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Home arrow Ad Optimization arrow Press Releases Tested
Press Releases Tested
Monday, 26 September 2005

Synopsis

Topic: Press Releases — How we tested the impact of press releases on website traffic and inbound links, and found that effective PR can deliver an ROI superior to PPC advertising.

We recently released the audio recording of our clinic on this topic. You can listen to a recording of this clinic here:
Press Releases

It's tempting to think that press releases are "old media" and have no part to play in the modern world of digital communications.

Not so.

Our testing has shown that press releases can create significant spikes in site traffic, and generate hundreds or even thousands of back links. Those involved with link-building strategies will certainly appreciate the value those new links can deliver.

However, we also learned that when you sit down and do the math, the cost per click of a PR campaign can be less than driving traffic through the purchase of keywords in a pay-per-click campaign.

In this brief we will show you four things:

  1. How a small investment in press release distribution can attract thousands of visitors who would never otherwise have heard about your web site.
  2. How press releases can significantly improve your link popularity and natural search traffic.
  3. How press releases provide you with an opportunity to collect contact information from your visitors and add them to your subscriber list.
  4. How your PR campaigns can deliver an ROI that is superior to that achieved through PPC advertising.

Findings

Over the past six months, we issued seven press releases for our own site, MarketingExperiments.com. These press releases covered a variety of new developments:

  • PR1 announced that full subscriptions to the MarketingExperiments site are now free (no more monthly fee).
  • PR2 announced that KnowThis.com has named MarketingExperiments one of the best marketing sites on the Internet.
  • PR3 announced that MarketingExperiments.com has helped SSWUG.ORG become the world's largest online SQL server user's community.
  • PR4 announced that MarketingExperiments.com hired veteran online copywriter Nick Usborne to enhance online marketing research.
  • PR5 addressed the importance of not missing the back-to-school marketing opportunity.
  • PR6 announced the findings of our testing that as much as 29.5% of Google's pay-per-click traffic may be fraudulent.
  • PR7 announced that marketers who ignore A/B split testing are losing millions of dollars.

The table below shows the costs of these releases, their distribution, and the direct, measurable results of each:

Press Release Campaign Summaries
Release Distribution Cost Direct Traffic Interviews
PR1 Florida wires; 200 editors $165 589 0
PR2 Free wires; 200 editors $0 366 0
PR3 Arizona, Florida wires; 200 editors $330 285 2
PR4 Florida wires; 200 editors $165 775 0
PR5 Free wires; 200 editors $0 319 0
PR6 Florida wires; 200 editors $165 456 2
PR7 Florida wires; 200 editors $165 274 2
 
Total   $990 3,064 6

Check box What You Need To UNDERSTAND: In seven press releases issued over a six-month period, we were able to generate more than 3000 direct visitors and six interviews, which went on to create additional traffic.

The press releases were distributed in two ways: (1) through online wire services and (2) manually to editors by our PR firm. (*1)

Not all of these press releases performed equally well, but we were able to generate both direct traffic and additional exposure in the press, which in turn generated additional traffic.

Notably, both PR6 and PR7 focused on potential lost revenue, which is an important element in the minds of online marketers. Each of these releases generated two press interviews.

KEY POINT: An effective press release strategy will focus on topics that are timely, personal, and specifically relevant to your target audience. This will help to maximize distribution and impact.

Most notably, we were pleased to discover that the number of incoming links increased significantly as we continued to promote our site via press releases:

Press Release Link Generation
Press Release Number of Incoming Links
PR1 2,500
PR2 3,125
PR3 2,500
PR4 2,500
PR5 3,750
PR6 5,000
PR7 12,500

Check box What You Need To UNDERSTAND: Over six months, our press release campaign helped to create a five-fold increase in the number of incoming links to our site. (*2)

KEY POINT: An ongoing press release effort is one of the most effective means of creating incoming links to your site. Not only will these links bring in additional traffic directly, they will also help your link popularity in natural search engines that adjust ranking based on that criterion.

