PRWeb Changes: A Few Suggestions, Questions, and Gripes

06
Jul
2009

I don’t visit PRWeb often these days, since I don’t work in release distribution and media relations anymore. Today I stopped by to look for an archived version of a client’s release that was distributed there, and to say I was turned off by the recent design changes would be a serious understatement. Since a PRWeb employee asked what I didn’t like about it, I decided to answer that here (and hopefully some of you will chime in with your thoughts, whether you agree or not).

The Overall Design

Look. I wasn’t an early PRWeb fan. You can find out why from my past posts. I was eventually won over by Joe Beaulaurier (no longer with them) and his responsiveness in addressing problems on the site (like the previous lack of transparency about pricing until you were actually in the order process — thankfully at least they kept that transparency with the new design).

If there’s one thing PRWeb got right, it was putting function before aesthetics. PRWeb was never an “ugly” site. And it got the job done. You could find what you wanted easily as soon as you got to the site. There wasn’t wasted space. Now most things above the fold on the homepage are just unnecessary. Did they really have to use a graphic taking up about a quarter of the page just to promote their tour of the site? No. And you can’t even make the argument that it’s needed because of the registration form there. Why? Because just above that is a separate button taking you to the registration page. Can anyone say “redundant?”

What was sacrificed because of this newly wasted space? Well, paying customers for starters. I remember having clients want a top five or top ten spot there. Those wanting top placements generally did it because they expected their listing to appear above the fold for a better chance of conversion. Given that the graphic and signup form now pushes down those paid positions significantly (on a basic widescreen laptop monitor I see only three above the fold now), they’re not giving those paying customers as much bang for their buck. Is that how most people are going to find a release? Probably not. But I have seen the stats on releases from clients who paid for #1 spots, top tens, and much lower packages putting them mid page one or page two. There is definitely a traffic difference.

Essentially it looks like PRWeb is putting far too much focus on trying to suck in new customers and not enough on their existing customers. Might seem like a simple design change to some. Seems like a customer service snafu to me.

Navigation

Again, I’ll give them kudos for keeping the pricing packages available in the main navigation. But the convenience factor just isn’t there anymore. Rather than a link to search the archives being right up front, for example, there’s a search form embedded on the site. Normally, I’d say that’s great–it cuts out a click for the user. But if you’re going to do that, then don’t tuck the search form quietly into the mix. Make it easier to find. It does nothing to jump out at you as it is, it’s not in a location where most people would look for a search form (generally in a segregated sidebar or the header), and the washed out look makes it practically fade into the background.

Other navigation issues include the fact that news sorting options are now buried well below the fold on the left, and you have to scroll all the way to the footer just to get to the About page (which as a standard should be pretty easily accessible). Basically, for most things you’d want to find, you’ll now spend more time tracking down or scrolling to the link. The previous navigational structure wasn’t perfect (while I can’t see it cached anymore, I do remember thinking at times that a few things could probably be removed). Maybe not perfect, but absolutely better than the current incarnation.

Width

Again, I can’t view a cache, so maybe I’m wrong about this. But didn’t PRWeb used to be a fluid-width site? I’m not completely anti fixed-width (this blog is a fixed-width site), but PRWeb has far too much information on a page to be cramming anything into fixed width designs. Just another case of aesthetics being put before function (and I can’t even say the new site is more aesthetically pleasing, at all).

Color Scheme

The red elements of PRWeb’s site worked very well with their branding — like the logo, which still sports it. The washed out blue look does nothing for the site. They had a great color combination with the red and blue before. They periodically tweaked things without major overhauls, and it kept improving over time. This looks like a generic Web template you’d find for sale on a webmaster forum – nothing tying into the established image on a visual level. The old design was, well, PRWeb. This design could be tossed on just about any site out there. Not a winner.

There’s more (like a lack of popular release tags from a site that was involved in social media releases before anyone even coined the term or concept of a social media release!). But again, since I can’t pull up a copy of the most recent design pre-change, I can only go from memory for now. I haven’t even tried playing around on the backend yet, so I don’t know if it’s been changed as well — I’d imagine so for the sake of consistency, but I don’t have time to fiddle with it right now. From a quick peek, it does look like it.

I really had high hopes that PRWeb was going to keep improving, but coming across this new design was a huge disappointment. I’d beg and plead for them to go back to the old design — one that made sense and worked rather well for what they are. But I doubt it’s worth the effort. Unfortunately Joe’s no longer there for me to simply drop him an email asking what the hell they were thinking. So to whoever makes those calls there these days, let me ask you, “What the hell were you thinking?”



