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Free press release distribution sites: 6 reasons why you should think twice

“You don’t get something for nothing.”  This adage is tried, but often true, and certainly comes into play when considering free press release distribution services [1]. Perhaps an obvious question that many communicators ask themselves is: Why pay for the services of an established newswire service when I can distribute my press releases at no cost? The answer, simply put, is: “You get what you pay for.” And, sometimes, you don’t even get that.

Before joining Marketwire as their search marketing and social media specialist, I was the marketing manager at another company and was responsible for sending out press releases on their behalf. Because we were on a budget, I thought that submitting company news through a free distribution service was a smart, budget-friendly solution. In hindsight, I made a mistake.

Having learned the hard way, I would like to share six reasons why free press release distribution isn’t always what it promises up to be:

Time equals money — With free services, you cannot target your audience and the specific media outlets that would be interested in what you have to say. Because these free sites do not have the reach, relationships with media outlets or direct feeds to large news sites (including The Associated Press and CNN, to name a few), your press release will rarely appear on Google, Yahoo!, or any other search engine or news site. In order to increase your exposure through free distribution, you have to submit the same release to several different services to increase your exposure. In my previous job, I remember using more than a dozen free sites for the same release in order to gain as much penetration as possible. Needless to say, it took a long time to do that.

No editorial safeguard – Grammatical and spelling errors in any business communications are not only embarrassing, but discrediting. If you can’t communicate properly, why would anyone want to do business with you? What’s more, most journalists will simply discard press releases with typos in them. With free services, the editorial intervention and guidance that are offered by commercial newswires are non-existent.

Limited reach and distribution – Because free distribution sites do not have relationships with downstream partners or direct access to journalists, they can only rely on search engines for placement. (Even that is suspect.) A best practice for any communicator is to target individuals (journalists, online consumers, etc.) who have an interest in your company and your news, instead of mass-blasting your release to thousands of random online readers. As the media landscape continues to shift, with audiences dispersing across so many channels, finding the people you want to reach and targeting your news is more important than ever.

Non-existent analytics and tools – Although analytics exist, to a degree, on some of these free sites, only basic stats, like “number of times viewed,” are available. A commercial newswire service provides monitoring and reporting tools to justify and measure the success of the press release, not only as a communications tools but as an investment.

In addition, search engine optimization (SEO) is another area of analysis that free sites do not acknowledge. Marketwire provides our clients with the SEO Keyword Analyzer to grade the SEO effectiveness of their release before it’s distributed. Free distribution sites do not typically offer such a service, so the time you spent uploading and submitting your release will ultimately go to waste. You will not know who picked up your release, how many times a link was clicked or how to better optimize your content.

Short-tail SEO; short shelf life of search engine visibility – As long as your press release is housed somewhere on a website, it can still be found by search engines and accessed by a reader. That’s why shelf life is important. Most newswires archive their press releases for nine months or less, while Marketwire press releases have a five-year shelf life.

The limited exposure of press releases distributed via free services leads to a short shelf-life on search engines. The reach to media outlets results in a quick boost in search engine traffic, if you’re lucky enough to get picked up. After a few weeks, you will see a big drop off.  Even those that offer free social media releases have the same effect.

Response/post time is sloooooow – On free distribution sites, press release dissemination is not instantaneous. Rather, a queue regulates the process, leaving you to wonder when your release will actually be distributed. In a rush? Fuhgeddaboudit. Even if you have plenty of lead time for your release, there is comfort in knowing the specific time and date your news will be issued. Most people do, which is why our editors keep in close contact with our clients before and after distribution.

In the end, I learned a lesson: “Free” isn’t really free, at least when it comes to press release distribution. Sure, I saved a few bucks, but I wasted a lot of time on a release that never met its full potential.

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