I recently paid the $80 fee and published a press release through PRWeb.com about a program I’m doing with Mr. USA. The results were disappointing, but I’m not sure that PRWeb is entirely to blame. I’ll explain what I was trying to accomplish and some of the things I might have done wrong. You’ll see near the end of this post that I ended up paying $3.48 per visitor to my website. I’ll get to PRWeb specifically, but I want to start out discussing some of what I do understand about “the press”.
And, to be perfectly up front, I don’t pretend to know anything about public relations. I’ve read a book and scoured the web, including some resources from PRWeb itself. I’m still exploring what will be effective, as you can tell by reading my recent discussion about the state of the newspaper industry.
The right timing
First I should mention timing. I think mine was off a little bit. The book I read about submitting press releases suggested that holidays, and especially the week between Christmas and New Year’s day, can be the best time to get press. The author of the book worked in television and from his book it seems the majority of the features he did were the same day. He did his research very early and went out to get the latest news as it happened (or as close to the time it happened as possible).
News may work differently from one medium to another, and it may even be very different from city to city. My experience with the Idaho Statesman (Boise/Idaho newspaper) has been that they plan much further ahead than same day for tomorrow’s article. From discussions with howdoesshe.com it would seem the local TV station (at least channel 6) plans ahead too. They may even keep a type of backup archive of stories to use when they don’t have enough “real news” to fill the time.
As a result of my reading, I planned to put out a number of press releases during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Another thing the book mentioned was that press releases get weeded out really quickly. News agencies and television stations have so many releases coming in every day that they only have a few seconds to decide whether or not to pass it on to a reporter. To account for this I also planned to send a series of press releases, each highlighting a different part of the program I was trying to publicize.
After some discussion with a very nice person at the newspaper, I now understand a few things that I think are really worth mentioning. First is that for the type of story I had and the type of article (write up) I got in the newspaper, more lead time would have been beneficial (more on this below about PRWeb). As it turns out, the paper had to work pretty hard to get me in when it did. The time from first press release to being in the paper was about seven days. I’m not sure if that is average lead time, but that’s about right for the two times I was in the paper. If I had given them an extra week of lead time, I might have gotten a better feature or had a chance to talk to a reporter and have an individual article. It’s no guarantee, but more time might have increased the chances.
Another bit of useful feedback I got was that from the multiple press releases I sent in, they had a hard time knowing exactly what to feature. So instead of trashing all but the most interesting, all of my press releases made it to the same person that would have to write about the program creating a 7-11 candy bar problem. Don’t you remember being seven years old with two warm quarters clenched in your little clammy palm staring at the seemingly endless choices of candybars at 7-11? I think there may have been times that I deliberated for an hour about the best purchase to make… I’m not sure if this strategy would have worked better in a different situation, city or medium, but in this case it probably wasn’t necessary.
Newspaper vs. television
Another interesting point is that while I have been successful at getting the attention of the local newspaper, I haven’t gotten any response from the TV stations. I actually expected this based on the book I read. The author, Jeff Crilley explains that a TV station wants something that is visually appealing and lends itself to video. They don’t want a talking head or a screenshot. That also explains why channel 6 picked up the howdoesshe.com group. They have put a lot of effort into both making cute stuff and taking good pictures of it.
One thing I’ll never know is whether or not my press releases made it into the hands of a reporter that never did anything with them or whether they got weeded out before the reporter. That would be a very important metric, if only there was a way to get it.
At this point one thing that I can say is the better you know your local news sources and what they like, the easier it will be to get press, if press is what you want.
So what qualifies as news? That might be like answering a three year old’s questions about Santa Clause. Whatever you tell him, he’s going to compare it to what he’s heard from other kids, adults and advertisers. No matter what you say, it’s going to be wrong in some cases and different in others. So why am I even considering this as I’m talking about PRWeb?