In additional testing, we focused on more personal stories:

  • PR8 featured the headline: "9 Year Old Donates 1000 Bears to Indian Orphans."
  • PR9 has this headline: "i58 Projects Helps Find Jobs, Housing for Katrina Victims."

Here are the results of those two press releases:

Additional Press Release Campaign Summaries
Release Distribution Cost Direct Traffic Interviews
PR8 Florida wires; 340 editors $165 178 3
PR9 Florida wires; 3000 editors $165 2,200 5
 
Total   $330 2,378 8

Check box What You Need To UNDERSTAND: PR9 created a direct influx of over 2,200 unique visitors and five interviews. This was by far our best-performing press release in this round of testing. However, it was manually sent to many more editors than the other releases.

PR9 performed very well because it was timely, regionally focused, and highly relevant for its target audience. Most importantly, it focused on a story that appealed to audiences on a personal level.

KEY POINT: Media outlets generally prefer to deliver news that has personal impact. If your press releases can help them accomplish that task, they have a greater chance of being noticed by busy editors. Focus on press releases that are local, personal, timely, and specific.

The purpose of PR9 was to generate donations of housing for the Hurricane Katrina relief effort. This map graphic illustrates the locations of the donors nationwide.

The story was picked up by a television station in Philadelphia and aired on the 10 PM news on Friday, September 2.In this close-up map, you can see the concentration of donors in and around Philadelphia.

KEY POINT: What makes a press release a success can often come from an unlikely place. Often, just one media outlet picking up your story will create a positive ROI.

The short- and long-term advantages of PR vs. PPC:

When we looked at the PR results for both our own company, MarketingExperiments.com, and our non-profit partner, i58projects.com, we took a moment to compare the short-term ROI with the money we had spent on Pay per Click advertising.

Here are the figures, comparing the historical PPC costs with our press release campaigns:

PPC vs. Press Releases
Company PPC Engines Press Releases
MarketingExperiments.com $0.42 per click $0.33 per click
i58Projects.com $0.32 per click $0.14 per click

Check box What You Need To UNDERSTAND: For both companies, the press release campaigns created directly traceable traffic that was less expensive than the historical-average PPC traffic. Traffic generated by press releases for MarketingExperiments.com was 21.4% less expensive and for i58Projects CPC was 56.3% less expensive than traffic from PPC engines. (*3)

It is astonishing to see that even in the short term, the cost per visit through PR was significantly lower than through our PPC campaigns. These PR numbers include only the directly measurable traffic.

The above chart takes into consideration only the optimized pay-per-click campaign for both sites. When you look at certain keywords related to the targeted subject matter of the press releases, it becomes even clearer:

Google CPC Comparison
Press Release Avg. PR CPC Corresponding
Google Keyword(s)
Avg. CPC for #1
Google Position
PR2 $0.00 Internet marketing $12.25
PR3 $1.16 SQL server $3.67
PR4 $0.21 copywriting $2.80
PR5 $0.00 merchandising calendar $0.24
PR6 $0.36 click fraud $8.46
PR9 $0.08 Katrina relief donations,
hurricane Katrina
$1.00

Check box What You Need To UNDERSTAND: For these press releases, we were able to attract traffic for a much lower CPC than through the relevant targeted keywords in Google. The caveat in footnote (*3) is still important to keep in mind.

There are a few points to take into consideration here.

First, while PR bursts and longer-term campaigns can drive significant traffic to certain pages on your site with a very good ROI, PPC still has its place. For instance, PPC can be used for more precise targets, delivering keyword searches to very specific landing pages.

However, the superior short-term ROI on press releases is just the beginning of the story.

In addition to delivering thousands of new visitors at a very low cost per visit...

  1. PR will result in hundreds or even thousands of new links to your site. PPC will not.
  2. PR will result in follow-up articles and interviews. PPC will not.
  3. PR will result in invitations to speak and write. PPC will not.
  4. PR can build your brand quickly and extensively through exposure on network TV and in national publications. PPC will not.

