In a tight economy, cheap is great—but free is even better. If your small business needs PR services, there are several online options that are inexpensive, if not completely free. These sites typically handle soup-to-nuts PR services like e-mail deployment and tracking, press release distribution, and product or event announcements. But not every service is created equal. When you start looking for a PR partner, you'll want to consider the following:
- Page ranking. Eliminate sites that have a Google Pagerank below 4. PR sites with a lower ranking (or worse, with no ranking at all) provide very little benefit because they’ve typically been blacklisted for spamming. You can check page ranks by visiting nfriendly.com.
- SEO/SEM focus. Crafting your e-mail blast or press release with SEO and SEM considerations in mind will help search engines find your content through organic search. But some sites don’t factor in tagging, anchor text, or header tags when designing their applications. Before you decide what PR site to use, check to make sure there’s a statement confirming that all services are SEO/SEM optimized.
Top Sites for Free PR and E-Mail Services
Once you’re clear on the basic selection criteria, it’s time to refine your search based on page ranking, usability, add-on services and premium upgrades. Here are a few recommendations based upon my research and freelance work with small-business clients.
- PR.com. PR.com has a Google Pagerank of 5. Though the site isn’t particularly exciting aesthetically, the free service includes PR distribution and the ability to post job opportunities. PR.com’s reasonably priced Gold and Platinum services ($199.00 and $499.00 per year, respectively) add significant features and tools.
- PRLog.org. PRLog.org has a Google Pagerank of 5. Like PR.com, this site could benefit from a redesign, but the core service gets results and boasts a few added free features, such as the ability to schedule press releases and strong search engine optimization.
- 1888PressRelease.com. 1888 is well designed and fairly inviting. With a Google Pagerank of 5, it’s in-line with the previous options we’ve examined. This site offers tips and tricks for crafting a better press release, so it’s particularly valuable for small businesses just learning the art and science of effective press release writing.
- Free-Press-Release.com. With a Google Pagerank of 5 the free service is solid, but the low-price paid option is the real story. For $30 per release, users can add images and video to their press release; avoid imbedded ads; and be promoted on top social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, and Digg.
- MailChimp.com. A bit of a different animal than what we’ve examined so-far, MailChimp is worth a look. It’s an e-mail newsletter deployment service with a free basic offering, plus a very reasonably-priced tiered structure for additional services. MailChimp’s Google Pagerank is an impressive 8 (the highest rating possible). Its Forever Free plan allows users to send up to 12,000 e-mails per month at no charge, as long as your entire list doesn’t exceed 2,000 subscribers. The tiered plans start at $10 per month and go as high as $240. With custom opt-in forms, Facebook integration and remote list management tools, MailChimp is a great way to establish feature-rich communication with your customers without a huge up-front investment.
Getting good press coverage can take your business, product, service launch from ho-hum to home-run. A mention or review through a news organization, magazine or top-rated blog can create buzz that traditional advertising just can’t match. Over time, your goal should be to use these sites as a launching point to network with journalists, bloggers, and writers who you can eventually work with directly. Personal relationships with key professionals helps cut through the clutter of competing press releases and gets your announcement noticed in a sea of competing messages.Kentin Waits is a freelance writer and marketing specialist based in Portland, Oregon. His work has been featured in US Airways magazine and top-rated blogs such as Wise Bread, the Consumerist, and MSN SmartMoney. When he's not writing, Kentin runs a small online antiques business.
Image courtesy Mail Chimp.