Press release distribution services – useful or useless?

Press Releases: Are distribution lists for dinosaurs? Maybe not a good link building tactic, but a great way to make noise if you have news

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Press release distribution the old school way I’ve just received another call from a press release distribution company.

They shall remain anonymous but were trying to persuade me to save money by signing up to a package of press release distributions over the next year. I can’t help but think this pressure to issue a certain volume of news means that organisations will not be particularly selective about their communications, and this in turn will not help the quality control criticism often levied at the distribution companies themselves.

If you’re reading this blog, you probably already have an inkling that press releases can be useful as a means to building links, and links are still a significant ranking factor for search engines. So why not use distribution services as often as possible to create those all important links?

My belief is that press releases work well as part of a longer term content marketing campaign – not in isolation and certainly not timetabled because you’ve paid for it in advance.

The success of distribution lives and dies by how well the release is written and how broad the appeal is. If there is truly news content, be that a launch or a ‘created’ story such as a survey, then the release should generate some interest.

I say ‘interest’ rather than ‘links’ here because your objective should be to primarily create noise.

Search engines like companies to act like brands – that doesn’t mean begging for links at every opportunity. It means generating interest across a number of different types of sites (the holy grail of a natural link profile). Citations are a ranking factor for the search engines and I for one would take a mention on a cracking site, that could deliver real brand awareness and potential traffic, over a link on a poor ranking site with no visitors. We lined up a profile for a client in the Sunday Times business section and over that weekend, the increase in brand searches was tremendous – even without a link or written out URL.

Another benefit of using a distribution service is that it will go further and wider that you could ever achieve on your own. Again this broad brush approach is often criticised but as long as the release is well written with a useful headline, those who are not interested will simply scan over it but you may well reach new audiences.

I issued a release via Realwire last week relating to the hot weather we’re currently experience in the UK, and within the hour, I had an enquiry from a website asking for an 800 word article on the issue. I’m yet to understand whether it will include a link but it’s on a site that I would never have targeted with that particularly story, so on that basis alone I think the use of the distribution service are entirely justified.

Using a distribution service should never replace issuing the release to your own list of contacts initially. I prefer to issue to my one-to-one contacts in advance of the release going out broadly – I think it’s plain courteous to let your supporters and those in the industry have an opportunity to see your news before the rest of the world.

Finally, remember that your release is available to the world to see, so make sure it’s written in a way that appeals to your primarily targets but is equally penetrable by other interested parties.

There’s lots written about penalties for duplicate content but it is sometimes inevitable and non-malicious duplication across multiple domains does not immediately incur a penalty.

It is however preferable to make each piece of content as discrete as possible because search engines try to show variety in search results – and so any content that is too similar is clustered into one result, with Google choosing the best URL to represent the cluster. Therefore use your press release and distributor to pique the interest of other people and other sites – follow up, offer additional images, content, quotes, infographics, interviews, Q&As etc.

As a short aside, some services offer reporting/tracking tools. Unless you are really pressed for time, you should be able to find the results yourself using a combination of Google Alerts and broader Google searches on the headline, first sentence and selected keywords. This is worth doing shortly after the launch and also a day or two later. You’ll find that some aggregator sites scrape news from the distributor so there is an initial kick to the ‘noise’ and then over time you’re left with fewer but better quality links. I see the former being of benefit because more real people get to see your news, with the legacy links being an SEO asset.

As long as distribution services are used alongside blogger outreach, online PR, social media and other forms of content marketing, then they still have a place at the digital marketing table. They should very much be viewed as a tactic and not a strategy though, with a reality check on your goals, and brand noise being the aim of the game.

What do you think? A tactic for dinosaurs or still part of the modern marketer’s toolkit? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.


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