The news worthiness of whatever you want the press to cover plays a big part in whether or not anyone will want to publish it. Keep in mind that it’s news worthiness from the perspective of the journalist that might cover it. That might not line up with your view of what’s news worthy. So all of my considerations about newspapers, TV and PRWeb might not accurately represent average results if I didn’t really have a news worthy story. I obviously thought that I had a news worthy story with my Fitness Jumpstart program (on Maintain Fit).
SEO gains, PR losses
My timing blunder with PRWeb seems the most likely culprit for it’s failure. Here’s what happened. I had been looking at doing some press, but wasn’t sure about whether or not I should spend the $80 to $360 for PRWeb to publish it. What I did instead was publish a few of my releases using two mechanisms. First was www.prlog.com and the other was to use scribd and embed them on my exercise log blog.
The results from my approach were effective from an SEO perspective. With the three press releases that I put out this way I garnered some good search engine placement for terms related to my program. I also sent these press releases (as I already mentioned) to local newspapers and television stations. What I didn’t do was pay PRWeb to handle my press release during that crucial week between Christmas and New Year’s. Being the cheapskate that I am I chose the approach I mentioned above.
As soon as the first article was published and didn’t produce any perceivable traffic (remember that bit about newspapers being dead?), I started to think about other ways to get traffic for the program. That’s when I went back to PRWeb. I searched the internet and found many people speak highly of PRWeb and read about the mountains of traffic they got. While I knew that most journalists had already written their New Year’s resolution articles, I thought maybe there was a place for a late comer (aren’t there folks that procrastinate their New Year’s resolutions?). And leaning on the good things I had heard about PRWeb I decided to pay $80 and see what happened.
At that price point they didn’t post my press release until two days had passed, which was on January 8th. I think you can guess what happened. Not much. True to their word, PRWeb got some attention, including a search for “mr usa” included some news results for the day of the release. Yahoo! News republished the story here. I can’t really tell how much SEO effect it might have had and I know it might have been more if I paid another $120 for the SEO package.
What were the actual traffic numbers? Google Analytics says that I got 12 visits from PRWeb and Woopra shows almost double that at 23 visits. That’s in contrast to the stats PRWeb shows with 65631 impressions, 708 reads and over 200 interactions. I’m not sure what interactions are, but those numbers seem to suggest that I had a 1% readthrough rate (did you like that word?) for the release on their site, and out of 200 interactions I got between 12 and 23 people to my site (with an 83.33% bounce rate). Even taking the higher number from Woopra, this would compare to a 0.035% clickthrough rate and an average cost per click of $3.48.
Whoa! Did I just say that I paid $3.48 per visitor to my website? That can make Google adwords look REALLY CHEAP in comparison, but that may not be the full story. For example, if my story sucked, or my release was poorly timed (I do think the timing was bad), that might have something to do with it. Another thing that’s hard/impossible to gauge is the amount of SEO benefit (if any) that I might have gotten from the link on prweb.com. I did format my URL so that it would have the keywords I thought were a best fit, but they don’t turn out to be very high traffic keywords.
Press best practices for online marketers
So the elements that I’ve discussed in this post include timing, content (or story) and some of the particulars of direct traffic vs. SEO benefit from press release submissions. I’ve also mentioned some of the differences between what newspapers and television stations are looking for. Depending on the news source, you might benefit from a little more lead time. You’ll also want to think about whether or not what you have makes a good visual or a better written article.
As a direct traffic source, PRWeb doesn’t seem to live up to it’s cost of $80. However, with the right, well timed story, it might produce traffic through other means (e.g. someone publishes and article or feature on it). And for the record, the Yahoo! News republish of the press release brought ZERO visitors. I’m not sure how their news service works, but getting published in Yahoo! News didn’t produce any direct traffic results. It may turn out that it does have some SEO benefit, but I have yet to prove that since they use a redirect mechanism rather than just linking to my site.
If you have experience with press releases, take a minute and post your comments below.