This article is about the differences between content (such as an expert article, case study or thought-leadership piece) and press releases. Both content and press releases are critical to the branding and awareness strategy of any company, however they are different tools for very different purposes and we will briefly examine that here today.
How long does "content" live on the Internet? Too long perhaps. Have you ever searched for the answer to a technical question for your smartphone, only to find that the answers that pop up on top of the search pertain to a version of that phone or operating system that is long outdated? Why do those answers still come up? It has a lot to do with how the search engines value old web pages. Pages that have lots of links to them tend to get higher rankings and come up to the top of the search list. That's not news - but it's awfully relevant to the success of information your business bothers to share on the Internet. Good content pages often become more valuable over time and receive higher rankings.
What is a press release:
A press release is a particular message distributed by companies to news organizations that deals with a specific time-sensitive issue.
What are examples of press releases? Press releases open deal with announcements of a new hire, or a promotion to a top level position such as a new marketing VP. Press releases also communicate company acquisitions, lawsuits, a significant new client. A press release is also used to communicate new versions or new features. Quarterly or annual corporate earnings are typically announced with a press release. Press releases have a short lifespan. The news in a release is usually time sensitive and therefore not of much value a few months later.
On the downside, press releases are “mostly” believable. Needless to say, a press release is obviously self-serving for the company that it's about. Readers know this and take every claim with a grain of salt. Press releases are also a form of "interruption marketing" - which is widely regarded as being less valuable than permission-based marketing. Releases are shoved in front of the reader - its not as bad as telemarketing, but neither is it endearing.
What is Content?
Content, in its best form, is an enduring article with genuine value-add for the reader. The reader should come away with a better grasp of a concept, or an idea that is applicable to improving his/her life or business. Good content may educate, entertain, inform, stimulate, engage, inspire and motivate the reader. Good content may tell an instructional story about how to deal with a problem. It may educate the reader on how to improve her bottom line with specific actions. Good content does not contain fluff, or trivialities or self-serving aggrandizement. It does contain hard data and/or specifics and is objective.
Readers value good content and so do search engines. Readers share good content with their friends and co-workers, link to it, post it on their favorite social websites and oftentimes refer back to it. Good content is enduring.
Content can be an excellent compliment or precursor to PPC (pay-per-click) marketing or direct sales. For example, when a salesman shows up at the door of a prospect, the salesman is more likely to be warmly received if the prospect has heard about the company/product! Similarly, with PPC, a prospect is staring at a half-dozen links to various companies and more likely to click on a company he is familiar with or heard something favorable about.
This chart illustrates the traffic that content receives versus press releases over a period of three years. The X-axis (the horizontal one) shows the number of days that have passed since publication - the Y-axis shows the cumulative number of views the item has received. Content (Featured Articles) are the upper line, shown in red. Content continues to get good traffic even three years after publication while press release traffic flattens out.
The data is based on the perfomance of thousands of published items. The data does not reflect the fact that there is a substantial variation in the traffic to good articles versus weak ones - we'll save that discussion for another time, but suffice to say that well-crafted articles do better than mediocre articles.
Three key takeaways:
- Case studies and expert bylines (like thought-leadership pieces) are viewed by readers at their own discretion and convenience - when the reader is more receptive to absorbing the content - and they are a powerful form of communication.
- Use press releases for time-sensitive matters and use content for long-term communication.
- Good content pages become more valuable over time. There is a long tail of distribution for quality content.
Using the right tool for the job will ensure your marketing dollars are well spent!
Recommended reading on writing quality content:
Eleven Simple Tips To Increase Press Release Effectiveness
Article by Craig L Aberle (President, Pointofsale.com)
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