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Six Steps to Powerful Web Site Promotion
by Jon Leland

With literally hundreds of thousands of sites on the web, the challenge of generating traffic has become a crucial concern. This goes beyond the marketing common sense that I expressed in my first web column and its debunking of the "If You Build It They Will Come" myth. While that column offered a quick overview of some basics, this month I've identified six key strategies and along with some supporting resources.

As I've said in past columns, the first priority is to address the issues of compelling and consistently updated content, virtual community and real interactivity so that your site can build a base of regular visitors. Otherwise, you can have the best marketing campaign in the world, but without a solid reason to return, you won't get repeat visits. And without that, it's tough to build any marketing momentum.

A complete website marketing plan can be as comprehensive as you have the resources to make it; however, if yours is like many other companies, there may be limits to your website promotional staffing (if any). So, don't be overwhelmed, but rather feel free to use these "steps" as a list of ideas, a starting point. Select the ideas that you feel will generate the best results for you. Then, spend some time each week (or at least each month) building your online traffic.

Of course, The Web Edge is a monthly column, not a book, so I don't have space to elaborate on each of these strategies in consummate detail; however, I have included references to some of the best books on the subject that I've found. These books offer those of you who are interested in developing a more complete knowledge of online marketing an avenue for a rich and satisfying exploration. Of course, that having been said, I must add that there's no better teacher than experience.

To get started, you might want to check out the cyber-edition to the Guerrilla Marketing series, Guerrilla Marketing: Online Weapons, 100 Low-Cost, High Impact Weapons for Online Profits and Prosperity (Houghton Mifflin Co., $12.95). In their upbeat style, Jay Conrad Levinson and Charles Rubin offer up a spirited overview of online marketing. Although some of their specifics are sketchy, their descriptions of how-to define and develop an effective web presence successfully extends their popular go get em approach.

As usual, there are also a bevy of resources on the web itself, especially for such web-centric subject as this. For example, Yahoo (among its 22,000 categories) offers a section called Computers and Internet/World Wide Web/Information and Documentation/Site Announcement and Promotion. You'll find many relevant resources linked here including lists of site listing services and discussions of how to get better placement among the search engines.

By the way, the one way that many web developers use to build traffic that is NOT included below is bulk e-mail (also known as spam). This is becoming a serious problem and you can just as easily turn people off as turn people on to your site. For this and other reasons, I don't want to encourage this trend. Spam may not kill trees, but it's definitely adding clutter to my in-box and becoming more and more of a nuisance.

So what are the Six strategic Steps that I recommend?

The most fundamental component of website promotion is getting listings in search directories. Given the vast scope of the web, directories have become a very commonly used part of how browsers find sites. The big ones like Yahoo!, AltaVista, Excite, InfoSeek and Lycos are the most commonly used, but there are also many others worthy of your listing.

Because it's a full time job just keeping track of the sites and because each directory offers it's own version of an "Add Site" page, I recommend the use of a listing service like Submit-It or PostMaster2, among others. To do a complete listing, there's a fee, but most of these sites will let you post listings to the biggest directories for free or on a "try before you buy" basis.

Other directories (most notably AltaVista) use software programs called "spiders" to search the web for content. This makes it especially important to include META tags within your pages (HTML documents). META tags are short pieces of simple HTML code that may include descriptions and keywords. They are inbedded within the HTML page. Although these tags do not appear on the page, some of the search engines use them and if you don't have them then they will either use the first text that appears on your page, or your site will be left out of that search entirely. Just like submitting your listing to the search engines, the META tags can include both a site (or a page) description as well as keywords by which people can find you. For more information on how to do META tags, you might want to check out this page within another useful site called The Web Developer's Virtual Library.

This is another huge subject in and of itself. There are many approaches to getting links for other sites. The standard deal is that the other webmaster will ask you to give a return link in exchange. I've named three different approaches to getting links below, but first here's another great reference. I've just discovered (thanks to my friend Felix Kramer who runs the Constructors website) a new book called Getting Hits, The Definitive Guide to Promoting Your Website by Don Sellers (Peachpit Press, $19.95). It's only about 150 pages, written in a very accessible style and packed with practical information. This is my favorite new book on the whole subject of online marketing.