9 Comments

  • Jennifer,
    I agree. They used a stock photo and it takes up prime real estate. The design looks outdated and it’s new. I don’t like the layout. None of it looks like it was designed by an internet marketer. I prefer PRLeap’s design.
    My advice: hire a better designer, streamline the look, then test to see what converts best.
    Janet

  • Hi Jenn,

    PRWeb’s site has three challenges, 1) new user engagement and activation, 2) returning user engagement and 3) product fulfillment (including SEO). A difficult combination unlike that faced by most other sites. Other online press release sites have shot themselves in the foot from an SEO perspective (read online visibility) while attempting to engage new users and look pretty. I don’t think these recent changes put PRWeb in that camp.

    You’re right that the site used to fit the browser width (read not fixed width). And while the human visitor will see the “paid space” headlines lower on their screen this, surprisingly I suppose, is not as big a deal as you’d think. While PRWeb receives a huge number of unique visitors each day, the great majority are not landing on the front page but instead are landing on the press release pages within the site. The releases are visible across the Internet and that is what pulls the traffic.

    The human traffic to the front page is unlikely there to peruse press releases (might you be an exception?). PRWeb wasn’t really intended to be a destination site like that.

    My biggest gripe about these changes is more about their respect for the interested new and returning users. The “Take a Tour” button at the top leads to a video about why you should use PRWeb. Why make such an overreaching claim on that button? New user engagement isn’t helped by disappointing on the initial contact.

    Returning customers can no longer log in on the front page but instead are required to click through to another page via an itty-bitty link in the top-right corner (that link is next to a big ass new user button). This diminishes the returning customers’ experience from the onset of their return and demonstrates pretty clearly the value of a new customer vs that of a returning one.

    While these changes may appear radical to human visitors familiar with the original layout they do not appear to really change or diminish the SEO value too much for releases appearing on the front page.

    I do think the SEO value available via the internal linkages from the “Sort News” [sic] and “Useful Links” are completely gone due to their choice of labels. “Industry” instead of “Industry News,” “RSS” instead of “RSS News Feeds,” and so on. This is not huge but so easy to remedy.

    For all I know, more new clients may be signing up under this new motif and existing customers may find it a refreshing change to return to and are therefore more engaged. You can count on the fact the folks at Vocus/PRWeb are monitoring this.

    You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy. I still want to see PRWeb and its customers continue to succeed.

    Best,

    Joe

  • Thanks for stopping by Joe. A few points / problems:

    1. While I do know most people don’t get to a release by visiting the homepage, as I mentioned in the post, I have indeed monitored stats for client releases ranging from #1 placements to 2nd page placements on release. There is in fact a quite significant increase in views of that release when those top placements are achieved. I don’t buy for a second that pushing most of those top links below the fold won’t negatively impact that to at least some degree – above / below the fold issues regarding scrolling and clicks have been studied for years now, and it’s always recommended that you keep the important info up front.

    2. Good point about the returning user login. It actually took me a while to find it yesterday, and it was always convenient having that right on the left side of any page. Where they saved a click regarding release searches, they created a bigger inconvenience for logins. I’m obviously guessing here, but I’d imagine logins are of more interest to more people on the homepage than the archives search anyway.

    3. I’m not really worried too much about the SEO value for front page releases. They’re not linked there long enough to make that a top concern, over usability at least. The bigger issue I see (from working with quite of a lot of PRWeb users) is that they’re now stripping prime real estate away from the customers who are paying the most for it. Any way you cut it, that’s not a good thing (especially when they replace it with a generic-looking stock photo–assume it is at least–when PRWeb’s been around long enough to know better).

    I’m not a PRWeb-hater over it. But if I find the site more annoying to look at and more aggravating to use (which I do), I’ll simply go somewhere else and recommend other outlets to clients more often. There are too many good options out there these days to make PRWeb a necessity (like it was maybe two or so years ago with my specific client market).

    On another note, I didn’t think I’d have a chance to discuss and debate PRWeb issues with you again — always a pleasure. :)

  • Jiyan says:

    Jennifer, thanks for your detailed points. Rest assured we are weighing your comments as well as the others in the thread very carefully. If anyone knows the complexity of the PRWeb Web site it is Joe and he does a great job underscoring the challenges we faced in doing a revision.

    Ultimately, our focus is on improving the user experience. What you see is the culmination of many discussions with users as well as a significant amount of testing to ensure we preserve the search value of the customer releases.

