Does free press release distribution help link building?

Posted by Ken McGaffin on 7 Nov, 2011
View comments Link Building
There are a myriad of sites that offer free press release distribution. But do they actually help with link building? A study from tested 60 such sites with real press releases over a period of a month. Thee were some positives, but are they actually worth the work involved?

Conducting primary research in your market and sharing the results can be a very effective link building tactic. Especially, if the market your research is actually 'link building' itself. On Friday evening, I picked up a retweet from @wilreynolds which pointed me to a detailed review of free press release sites from

The study set out to answer six questions that are important to any link builder using free press release distribution sites as part of their link building efforts. Namely:

1. Do journalists and bloggers actually use these press releases for stories?

2. Would the release appear on Google News?

3. Would the release appear in a Google web search?

4. How easy are the free release sites to use?

5. Do free release sites help with link building?

6. Could the sites be used to help 'own' the search results for a targeted phrase?


There are a myriad of free press release distribution services: I've tried some before but haven't been at all impressed with the results. As Vitispr says, "what's the use of writing and issuing news if no-one covers it?". The all important part of media relations is "talking to journalists, editors and bloggers to understand what kinds of story would interest them" - and then gearing your pitches to what they want. This is obviously something they feel strongly about as they spent a month testing 60 sites with four real press releases and carefully monitoring the results. 

Here's what they found:

  • None of the reviewed sites succeeded in reaching key influencers.
  • Three out of 60 sites managed to get the story on Google News - Online PR News was the best.
  • Some press releases did appear on page one of a Google search on a targeted phrase - PR Fire was most successful.
  • None of the releases were picked up by a source of what might be called a valuable link.
  • However, three of the sites did result in 'low value' links.

The results show that most free press release distribution sites provide little value. However, Vitispr did not test the paid-for versions of these services. If you want to check these out for yourselves, Vitispr provide details on all 60 sites tested

Public relations and link building

I think the processes of traditional PR and link building have much in common:

  • both depend on building good relationships
  • success cannot be guaranteed for each individual pitch - it's a percentage game - you've got to target a list of quality targets to get x% success
  • persistence and polite follow-up pays off
  • once you've been successful with one journalist or editor or site, then you can build on that relationship in the future.

I don't use free distribution stories when I release stories, and though I do use premium paid-for services, it's not the main focus of our campaigns, but more a 'sweeping up' process.

The main focus of our campaigns in using online PR for publicity and link building is to build our own lists of individual journalists, editors, bloggers and experts and strengthen our relationships with them. You can read more about our approach in Drive sales and link for SEO through online PR

It's a lot of work but it pays dividends long term. This study shows that there is no easy way to be successful in online PR - it takes creative thinking, preparation and execution.

This is a great piece of work from Vitispr because they really put the effort into a survey that was of great interest and benefit to link builders. Here's the link to the survey again - a detailed review of free press release sites

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