Yesterday I set up a little experiment to see whether paying for press releases can prove to be worthwhile for authors seeking to promote their books. The experiment was based on a press release I wrote, and issued through PRLog.org, one of the established press release services. Today I’ve got the data, so let’s take a look and see what we found out.
So, here we are, roughly 24 hours after significant numbers of readers were first getting around to looking at the day’s press releases. Where have things settled out, and what can we learn from the data? Let’s start with a refresh of the numbers, which look like this:
|Unique Hits||310 (up from 216 at 11:30 yesterday)|
|Total Hits||348 (up from 241)|
|Headline Impressions||31,512 (up from 17,449)|
|Click Through Rate||~1.1 % (down from 1.38%)|
For starters, let’s be sure we understand what the data are, which in this case is a bit opaque. Unique Hits usually means non-redundant visits, while Total Hits might include re-visits. however, there’s a later chart in the report that reports “Activity by day,” and that table shows a total “activity” of 468 for yesterday alone. What does that mean? I don’t know, because there’s no explanation.
Headline impressions is easier, and should mean the number of individuals that visited a page where the headline of the press release was displayed.
Click rate means the percentage of viewers that were interested enough to click on the headline and read at least some of the release. The click rate declined over time (1.38% through 11:30 the day of the release to 1.1% today) as the news became more stale. Multiplying the headline impressions (31,512) by the click rate (0.011) gives the number of individuals that read some or all of the press release. That number is 347, which is close enough to the reported 348 (the discrepancy is due to the rounding of the actual percentage to 1.1).
The analytics report also gives the names of the 67 media outlets that displayed the press release, and includes outlets as diverse as newspaper, television, investor and other sites, as well as the sites from which the most number of clicks originated.
So how should we look at these numbers?
In and of itself, a click rate below 2% is not necessarily bad, especially for a minimally targeted press release, and particularly where the number of potential viewers was so large (over 37,000). The press release template allowed me to pick up to 8 key words; I used tags like Thriller, Cybersecurity, Politics, Trump, and so on, as well as a limited number of main fields, which were less on point and helpful. These would allow the recipients to categorize the press release to some extent if they so choose. But I would have to assume that for the most part the press release was visible mostly to people who would have no interest in it. In fact, the gross number of click-throughs was a pleasant surprise.
Having lots of people read your press release is nice, but the more important question involves what is usually referred to as the “yield” of the press release, which is the desired result. In this case, that would be stories and/or sales.
Stories on the Internet tend to fall into three categories:
- Simple reprints of the press release, sometimes with a reporter’s name added as if there had actually been some creative work added.
- Stories written purely from the press release, perhaps augmented by the background knowledge of the reporter.
- More in-depth stories, where the reporter contacts the source and/or does independent research on the subject.
An astonishing amount of online reporting – in many areas, such as technology, the great majority of stories – is in the second category.
In this case, I garnered two hits in the first category. One, in an on-line journal, and the other a news aggregation site. How worthwhile are these hits? The first has an Alexa ranking of 15,083 globally, and 9,853 in the U.S. For comparison, I happen to be in Baltimore today, and see that Alexa ranks the Web site of the local paper (the Sun) at 9,752/1,683. Rezul’s rank is about 1,800,000 million globally, and it’s not ranked in the U.S. at all. On the other hand, EReader News Today’s numbers are 118,484/28,878.
So we could say that the press release yielded one qualified, if low quality, placement that might conceivably result in a sale. However, my sales logs indicate that at most one book sale could be attributed to the press release (and that’s a maybe). So this time around, the time and cost ($49) involved in issuing the press release likely had no positive reward.
Conclusions: Based on this single experiment, with a catchy, timely headline, it might appear that spending the time and money to create and issue a paid press release is rarely likely to be a good investment, absent additional activities built around the press release to compound the impact.
Of course, issuing one press release indicates nothing. If someone had called me up, interviewed me, and written an article, I would have been delighted. And I would have considered my $49 well spent. The fact that so many readers clicked through indicates that there was at least some chance that next time this might occur. And perhaps I might do a better job or writing the press release as well.
But how often is someone likely to have the luxury of a catchy, timely headline for a fictional work, and also have the skill to write a really intriguing press release? Sadly, not often. Next time I try this experiment, I’ll use the same service, use a more typical headline, and see what happens. My guess would be that I’ll see far fewer click-throughs.
I think that the take away for the average author is that drafting and paying to issue a press release will almost always prove to be a waste of time, unless her book is very timely, or she is already a known author, or the issuance of the press release is supported by the efforts of a paid publicist, or an equally skilled author.
But, as with every other promotional tool available to Indie authors, what we all really need is more data, so that we can tell what works, and what doesn’t. If you’ve used press releases, it would be great if you would share the results (or absence thereof).
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