    We’ve gathered some of our thoughts and posted a more detailed explanation on our blog in case you’re interested: http://www.bloggingprweb.com/prwebcom-web-site-updates

    Thanks,
    Jiyan

  • Took a quick peek at the post, and honestly, it read like typical corporate spin rather than addressing any real issues. (Why anyone would point a PR person to that kind of drivel and hope they didn’t see through it is beyond me.) As one example, claiming increased traffic really means very little without actually detailing the differences, especially given that you now force users to visit an extra page when they want to login (OF COURSE traffic would increase with that — it just doesn’t say anything positive about the site when you do that with less user-friendly navigation). Of course many readers don’t think critically enough to pick up on things like that, so maybe they won’t notice.

    More power to you, and I hope you guys do well with it. But I also hope you clean things up. In the meantime, like I mentioned before, PRWeb isn’t as necessary to my clients as it was a few years ago. There are other options, and I’ll at least personally keep recommending them.

  • Trisha says:

    Hi Jennifer,

    I stumbled on your site yesterday and am enjoying the great info. Thanks for posting.

    Before that, I checked out PRweb. The home page was informative in a general sort of way, and I liked the information they provided. The reviews I read were decent, so I decided I would give them a try. I created an account and logged in.

    While it looks like it has some great functionality to it, it’s missing the gentle touch of a usability expert. (Sorry Joe and Jiyan!) There’s good information there, but finding it once I logged in was frustrating.

    I’m not saying I won’t give them a chance or that they won’t do what they say they can do. But I would like to see a more intuitive member interface.

  • Michael I says:

    Hi Jennifer,

    I came across your website and was a little disappointed to see that 24-pressrelease.com was not on your list for press release distribution as we do allow the free option much like PR Web. We have also been around for over 5 years with nearly 85,000 press releases online (over 150,000 submitted, however not all of them make the cut past the editors desk).

    You have a great following here and a lot of fantastic information, I hope your viewers find the above information helpful for any fall promotions!

    Thanks Jennifer!

    Michael
    24-7 Press Release Distribution
    http://www.24-7pressrelease.com

    • Michael,

      1. You got the domain of your own site wrong in your comment.

      2. Spam of any variety is not tolerated here, so your promotional coupon information was removed.

      3. Now it’s possible they’ve recently changed things again (I’ve refused to use PRWeb in any capacity since their absurd changes showed a lack of care towards real usability for customers and their joke of a response on their own site), but to the best of my knowledge they haven’t reintroduced a free press release option. Therefore having one wouldn’t make your site “much like PR Web” at all. Might want to brush up on the competition before trying to make your case next time.

      4. Your site used to be listed here in fact. However, I don’t appreciate it when companies try to bullshit customers about freebies in an attempt to make a sale. You were reported to me after one of your editors informed a reader of mine (3 DAYS after submission) that they didn’t have time to deal with free press releases, but that they’d be happy to publish the press release if the person paid for the upgraded distribution package. I wouldn’t tolerate you trying to mislead me, and I’m not going refer my readers to a site that would mislead them either. Therefore your site was removed from the list and will not be reconsidered until the next time the list goes through a major overhaul, at which time I’ll be testing each of them myself and weeding out more of the duds personally. That won’t likely be for several months.

      In the meantime, may I suggest the following?

      1. If you have time to seek out popular lists of distribution sites to see if you’re still on them or not, then you should damn well have time to review the free submissions you advertise to users. If you want to show your site is deserving of referrals (from anyone, and not just me), then maybe priorities should be adjusted and your site’s users should be made a bigger one.

      2. Maybe if you offered a free upgraded release or something to the user of yours that you snubbed and misrepresented yourself with (your company — not necessarily you personally), then I’d consider it a one-time screw-up and not a broader issue with your company attempting to pressure users into something they didn’t sign on for (if you agree, email me at jenn@nakedpr.com and I’ll present the offer to that reader and have them contact you — I won’t simply give out their contact information — and if you come through then I’ll add an updated note to this comment to that effect, but please note that previous information will not be censored).

      3. In the future, please don’t post offers on posts here like you tried to do, especially not on posts about your competitors. What may have seemed like a good and simple marketing move frankly just looks desperate. Consider that a free image management tip.

      I sincerely hope you look into these kinds of issues with your editors. While I love that some of the smaller businesses out there have these free and low-cost options, I simply cannot in good conscience direct them to sites that would waste their time in such a way. As mentioned, it will be reconsidered and personally tested during the next list update.


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