I’m not a big believer in wire service for local news, but I’m always looking for new ways to get a press release on Google News, Bing and Yahoo, so I tested out a new wire service yesterday.
It wasn’t expensive – just $49 for distribution. It appeared to have a strong banking and finance category, which fit this release nicely, so I pulled out my fifty bucks. In fact, I stumbled on it by doing a search for Arizona banking media with a “submit post” or “upload press release” feature. This wire service landed on page one of Google for my search, compelling me to take a closer look.
What did I get in return for my money? FRAUD.
I think it’s somewhat common, especially now that we don’t look for SEO results any longer. Our new expectations are blinding us to larger issues at play, and it’s especially rampant among the free and low-cost wire service providers.
What is wire service fraud?
When we think of wire service fraud, it’s often tied to press releases designed to manipulate stock prices, or even outright hacking of news… but there’s another side of fraud that nobody is talking about: wire services that make big promises for press release placements who fail to deliver.
Not only are they breaking their brand promise (very bad for trust and reputation!), but they’re stealing our money and getting away with it.
What do we expect?
When we pay for wire service, we expect several things to happen.
Well, public relations professionals do anyway – business owners are another story entirely.
- we expect our press release to end up on a wire service feed that journalists actually look at
- we expect to have a page for our press release on the wire service’s website that is actually indexed by search engines
- we expect to have one or two hyperlinks from the press release to our website, even if they are nofollow links
- we expect the service to submit our news to the major search engine news feeds (Google News, Yahoo News, etc.)
- we expect a pretty report to show clients that quantifies impact of that wire service in some way
- we expect tons of placements on bot-driven, aggregated news sites and blogs – do real people even see these pages?
- we expect dozens of pickups on newspapers that aren’t even relevant to our local news – does a small business in Phoenix care about the Boston Globe?
- we have no idea if we are even reaching real journalists who might be interested in our news – do journalists even USE a wire feed to find sources any more?
- we review un-audited, inflated numbers on views and reach, knowing most of them are unlikely to be our actual target audience, and are only impressive to someone who doesn’t look too deeply
- (this is fairly new) we expect canonical tags pointing ownership of the press release content back to the wire service website, meaning Google will not index or show the other placements on a google search result page.
- we don’t expect the same results from a cheap or free wire service that we’d get from a major wire service, such as Business Wire, Marketwired (just acquired by NASDAQ) or PR Newswire.
Did you know that when you share a piece of content on Facebook that has a canonical tag defining the original author, it will tag the post as being from THEIR Facebook page, instead of yours? It’s smart and weird, all at the same time.
It can be a significant problem if you purchase syndicated blog content then share it on your Facebook page.
So what are the unexpected things that set off my fraud alert?
Maybe fraud is a harsh word, but I really don’t think so. This particular wire service triggered several red flags, but only one of them was truly unforgiveable.
The days of landing media interviews from a wire release are long gone, but we do expect a decent volume of placements. At the very least, pickup by the major search engines are something we universally expect, right? It balances out the wasted placements that have zero ROI. It was the first thing I looked for with the new wire service.
Twenty-four hours after the release was posted to the wire, I did a Google search of the headline. Nothing showed up except the press release page on the actual wire service. Hmmm. Not good, but okay.
To see if there were pickups, I headed over to the report on the wire service page. Only one pickup was local, and it was for an obviously bot-driven website page on our major newspaper that didn’t mingle with actual content promoted on the website. It wasn’t anything I’d expect a reader to see, especially given that it didn’t show up on search engine results. It also didn’t show up on a company name search on the newspaper’s website, so I couldn’t even consider it a “real” page. It wasn’t anything anyone could view.
I suspect most (if not all) newspaper press release pickups across ALL wire services are this form of content, buried and unread.
Were all of the pages like that? It wasn’t a problem unique to this wire service, but frustrating none the less.
On the wire service’s page for search engine pickups, it listed all of the major ones: Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc – so I clicked on the Google link. It went to a search engine results page showing a link to the wire service’s page for the press release. It wasn’t picked up by the search engine at all, it just ranked their original page. Of course it did!!
THAT was unforgivable deception, in my opinion. They clearly promised placement on the search engines, and THIS is what they gave me? It wasn’t a pickup of any kind. It was nothing at all.
It’s been half the day, and I’m still mad. I’m completely steamed about their fraudulent practices – not the money, but the unethical results. Do you think I should do something about it? Can we do something about it as an industry?
We just can’t let these kinds of unethical practices stand.