Here's a few of the key ways to approach getting links to your site from other sites:

* Seek out synergy by creating relationships with sites with a similar audience. For example, a site for an electrical contractor should try to get a link from the Association of Electrical Contractors site and from electrical parts and hardware companies.

* If you think your site is outstanding or even above average, you should apply to award sites for recognition. If you win, you not only get a link, but you will get a prestigious icon to display. The most famous of these sites is the original "Cool Site of the Day." There are nine other good ones listed in the Getting Hits book and a more extensive list of award sites on Yahoo. Some of these are more targeted like the "Best of WWWomen Sites" and the "Top 10% of Cooking Sites." Of course, where appropriate, getting on one of these lists can be particularly effective if their target audience matches yours.

* Develop online strategic relationships with sites that compliment yours. For example, our electrical contractor example site might exchange links with a neighborhood plumber. You get the idea. Whenever possible, it really makes a difference if you can get your links enhanced with some extra words of encouragement or a graphic. Anything that will help your link stand out and give browsers more of a reason to "click here" helps increase the number of people who will actually follow your link.

Vibrant websites are designed for repeat visits and building relationships. And, like all relationships, this process requires communication. One of the easiest ways to establish this link is through an e-mail newsletter. I call the one that I do for Media Mall, the E-Letter; but these e-mail newsletters are technically known as Listserv's. Subscriptions are generally free and because visitors to your site subscribe voluntarily, mailing to them is not considered spam and you will know that you are writing for an interested audience.

New technologies like the Push channels that are being popularized by Pointcast and in the new version of Microsoft Explorer also provide a more visual and technological more sophisticated means of making your content available on a more consistent basis to more people. However, their sophistication also creates a kind of barrier to less sophisticated users.

Bottom line, I recommend that you start with e-mail. It's still the easiest to implement and by far the most frequently used by your visitors.

Well, you might think this is a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how often it's overlooked. First of all, do a press release (to all media, especially your local newspapers) announcing your site. Be sure to include your industry's trade publications, and then also distribute the press release to news organizations online.

There are sites dedicated to announcing new sites. Many of these are included on the Yahoo! Page linked near the beginning of this article; and another solid reference that's especially focused on press releases and announcements is Publicity on the Internet, Creating Successful Publicity Campaigns on the Internet and the Commercial Online Services by Steve O'Keefe (Wiley Computer Publishing, $24.95). This book includes an especially well-done resource section.

In addition, some companies may want to seek professional assistance in announcing their site. Some of the most prominent of these cyber-promotional "guns for hire" include Eric Ward and his NetPost site, Rosalind Resnick's NetCreations site and the Multimedia Marketing Group.

OK, now the promo people will accuse me of stating the obvious. But there's little that has the drawing power of a promotional contest or giveaway. People just like free stuff.

These types of incentives also have the additional benefit of providing a motivation for visitors to register for your e-mail list. Like any other kind of promotion, this is a creative undertaking that must be customized for your site and for your customers. Thus, the form and content of your promotional pizazz is totally up to you; but this is the kind of extra effort that can really make a difference.

Sometimes we get so web-centric that we forget about other media. This would be a monumental mistake. Other outreach channels such as your own print and other advertising is a particularly important way to generate web traffic for your site. After all, while there are plenty of browsers out there who can find hyper-links to your site, there are also more and more people who are using the web almost exclusively for particular services such as stock quotes or news (in addition to the all-pervasive use of e-mail). These web users are less likely to happen upon your site through directory listings or casual "linking around;" however, if you can get your web address in their face in an attractive way that motivates action, you can not only get them to check out your site, you may well be able to make yourself one of their favorite sites (and thus worthy of a repeat visit) because this type of user frequently only regularly visits a few sites.

In addition, you may also want to consider targeted online advertising by buying banners of popular sites that appeal to your target audience or by buying keywords so that your banner ad is displayed whenever an appropriate keyword is selected in a search engine. The big search sites have made a business out of this targeted approach and their ability to deliver a banner only to people who search for the words "electrical contractor." (No this is not intended as a theme.)

Well, that should be enough for now. This column ought to contain enough action items to keep you busy. And just think, this is only the beginning of the Internet!

Until next month, stay tuned.

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