Public Relations professionals know that one of the most important parts of the job is media relations, talking to journalists, editors and bloggers to understand what kinds of story would interest them – what’s the point in writing and issuing news if no-one covers it? However, instead of doing pre sell-ins to see if a release you are considering might be of interest, there is now a far easier way of getting your news out there…without ever having to lift the phone! Free PR distribution websites have been getting more and more popular in light of the current economic climate. But, which sites are a scam, which actually offer you the free PR distribution service you want to get your release online and which offer you even more, such as links and syndication to other sites?
For the SEO community, press releases have been used as a vehicle to help link building efforts, but do the free distribution services actually help build links?
We’ve done the leg work, spending a month researching and trialling 60 of the free PR distribution sites we found that were still active online, so you don’t have to.
Note, some of the sites didn’t make it past the first step of our test. We managed to submit press releases to 55 of the sites, because:
- Five of the sites focused on content we couldn’t provide with our test releases (e.g. IT Backbones, IT Director, IT Analysis, BetaNews). Note this isn’t to say that they aren’t good press release distribution sites – in fact on the contrary, a clear editorial direction seems to be an indicator of a higher quality site
- Others requested some kind of payment in order to ‘publish’ the press release
- Others failed to load or gave some other error that prevented us from uploading the press release
Questions about free press release distribution services that we wanted answered
To determine whether these sites deserved our time and attention, we formulated these questions:
- Do journalists and bloggers actually use the press releases on free sites for news?
- Would the release appear on Google News?
- Would the release appear in a Google web search?
- How easy to use are free release sites?
- What help (if any) are free press release sites for link building?
- Could we use the sites to help ‘own’ the search results for a targeted phrase?
How we carried out the review
Firstly, we located all the free active PR distribution sites that we could find and then issued a series of press releases on each site. To make this a realistic test we used ‘real’ press releases containing news about our PR agency or client news. In total, we issued four releases using the sites (two releases about clients and two about Vitis PR). Each time we issued a release, we reviewed the results, only including the sites that we felt performed well in subsequent tests. The table below shows how many releases were issued in each ’round’:
- Release 1: issued to 54 sites
- Release 2: issued to 30 sites
- Release 3: issued to 16 sites
- Release 4: issued to 12 sites
As we uploaded each release, we looked for ease of use, additional complementary services, paid-for upgrades and whether registration was required to use the service. Each release was amended slightly so that we could identify if it were covered by other sites we would be able to identify which source they had got it from.
After the releases were uploaded, we monitored for online coverage of the releases (we weren’t expecting any print or broadcast media coverage!). Specifically, we looked at:
- Did the release appear on the site (i.e. was it accepted by the service)?
- Was the release covered elsewhere on the web or in Google News?
- Was the page containing the release indexed by Google and stored in its cache?
- How high in Google search results did the release appear when searching for a phrase in the release?
- What sort of links did the releases generate (if any)?
In reviewing the sites we limited ourselves to the free elements of each site’s services only (many services offer paid-for extras, but this review is all about what you can get for zero spend).
Note: the sharp-eyed might spot that some of these tests are liable to error, but we think they give a good idea of the value of each site (one possible issue, for example, was the risk of duplicate content factors affecting how Google dealt with each copy of a given release).
A note about press releases being accepted for ‘publication’ by the sites: we have (as you might expect) a lot of experience writing press releases that meet the rules laid down by various news wire services (e.g. don’t make claims about being the ‘best’ something unless you can prove it). However, not all of the sites accepted our releases, this may be because they didn’t meet the site’s editorial guidelines or for some other reason – why some sites rejected our press releases isn’t at all clear.
See below to find out what we discovered in our tests – your experience with these sites may be different of course, if so let us know in the comments.
Best free press release site for reaching journalists, bloggers, editors and other influencers
To be fair, we did expect this result, it is rare enough for someone to pick up news from some of the premium paid-for news wires and given the volume of free press releases being pumped out these days we would have been (pleasantly) surprised to find any pick up of our releases. When we did find a release that had been syndicated out to other sites none of those other sites came across as ‘high quality’, they were invariably loaded down with banner and AdSense advertising.
BTW, if you own or manage one of the sites we reviewed and think we’ve missed something, drop us a line and we’ll add your feedback or make sure we look out for it next time we run the review.
Online PR News got three of our four releases on Google News. PR Fire only got one release onto Google News while Open PR got two of them there.
Appearing in web searches may be valuable as a way of trying to put your news in front of people searching for your target phrases – though it is unlikely this will be effective where the target phrases are more than moderately competitive.
Of the three releases that PR Fire accepted, all three appeared on page one of Google search results for the phrases we searched on. For the runners up, at least one of the releases on those sites appeared on page one. Note: News Wire Today appears to be a copy of PR Zoom, but on a different domain name.
Given that none of the releases was picked up by any site that might be considered to be the source of a valuable link, it seems that there is little value in using these services for link building. However, some of the sites do provide links and a few allow you to tailor the anchor text. (If you’re not familiar with ‘dofollow’ or ‘nofollow’ links, a good rule of thumb is that the ‘dofollow’ or ‘followed’ links are the kind that usually give some SEO benefit and ‘nofollow’ links generally don’t.) Most sites either didn’t give a link or gave a ‘nofollow’ link.