Distributing press releases is one of the most powerful and cost-effective ways to gain visibility and build credibility for your company, and should be an essential component in any marketing strategy. Unfortunately, small businesses often overlook the Web to maximize their publicity. Various online Web services will send press releases to receptive audiences, and you can also post your own press releases on your Web site. Both strategies create optimal exposure for a nominal cost of time and money.

Dozens of online press distribution/posting services, both free and paid, will get your news into the hands of the right audience. These services allow you to quickly submit your press release through an online form, which is then instantly posted on the Web and delivered to thousands of news sources around the globe.

Aside from added visibility, submitting press releases online can also help drive traffic to your Web site and even increase search engine rankings, since most press releases and news sources are indexed by today's top search engines.

By continually getting your press releases posted online, you steadily increase the number of sites linking to your site, known as "link popularity" in the Web world. Link popularity is a major factor search engines use to establish how high you rank on search term results. The more links you have coming to your site, the better results you will get. This can be instrumental for new Web sites trying to quickly register on the search engine's radar.

Some of the most popular free and easy-to-use sites include PR Web (www.prweb.com), Pressbox (www.pressbox.co.uk), WebWire (www.webwire.com), and PR Leap (www.prleap.com). Don't forget, you can also build your own list of various media contact e-mails, faxes and Web sites that will accept press release submissions directly.

Costs for paid online PR distribution services can range from $99 to more than $1,000 per press release but they give you a higher degree of service as well as a larger and more targeted distribution list. Leading companies include BusinessWire (www.businesswire.com), emailWire (www.emailwire.com) and e-Releases (www.ereleases.com/).

Another benefit to writing press releases is that they provide content for your Web site. Posting fresh news on your site not only conveys to your visitors that your organization is both progressive and active, but it also helps achieve better search engine rankings. Many search engines, including Google, will flag your site as a source for news content if they notice regularly published news content on your home page, and they will index your site more often, weekly and sometimes daily, rather than monthly for updates. This easy, fast, and low or no cost addition to your site's content could dramatically change your rankings and boost your publicity.

One local company successfully using this technique is real estate firm Michael Saunders & Company (www.michaelsaunders.com). "We send out press releases on a biweekly and sometimes weekly basis," says marketing director Jackie Schmitt. "News topics range from new associates joining the team to our various community involvement projects. This news is also used as content on our Web site, including our home page, so visitors have immediate access to the latest information about our company."

Ray Villares, (rvillares@gravityfree.com) is co-owner of GravityFree Web Design, www.gravityfree.com, and divisional chair for chamber development for the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce.

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