downtime when they’d most likely read a newspaper), although it only amounted to a 5% overall increase. As a daily newspaper the Guardian only sees a circulation of around 200,000 – less than a quarter of the Sunday Times readership, so our traffic bumps seem to be more-or-less proportional so far.

Daily Mail

Daily Mail traffic

Earlier this year a survey we ran about Self Assessment readiness amongst small business owners made its way into the Daily Mail. With a circulation of 1.8 million the Mail is the biggest daily out there, so we were rather pleased with ourselves. Unfortunately, our inclusion in the Mail actually coincided with a 6% drop in our average traffic for that period.

We put the lack of traffic boost down to the fact that Mail readers tend to be a little older (the vast majority over 55, according to their own figures) and most likely not interested in online accounting services. The drop we’re currently attributing to some kind of karmic punishment.

Telegraph

Telegraph traffic

In July last year we contributed to a Telegraph feature on employing graduates (we employ loads through our accounting apprenticeship scheme, so it’s a subject we know a thing or two about). The Telegraph, despite its daily circulation of over half a million, had no noticeable impact on our website traffic.

For the five days subsequent to the article being published we registered an overall improvement of 5%, although as you can see from the graph this all came on the fifth day, so most likely couldn’t be attributed to the Telegraph piece.

Telegraph & Sunday Times double-whammy

Sunday Times & Telegraph

Earlier this month we scored a bit of a coup by appearing on the front page of the Telegraph on April 6th, and the Business section of the Sunday Times just two days later. This one-two punch of print media goodness had the most noticeable affect on our website traffic, and we recorded a 21% increase for that period. Tidily, this almost exactly matches the combined impact of the two separate Sunday Times and Telegraph mentions above.

Mainstream media vs. trade press

Although inclusion in national newspapers is nice for bragging rights and slapping a few logos on your website (protip: don’t use the Financial Times, Mail or Telegraph logos – they’re very precious about their copyright), as you can see above it doesn’t have an earth-shattering impact on website traffic. It’s worth noting to a certain extent we’re hamstrung by our industry – who wants to visit the website of an accountant?

We’ve had more noticeable success by targeting publications that we know are read by our clients. We look after thousands of designers and developers, and when we featured in .net magazine we saw a noticeable bump for the first fortnight of publication. Similarly, when we appeared in the newsletter on our good friends MOO, or website traffic looked like this –

Moo traffic bump

Food for thought

Hopefully companies weighing up a PR spend will find this little stroll down Fleet Street useful. Remember though, you should never discount the mainstream media just because they don’t drive shedloads of traffic. Brand awareness, social proof and relationships with journalists are all things that can prove very useful further down the road. For those with a tight or non-existent PR budget, though, targeting outlets that you know are read by your customers can demonstrably provide a better return on investment.