Nate Weiner

This is an old archived post from my former blog The Idea Shower. It's where I cataloged my product explorations and releases, one of which ultimately became Pocket.

This post was published back in 2008. It may not function as originally intended or may be missing images.

How NOT to Promote Your Site

March 19, 2008

In my first post on the Idea Shower I promised to post not only my successes, but my failures as well. This is the story of one of those failures.

I came across this post by Eric Reynolds on Problogger. It suggested using a Press Release to bring attention to your blog. After reading this I poked around and found stories of people getting thousands of views and numbers of interviews with media outlets by submitting press releases with the service PRweb. This was the same week I was releasing Tail Report, so I thought I'd give it a go.

When I was ready to submit my release, I was hung up by the first page in the submission process; I had seen a screen like this before. But it was many years ago.

Remember back in the 90's when there were dozens of services that promised to submit your site to 9,959,942 search engines for the 'low' price of $99/mo even though it was something you could do entirely on your own and for free? This felt like the same game.

Needless to say I was incredibly skeptical. But there seemed to be good stories of people having a lot of success. (My optimism will eventually be the end of me.)

I decided, in the name of science and as a boon for my readers, that I would take this as an opportunity to do an experiment, posting my results for all to see. So I decided eating wasn't important and instead dropped $80 on a press release.

Let the Great Experiment Begin!

To submit a release you need to first select your 'visibility package'. Each step up costs more money and gives you more features like 'SEO Wizard' and 'PR Tag Clouds'.

$200 will get you 'Yahoo Site Match 3x' which is 'expedited placement in the search engines at three times the $80 level'). I knew this looked familiar!

I went with the 'Standard Visibility' package for $80 and submitted my release to post on Tuesday March 11th, 2008.

Release Day

My alarm rings. I am confused. Why did my alarm wake me up and not the non-stop ringing of the phone with news reporters trying to get an exclusive? Surely something isn't right.

I hop onto PRweb's site and start looking for my press release.

With the Standard package I assume I won't make it onto their home page so I drill down into one of the categories I submitted my release to: Technology: Internet

Okay not on the front page there, so I start scrolling down and am confronted with the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen:

Those are page numbers. Not links to individual releases, but links to pages of releases. And mind you, I'm drilled down into a category.

I've already started laughing and given up any hope for success here. But let's see how I did shall we?

My Traffic Stats

By logging in and viewing the traffic stats that PRweb gives me, I might feel like the press release wasn't all that bad. According to the stats the press release was read 447 times this past week. Not terrible.
However, I'd like to point out that I find these numbers highly questionable. Take a look at my actual press release here. Scroll to the bottom.

At the bottom of the press release, you will see an iFrame to the Tail Report website. An iFrame is essentially a browser window inside of a browser window. It means that by viewing the press release, you are also viewing the Tail Report website. Therefore logging a hit in my stats program (I use Google Analytics).

Using this logic, if this press release was viewed 447 times, I should have received 447 likewise views from the iFrame.

I received 17.

I would understand if there was a 15% difference, but 447 versus 17, definitely makes me wonder where they are getting their numbers from. Honestly I'm surprised I even got 17 (please refer to photo above of 89302804 links for effect)

What to Think

Okay, let's start with the obvious: There are a lot of factors at play when it comes to the success of a press release or story. The title has to be catchy, the content has to be good, and more importantly the subject has to be newsworthy.

And it's completely arguable that my press release and Tail Report simply were not any of those things. Even if this is the case, with what I've seen, I'm willing to argue that paying to submit a press release online today is simply a waste of money.

Paying to be heard died back with Web 1.0
Let's consider my $80 'Standard Visibility' package. I chose the low-end package. What would happen if I chose a the top package and landed on the PRweb homepage? How much does that cost?

As you complete the submission process you are constantly prodded to upgrade your release. Each upgrade gets you closer to the top of the release pile. To get on the top of the PRweb homepage, I believe the top upgrade was $800.

This is where I have to stop and say I sincerely doubt the ROI of $800 on a press release in today's world.

For $800, I am almost certain you could find a blogger with at least a few thousand subscribers who would be more than happy to write about your site. In fact, with services like PayPerPost you can find bloggers who will do it for $5.

In fact, I would bet (though I definitely don't support this), that for $800 you could pay a whole group of people to pimp your post on Digg, which would likely bring 50,000 visitors and a whole score of blog coverage. I'll tell you what, you give me $800, and I'll fly to San Fransisco and personally hand your press release to Kevin Rose.

So What Are We to Do?

Go look at that list of page numbers above one more time. Then go look at the upcoming sections of social news site's like Digg and Mixx.

There is significantly less competition on Digg and Mixx than there is on PRweb. And you don't have to pay anything to submit there.

Have you ever tried submitting your site to StumbleUpon? I've found that you can get at least 200-300 visitors in one day simply by stumbling your own site. And again, it's free.

More importantly, who do you know? In preparing this post I spoke to a friend who had great success with a press release last winter. However, he said that the greatest result came from personally emailing the release to local and industry reports that he knew. It was those people who eventually covered him.

You will have far more success with a press release by leveraging your connections than launching it blindly into the masses.

The Final Outcome

The point I'm making here is simple: Paying to be heard died back with Web 1.0.

This is an era where it takes very little effort to be seen. You can send influential bloggers like Michael Arrington or Robert Scoble a message on Twitter and they'll see it. But if what you have to say is not interesting, they'll pass right on by.

Don't spend your money on trying to be seen, that's the easy part.  Instead, be creative and be interesting. If you are, people will find you. Focusing on your content and spending your money on things that make your product or site better will ultimately lead to more results than paying $80 to put your product in a pile.