Press release newswires have long been the stalwart for making important business announcements.
The reputation of newswire sites like Cision’s PR Newswire and Business Wire speak for themselves, having both existed for over 50 years and receiving in excess of 8 million visits in website traffic per month.
As a digital communications company that specializes in PR, we’ve always practiced what we’ve preached to our clients – tailored pitches to relevant journalists always bring bigger returns than doing a newswire.
We decided to do an experiment, however, and see whether some of the newswire hype was justified. Paying for a Cision newswire to announce a new product launch, our expectations were simple and broken down into three parts.
We couldn’t believe what actually happened…
Once an industry term for news outlets and now a co-opted brand name, the press release newswire is used by companies that have significant business announcements for their stakeholders. The nature of the announcement can vary, from a product launch to a new business partnership.
Back in the noughties, press releases had become a breeding ground for black-hat SEO, as companies would use newswires as a source for farming valuable backlinks. Google soon cottoned on that newswires were becoming illegitimate sources for websites to grow their backlink profile in order to gain domain authority, and penalised newswires who didn’t crack down on press releases with unethical intentions.
What did all of this mean for the press release backlink?
That newswires mitigated these unethical link-building tactics by making all backlinks ‘no follow’. Since no-follow backlinks pass no link equity to the linked domain, these backlinks now had no SEO value.
It’s important to note this as many people outside SEO still believe press release backlinks carry some of that sweet SEO juice.
Nevertheless, there must be benefits to your website traffic and brand awareness if your press release is picked up by big online publications, right?
When we were ready to put our new product live, we went with Cision’s PR newswire service to make our press release announcement. The initial signs were promising.
Our press release was picked up and posted on the sites of 103 news outlets and was tweeted by a further two. The domain authority score of these sites ranged from 60–90, suggesting they’re trusted and read publications. The size of the audience of these publications was also noteworthy. In fact, the total potential audience for our press release was 7 million people.
Naturally, we were pretty excited by metrics like these. If even only a fraction of the total potential audience saw our press release, it would mean money well spent and some online exposure well-earned.
When we took a closer look at who and where had picked up our press release, though, we realized these numbers were smoke and mirrors.
Cision’s visibility report lists the most notable pickups based on the monthly traffic of the publication’s site. Immediately, we could see that our press release had been picked up by local American publications and radio stations.
While we have a presence in some of these places, the chances of this release reaching our real target audience were slim. Audience demographics for publications like these are broad and likely only share location as a common characteristic.
Additionally, our press release didn’t feature on any of the publications principal pages, making this potential audience metric highly unrealistic.
On average, the traffic our press release on these websites amounted to 20 visits per publication. The referral traffic we received as a result of our press release newswire, nevertheless, was 0, making the time and money spent barely worthwhile.
So, we discovered first hand that newswires are not all they crack themselves up to be.
But what’s the alternative?
After feeling pretty dejected from the results of our press release newswire, we decided to go back to what we know best – writing tailored pitches to relevant journalists and industry influencers.
We spent a little extra time crafting a quality outreach pitch to the top-tier tech publication The Sociable. After a bit of back and forth, The Sociable picked up our press release and mentioned our announcement in a relevant article.
Since The Sociable’s readership demographics align well with Publicize’s target audience, the traffic and buzz created was fruitful. In truth, our mention in The Sociable’s article was seen 155 times, over 5 times the average of the newswire pick up. We also gained some referral traffic from this single pitch and even converted a user from the referral traffic – a measurable return on our investment of time and resources.
To us, there’s no competition between newswires and personalized pitching.
Sure, the newswire stats look attractive at first glance, but when we took a closer look, we realized it was all a facade. Maybe press release newswires have some utility for companies whose announcement is relevant to everyone. To tell the truth, a press release newswire leveraged in an digital PR strategy can hold real benefits – but that’s a story for another time.
For a business like ours that wants to speak directly to our stakeholders, we can’t shoot from the hip when it comes to press release distribution. We’d long suspected the inefficiency of newswire services, but couldn’t believe what the reality was.
Take it from us – if you want to guarantee that your announcement is heard by the right people, and gives you real results that can be attributed to the growth of your business, stick with building industry relationships and pitching to specific journalists.
The process is longer but the payoff is far greater.
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