Yes, free press release sites can and do cost the uninformed and even the experienced marketer. Some of the costs are screamingly obvious others are more hidden. And it’s my role as your advocate to review and reveal them all. Let’s roll!
OK, so you’ve written your press release. Next action: online press release distribution. Now If you’re stuck in terms of a press release distribution strategy, here’s an earlier article about choosing between horizontal and vertical distribution.
(Editor’s Note: feedback please! Take the press release distribution poll at the bottom of this article to help us better gauge topics for future articles.)
Now the purpose of this article is to examine free press release sites-and more importantly-to realize that free doesn’t always mean no-cost. As a big believer of online press releases, consider me amazed, even dumbfounded when a new blog post or tweet surfaces with a BIG list of free press release sites.
So I wondered, am I missing something? Only one way to find out-dig in and do some due diligence. Curious about what I discovered? Well, my search turned up more questions than answers.
A sampling: first, where’s the context? Do I submit an online press release to all those sites? Some of those sites? Which free press release sites do better with the media? Is there software available that will mass submit to those sites? How do free press release sites perform vs. paid sites? What metrics do these sites provide or am I on my own in determining the release’s success or lack thereof?
Yes, my mind was whirring with questions each in search of answers. Here’s the challenge: most of my experience is with paid press release sites and newswires. Of course, some of you reading this now have limited experience in online press release distribution either free or paid.
So consider this foray into the free press release world an educational experience for both of us. And with that in mind…
5 WaysFree Press Release Sites Can Cost You
1. Extra time investment
Time is money. When you pay to distribute online press releases you can often rely on just one service, especially if you use big, established newswires like PR Newswire, BusinessWire and Marketwire. Even PRWeb can provide enough coverage to justify just using a single provider.
However, those newswires are often not budget-friendly, especially for small businesses. So it’s only natural to turn to lower cost or even free press release sites. Dana Willhoit author of “Press Release Stomper” advocates distribution of several free press release sites with every release. Christine Kelly of OnlinePRNews.com has also recommended using multiple free press release sites with every release.
So instead of using one provider now you’re using several. Each press release site has its own interface, its own unique requirements, its own nuances, upgrades, etc.
What’s more, in my tests, adding hyperlinks to press release copy boosts traffic. Yet, some of these providers require a fair amount of hoop jumping, even to the extent of creating your release in an HTML editor and creating clean HTML code to be effective.
And unlike the major press release sites, you’ll need to plan ahead. Many free press release sites have limited editorial desk/customer service hours, often requiring you submit your online press release 48 hours in advance.
Takeaway: is the extra time you’re spending on increased labor worth what you’re saving by going the free route? With some economical press release sites, we’re talking anywhere from $20 – $100 for some good performance results.
2. Online exposure and visibility
One reason to use multiple free press release sites is that you can’t rely on a single free press release site to deliver the typical coverage and exposure you receive from a paid site. Granted, you can increase visibility by paying to upgrade (see #3) but then that’s not a free press release site and it is costing you, right?
Even with the upgrades, I’m not convinced you’ll duplicate the exposure you’ll receive from paid press release sites.
So how do you know what kind of online exposure and visibility to expect? The chart below is a quick, rather unscientific snapshot with a specific outcome. Specifically, the level of penetration in Google News and Yahoo! News. Seeing lots of listings is impacted by the following factors:
- Quantity of releases submitted. That’s one reason why PRnewswire typically has the greatest number, simply because that’s the preferred choice of many companies and PR companies.
- Quality. Search engines give preferred treatment to more established newswires and press release sites.
- Syndication/aggregation. Some press release sites (PR-Inside.com for example) often pick up newsfeeds from other newswires and press release sites.
If you’re considering using a free press release site, do a quick search in the news search engines and see what exposure that press release site is getting. Just search site: (insert press release site url). If you don’t see a lot of listings, I’d go with a newswire that has more activity and better search engine penetration.
Takeaway: Again, there is a time component, since you’ll need to submit to multiple free sites to get the exposure you’d receive from one of the paid sites.
3. Upgrades = extra cost
Now this is an area that gets right to the bottom line. How do free press release sites stay in business? Well, advertising revenue is one way. Another is an upgrade fee.
Here’s the rub: just about anything extra is an upgrade. Even worse, the upgrades are not consistent from site to site. You’ll need to invest some time just familiarizing yourself with the various upgrades, if they’re worth the investment and how that impacts your marketing budget.