In short, our tests lead us to believe that PR is extraordinarily under-utilized in the online industry, and that companies should conduct their own tests internally to determine both the short-term and longer-term benefits of PR.

12 Press-Release Success Strategies:

As we have observed, not all press releases are created equal. Some will achieve much broader distribution than others, attract more visitors, and generate more inbound links.

To maximize the distribution, impact, and ultimate ROI of your press releases, keep the following points in mind:

  1. When you write a press release, don't write it for the distribution service or to please internal stakeholders. Write it for the publications you are hoping will publish your story.

    In other words, while writing, keep a picture in your mind of the editors and journalists at your target publications. Think about what they are looking for... what kind of story makes them jump.

  2. Whenever possible, be specific, local, and personal.

    Our tests demonstrated clearly that stories about a particular person, a particular place or a specific event will almost always perform better than a general "announcement."

    Everyone is looking for a "story"... and stories are about people in particular places or situations.

  3. Think in terms of long-term ROI. If your press release attracts thousands of new visitors to your site, make efforts to collect as many of their email addresses as possible.

    Most visitors will come to your site once, and never again. So as with all your promotional efforts, when someone visits for the first time as a result of a press release, offer an incentive for them to give you at least the minimum of contact information.

    With this end in mind, continuity of purpose and content between the press release and landing page will improve the number of sign-ups. So make sure that the landing page on your site addresses and adds to the same story you are telling in the press release.

    For more about capturing email addresses, see our previous reports on that topic:

    Email Capture Tested

    Email Capture Pop-Ups Tested

  4. Compile an email list of editors who cover your industry. Most PR firms have a database of editors and will create a list to send your releases to.
  5. Be prompt when returning calls and emails from editors. Typically, editors and reporters are working on a deadline and usually have only a few hours to get the details on your story.
  6. If you are writing the press release yourself, keep in mind that a press release has a specific format and it is not meant to be an article itself. It is meant to quickly educate the editor on the story and your business.

    There are a number of press release templates listed in the Literature Review at the end of this report.

  7. Use press to gain additional press. If you get picked up by one producer or editor, consider contacting competing news organizations with your story.
  8. Have a good press section on your website, including contacts, company background, latest press releases, and excerpts from third-party news sources.
  9. Classify your news into A, B, and C rankings. "C" news would be a product release or new management hire. "A" news would be a human interest story highlighting a business owner who is using your product or service successfully. Don't expect "A" results from "C" releases.
  10. Develop a consistent message for all communication with reporters and editors.
  11. Be consistent in your PR efforts. We have noticed a "building effect" over time. Editors seem more likely to respond to your releases after they have consistently received them for a while.

The Literature Review at the end of this report lists press release distribution services, media databases, and other resources to help you get the most our of your PR efforts.

An ongoing press release effort can create a direct influx of traffic, favorable publicity through interviews and other news coverage, and a boost in incoming links, which in turn contributes to greater link popularity and higher natural search results. By focusing on the most relevant, personal, and timely stories about your company, you will achieve the greatest possible return on your PR investment.

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(*1) The paid wire service we used was Business Wire

You can find additional links and resources in the Literature Review at the end of this report.

In addition, our PR firm helped in the preparation and distribution of many of these press releases: Politis Communications

(*2) Incoming link tracking was implemented using: Marketleap

(*3) It is important to note that additional costs were incurred through the use of a PR firm to help write and distribute the press releases. However, we have estimated that these costs are similar to those involved with the labor of setting up and optimizing a PPC campaign. Therefore, the comparison is a valid one.

RELATED MEC REPORTS:

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Literature Review

As part of our research on this topic, we have prepared a review of the best Internet resources on this topic.

Rating System

These sites were rated for usefulness and clarity, but alas, the rating is purely subjective.

* = Decent | ** = Good | *** = Excellent | **** = Indispensable

About This Brief

   Credits:

  1. Editor — Flint McGlaughlin
  2. Writers — Brian Alt
    Nick Usborne
  3. Contributor — Jalali Hartman
  4. HTML Designer — Cliff Rainer

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