Press releases have been around for a long time. They used to turn up in paper form on the desks of editors who’d quickly scan through them to find the few that would make it to the magazine or newspaper that day or month.
They had to be newsworthy, relevant and timely in order to make the grade. They had to have some sort of ‘hook’ that would get the reader interested. And they had to add value for the publication’s readers.
The digital age takes over
When press releases became digital they started to be sent to editors by e-mail, a much easier (and less costly) method for a company to distribute news. However, editors still needed to select press releases on newsworthiness and relevance to their readers.
At the same time companies also started to post the releases on dedicated press release websites; something that did not require an ‘editorial filter’. As a result, some would argue that there was a slackening off of the selection criteria for a good release, meaning that less-worthy copy started to appear electronically.
And then the PR world went crazy. Internet marketers realised that getting a link from one of these syndication sites was worthwhile as it gave good ‘Google juice’ and could increase search engine rankings. When this happened a whole raft of companies appeared offering to publish press releases online at very low cost. For a while, in terms of SEO, these sites seemed unbeatable. The problem was that these sites allowed companies to post almost anything, leading to a growing number of non-newsworthy announcements. And when Google (and other search engines) realised what was happening they decided they didn’t want to see an Internet full of nonsense articles that gave no real value when users searched for information – so they pulled the plug with one of their algorithm updates.
A lot of people in the digital marketing world then decided that press releases were worthless. But were they right?
In defence of the press release
Let’s make this really clear. Any tactic that is used to simply try to improve Google rankings will eventually be discovered and devalued. Google is always looking to stop people taking advantage of its algorithm and that means stopping easy means of gaining links. Press releases became a very easy way of gaining links, so they stopped that.
However, that did not devalue the press release!
The idea of a press release should be to help build a following, not build links. When you release a bit of news to the world, you are hoping that people will read it and be interested enough to want to do more investigation. They may (if you’re lucky) remember what they read and next time they have a need for it, check you out. As long as you realise that the press release is there to push information, build brand awareness and simply tell good news about your product or service, you’re on the right track.
And there are still plenty of online media outlets where publication of a press release has value. Because, whether they are websites that support a traditional printed publication or standalone, online media outlets in their own right, the biggest audiences for a company’s messages are still likely to be found via the media serving the relevant markets. Naturally these outlets have editors assessing the value of the news they receive, which takes us full circle to the point that a press release has to be relevant, timely and newsworthy!
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