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3 things you need to know about free press release websites

Are free press release websites worth using?

The question of whether to use free press release websites is a common one amongst many hands-on marketers trying to get a benefit for SEO and PR... Quickly followed by how many of these should we use and is it worth paying?

To help answer this question, Vitis public relations conducted a month long trial which investigated the value of free PR Websites from different angles. I'm alerting readers to it since it's a fascinating and immediately valuable / actionable for business and clients.  The point to stress in all of the comments below, is that I am referring specifically to free PR websites, not the more quality controlled paid for services. The report shows the best sites you can use based on different criteria.

What are Free PR websites?

Such websites exist as content hubs for press releases from all manner of business. View them as a press release repository. Usually organised by industry and sorted by features / date stamp these websites carried multiple benefits for marketeers :

  • A place to monitor activity in a particular industry
  • A vehicle to get content in-front of journalists and other such authors / influencers
  • A way to drive traffic to a website
  • A method of creating inbound links to your own site

However, there are now inherent problems with such websites as the report by Vitis PR highlights:

  • There are many of them so journalists couldn't possibly look at them all even if they wanted to!
  • The content on many of them is no longer news worthy or relevant
  • They are often filled with spammy poor quality content
  • The links they generate are of little quality (Thanks Panda)

While this is a review and listing of over 60 sites, the Vitis report is useful in calling out the most useful sites. We contacted Vitis as part of writing this review and they said they will be updating the report, so watch this space.

Research finding 1. Only 5% of Free PR Sites will get you featured in Google News

Press Releases on Google News from Vitis PR

Press Releases on Google News from Vitis PR

I think the fact that press related sites are not a trusted source of information for a site like Google News sums up their now spammy nature. Press release sites should have introduced much stricter rules much earlier in their growth. Most sites utilised advertising to make money so the more content meant more opportunities for page views (impressions) and therefore money. This was their ultimate downfall as per article sites when updates such as Google Panda were released.

Best free press release site for Google News

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. Many, many others didn't manage any.

Research finding 2. Only half of sites are guaranteed to get the release in Google Search

% of Press Release Sites Index by Google, from Vitis PR

% of Press Release Sites Index by Google, from Vitis PR

Having brand content on outposts that not owned properties (your own site or your own Facebook etc) it is a fundamental part of content marketing. The more opportunities you can create to for your brand to appear in relevant places the better. This stat I have to say surprised me, the fact that some pr sites are not even indexed by Google I find fascinating. With this data in mind I would genuinely suggest you take a loo at the Google doc on the Vitis site to establish whether you are currently utilising some of these sites...

Best free press release site for appearing in Google web searches

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.

Interestingly, of the three releases that PR Fire accepted, all three appeared on page one of Google search results for the phrases we searched on.

Research Finding 3. 29% of sites generate followed inbound links

Followed Links from Press Release Sites, from Vitis PR

Followed Links from Press Release Sites, from Vitis PR

In the past (2+ years ago) press and article sites were valuable places to receive inbound links from, they showed a brand was active and the keywords used meant they were relevant for particular searches etc... This however due to the abuse of such channels is no longer the case, most article sites for example do not carry any credibility anymore so their links are almost worthless. While the % of sites that allow followed links is relatively high, the quality they carry is minimal so I wouldn't, personally be distracted by these sites.

Best free press release site for building links

Vitis say in their report: "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".

To get a feel for which sites might be best for links, we could use how highly each press release page ranks in search results as a rough indicator of how much link juice that page might be able to pass. When one of our releases appeared on page one of Google web search (and the free release site provided a link) we rated that site highly for link building (note, this is a very simplistic approach, but good enough to get a feel for the sites; a more detailed analysis might give slightly different results).

Summary

In short, I think the free websites hold relatively little value in marketing campaigns.  I believe think time spent thinking how to be a thought leader, create something remarkable (campaign or product), really focussing on how to be news worthy is a much more valuable use of time than trying to sell a story to the press. However, that said, I appreciate things do need a helping hand and its not always as easy as - "just be remarkable". With that in mind I think testing some of the premium services could well be worthwhile exercise and they should probably be built into any content marketing processes. The free sites I don't think deserve any attention based on these findings?!

A recent blog post by Dan Bosomworth on the social radar highlights other opportunities for distributing content to valuable outposts, it is well worth reading in light of the above.

By Chris Soames

Chris Soames is a Smart Insights blogger and consultant, he has worked in digital marketing for over 6 years with the last few years managing international web strategies for a leading travel brand. Now the Commercial Director at First 10, an Integrated marketing agency, he helps clients get clarity on their marketing strategy and create campaigns engineered to engage with their consumers to help drive sell-through. Most of all, Chris enjoys working with talented people who want to create great (& commercial) things not just tick boxes.

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