In fact, in a review of about 15 different free press release sites, I counted 25 different upgrades. Here’s a sample:
- Speed of approval
- Speed of distribution
- Higher placement on page (above free listings)
- Preferred/showcased listing
- Distribution: more sites
- Other/social media
- More industry categories
- Placement in additional newsfeeds
- More words
- Formatting: bold / italic text
- Media Attachments: images, video, pdf, mp2
- Ad-free page
Takeaway: free sometimes costs money, especially for features and functionality that are already bundled in with paid newswires. Again, compare and contrast. Ordering numerous upgrades ala carte may end up costing more than a paid newswire that includes several at one fixed price.
To be clear, I’m not 100% anti-upgrade. Yet, in the spirit of transparency, we are talking free vs. paid. So freebie seeker and buyer beware.
4. Performance metrics/course correcting
At a high level, you can view online press release metrics in two camps: external and internal. External includes search engine performance, keyword ranking, press release views/downloads and backlinks. Internal refers to how that traffic shows up to your website: visitors, conversions, etc.
Many of the paid press release sites provide helpful website stats. (Although I find the “number of reads” stat suspect. These are not human eyeballs, often it’s a site that receives a press release constitutes as a read. )
Still, if you use the same press release sites consistently, key benchmarks begin to emerge. For example, when I use PRWeb, I consider a number of reads plus headline impressions of 75,000 a good indicator of decent exposure. Looking at the screen capture from my PRweb account you’ll notice the overall number of this release was considerably higher, 246,282. )
Takeaway: with free press release sites, performance metrics range from sketchy to non-existent. Many free and even paid providers offer more robust metrics for-you guessed it – an upgrade.
Another takeaway: there’s an old saying “you can’t improve what you can’t measure.” Because of the limited nature of free press release metrics, you gain less market knowledge and insights that you can funnel into future releases, thus improving performance over the long term.
5. Staying power
One of my most effective online PR strategies is creating evergreen content somewhere in the press release. That way, when the release is found via a keyword search, there is content still deemed relevant to the user.
Whether it be from my own experience or that of my clients and customers, there has been a consistent phenomenon: when journalists are performing research for a story, they turn to the same place we do for the information: the search engines. In so doing, it’s possible to get media coverage days, weeks, months, even years after your release was originally submitted.
Takeaway: One key factor determining this is exactly where your press release ranks for keyword searches. Again, the search engines seem to reward the more established newswires. And keep in mind if you use a free press release site and you don’t pay for archiving, then you have ZERO staying power.
Again, in my tests the paid newswires seem to have better staying power. Granted, there are many variables that impact this. I’m only coming from my place of experience. If you have a different experience, please enlighten US with your comment.
Conclusion and recommendations:
Knowing what you know now, if you’re still comfortable with free press release sites, have at it. At least you know what to watch out for. And you can always outsource the distribution and let someone else worry about stayingcurrent on all the pluses and minuses.
I’m also hoping to hear from some free press release sites people and have them state their case. If nothing else, by bringing some of these challenges to light, here’s hoping they up their game and perhaps standardizing what’s free vs. what’s paid. Right now, with all the upgrades, it’s all over the map.
I will continue testing free press release sites further and will report back what I find. You may wonder as to why I didn’t include specific case study results from using free press release sites.
A point well taken as my views are shaped by my experience at an aggregate level. Again, I’m coming from own area of experience, which is via paid newswires.
To present all sides of the story as a benefit to my readers, I’ll be interviewing Dana Willhoit, an expert on free press release sites to gain further insights into this area of Online PR. Do watch for that coming soon. And I’m open to interviewing execs at free press release sites as well.
Please take the poll and leave your reply to this post.
Storyhighlights and action steps:
- Time to review: 14 minutes
- Know your distribution strategy going in, let that guide free vs. paid choice
- Free sites do not mean no cost, many include extra charges for service upgrades
- Free sites can have obvious costs (upgrades) and more hidden costs (time investment, performance, metrics, etc.)
- Free sites can and do work, but more are needed for effectiveness of each release distributed
- Related Resources:
- Dana Willhoit, Press Release Stomper.
- PR Traffic System for optimized press releases
- Action Steps:
- Review this online press release distribution article for strategy insights.
- Comprehensive directory of press release sites coming soon. Sign up for 30MinutePR tips (top of the page) to get on the notification list.
- Test! Use a free press release site and a paid press release site for each release and measure results. And report back the outcome via the comments below.