Using Press Releases to Promote a Website: A Case Study

Pat Lazure from WikiCity is a good friend of mine, and I have been helping him some along the way as this great idea has gone from concept to execution to success.  We talked recently about his first foray into using press releases, and I asked him if I could share it with you guys.  Here is his story.

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In an effort to promote the official launch of WikiCity, we decided to spend $680 that we really didn’t have to publish a “US1″ press release (the granddaddy of them all — PRNewswire’s most expansive U.S. distribution offering) entitled “WikiCity Launches a Hyper-Local City Wiki for Every City.” Simply put, we decided to invest in a press release because we wanted more traffic. As part of the decision process, we considered a number of factors, researched best practices, and did everything we could to determine what kind or results to expect. Despite our best efforts and growing frustration, none of the dozens of experts or reputable press release agencies we met would dare guestimate what kind of results we might experience. And therefore, it is this same frustration that has motivated me to share our press release results here with you so that if you are considering investing in a press release, you can draw upon our experiences so that you won’t have to make the decision in the dark. I’ve recapped our results below, but in summary, traffic results did not meet expectations, and the key learning was — as with many things in life — size doesn’t matter; it’s how you use it that counts.

Traffic Results

Not much incremental traffic, but lots of much-needed links. Unfortunately, not a single phone call or even an email inquiry from a journalist. Pathetic.

  • Incremental # of unique visitors on day of release: 150
  • Incremental # of unique visitors on day after release: 50
  • # of links / web publications: 180
  • # of phone calls from journalists: 0
  • # of email inquiries from journalists: 0

Key Learnings

A variety of lessons, ranked in order of importance:

  • Size doesn’t matter; it’s how you use it that counts. Even if your initial results sucked as bad as ours, recognize that a press release is a single action. It’s what you do around them that matters. Contact targeted journalists both in advance and after your press release is published, asking them if they will help share your story. Use the release as an excuse to tell everyone you know… Link the release to your blog, website, Facebook fan page, LinkedIn profile, etc.
  • Credibility: Press releases, especially when distributed through reputable agencies, can get your release published on reputable sites such as Forbes or Yahoo Finance, which search engines seem to appreciate. Beyond that, these links have already helped to lend us credibility with our partners and users, while at the same time, making it much easier to share our story with selected journalists.
  • Links from web publications: You get lots of them. (Quick math: $3.78/link)
  • Time your distribution wisely: Avoid distributing on Mondays, Fridays, when the stock market opens/closes, or when pop icons die.
  • Choose distribution wisely: We chose PRNewswire’s “US1″ distribution because it was the only way we could reach small-town newspapers within the thousands of small communities we serve. However, based on the lack of inquiries from journalists, we will need to instead find other means to reach this audience. If we were to do it all over again, we would probably select an on-line only distribution.
  • Choose your press release agency wisely: Sure, each agency has a little something different to offer, but for the most part, as long as you’re distributing through the Associated Press, press release distribution is a commodity. Note: There are a lot of “free” press release services out there, and I’ll be the first to admit that they too can be used effectively to help boost credibility, but you likely won’t reach the more reputable news agencies because the freebies are generally considered “spammy”, and therefore, you won’t enjoy nearly as many back-links. Stick with PRNewswire, PRWeb, Marketwire, or Warren Buffett’s Business Wire and you should fare well. Hope this helps, and best of luck!

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Pat and I will continue our conversation in the comments, but please add your own questions and your own experiences with using press releases as well!


Comments


  • Shane

    July 9, 2009
    at 11:42 am

    Pat, knowing what you know now, what’s the number one thing that you’d do differently?


     

  • Pat

    July 9, 2009
    at 12:00 pm

    #1: Pre-publication Preparation – I would contact several targeted journalists in ADVANCE of the scheduled publication. Journalists & bloggers seem to appreciated this so that then they are positioned to share the story first.

    If I could pick a #2: I think we’d opt for an on-line only press release, which costs about 1/2 of what we paid for US1.


     

  • Ari

    July 9, 2009
    at 12:02 pm

    I think the Press Release services are useless these days – you need to be reaching out to journalists, etc. Lookup Can We Do That by Peter Shankman..


     

  • Tom

    July 9, 2009
    at 12:15 pm

    Now that it has been a couple of weeks since the publication of your press release, have you seen any differences in your traffic for better or for worse?


     

  • Rich Owings

    July 9, 2009
    at 12:17 pm

    Great post; thanks for sharing. I’ve done news releases right before the holiday season two years in a row, once for my main site and once for my deals site. It’s challenging to get links for the latter, so I was happy with the results.


     

  • Shane

    July 9, 2009
    at 1:43 pm

    @Tom: Great question.

    @Rich: Is there anything you did differently from Pat that you would recommend (and would be willing to share)?


     

  • Pat

    July 9, 2009
    at 8:55 pm

    Tom,

    Thanks for your interest. Actually, WikiCity’s traffic has skyrocketed a favorable 1000% over the past two weeks (granted, on a small base), but since we’ve been doing so many different things for the site since then, it is not possible to directly correlate the press release w/the spike in traffic. That stated, I’d like to think that the additional links out there helped.

    Pat


     

  • Rich Owings

    July 10, 2009
    at 7:00 am

    Shane,

    I don’t really have any recommendations, but I went back to look and will share this… They were both done through PR Web. The first was the $200 package and the second (for my deals site) was the $80 package.


     

  • Pat

    July 10, 2009
    at 11:56 pm

    Ari,

    Prior to the press releases, we tried Peter Shankman’s Haro every day for about a month. Great concept, but not much bang for the buck. Rarely did we ever receive a response from the journalists we attempted to reach & when we did, it sounded like our efforts were congested amongst several dozen others trying to share their own story.

    Pat


     

  • Seekzap

    July 15, 2009
    at 10:35 am

    Pat – of those links you received, how many were permanent? My experience has been that with press releases, the links are temporary, and most are lost over time. Is that your experience?


     

  • Pat

    July 21, 2009
    at 3:55 pm

    Seekzap,

    At this time, I’d estimate that 80% of the links still exist. Too soon to tell if they are permanent.

    Pat