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Virtue of the Small

How to get people to visit your web site

I get questions from people asking how to market their sites, how to increase their search engine rankings, whether to do this or that marketing tactic. For those people, and for everyone with a brand-new site, I started writing this article a long time ago.

It still isn't finished -- I got busy -- and it's quite long and not that well organized - I tried to cover all the bases -- but maybe there's some information here that will be useful.

Step 1: Before you publicize, have a good site

First, understand that you need to make sure your web site is well thought out, attractive, reasonably complete, and genuinely useful to your future site visitors. This is important to do *before* you go all out publicizing your site, because you only get one chance to make a first impression on the world. And that first impression time is an important step.

People may be intrigued by an announcement about your site, but if they actually make the effort (small though it may be) to check out your site, then find the content disappointing, they're not going to come back in several weeks to give you another chance -- unless you do *another* round of publicity, during which you'll have to work even harder to interest people because your site is no longer a novelty. This especially applies to the core group of people you know who will be easy for you to reach and generously disposed to your enterprise: your friends, associates, or existing customers.

How to make a high-quality site that will achieve your specific goals is, of course, a huge topic. This article focuses on what to do once your site is complete and ready for visitors.

Advertising Versus Marketing

One important thing to remember about your web site is that it mainly serves a *marketing* function, not an advertising function. Advertising, which includes things like newspaper ads, radio spots, TV commercials, and sports sponsorships, is designed to catch the public's attention. It usually competes for attention with other ads, and longer or more detailed advertising can be extremely expensive and less successful than a simple "look over here!"

In contrast, people who see your web site will already at least know you exist. Usually they're looking for something that they already know they want. The low price of web hosting, the global reach of the Internet, and the fact that information can be carefully and creatively structured, gives you an unprecedented opportunity to describe and explain your service or product in as much detail as you wish. Costs are significantly lower than for a national TV ad campaign, yet you can include color images, as much text as you want, and it's available to a worldwide audience of people who are potentially interested in exactly what you're offering.

Your web site is a good companion to your advertising. You can use various forms of advertising, and other types of marketing, to bring people to your web site. Once they're there, you have their undivided attention, at least for a few moments. The trick is making sure they're not disappointed. The other trick is, of course, bringing them there in the first place.

Know your market

If you want to attract peoples' attention in the near future, it's logical to ask where their attention is now. But first, who are these people?

If you've done your homework before creating your site, you should already have a pretty good idea who your visitors should be and what they want. What's important now is "where" they are and how to reach them.

Say you primarily provide a service that needs to be handled in person, for instance if you're a doctor or dentist, or even a pet sitter. The vast majority of your clients must be located in your immediate geographic region. Does it make sense for you to focus on a national web-based marketing initiative? Probably not, unless you've also published a book that you're selling.

If, on the other hand, you provide a product or service to a very particular niche, for instance underwater photographers, there may be specialized publications or topical internet resources that serve almost all of your market. It would make sense to focus your communication efforts on those media.

Search Engines

Search engines are so cool! Just type in a topic, and get a list of pertinent pages from many different people or organizations. It's like a miracle, really.

However, wonderful as they are, search engines alone won't necessarily send enough people to your site. Say there are 1.6 bajillion people in the English-speaking world in roughly the same business you are, even though none of them will have exactly your location, specialty, and vision. *Most* of them probably have web sites by now -- that's 1.3 bajillion. How are you ever going to be found in a search engine listing of 1.3 bajillion sites? Search engines have ways of ranking sites (determining what sites get listed first), of course, and it is possible to affect your ranking, but there's not much many smaller organizations can do other than having a really awesome site - which will involve a big time investment.

Other ways of getting word out about your site certainly merit consideration.

However, it's not hard to just get listed with search engines, and some people *will* probably find you that way. If you serve a small niche over a large area and your clients are likely to be search-engine-savvy, search engines can be particularly great.

Getting listed in the first place

There are hundreds of search engines out there. They will find your site if there is even one link to it somewhere on the web; you won't have to do anything.

The eternal question: how can you improve your rankings?

This is not something I focus on, as most of my clients are either so unique that this isn't an issue, or are found primarily through other means. Search engines are so fickle, in my opinion it's not a good idea to rely on them as a primary marketing channel.

At some point we all seem to receive unsolicited e-mail promising to list a web site with hundreds of search engines, for free or very low cost. You probably don't want spend time, money, or your reputation on this. As a group these companies don't have a very good reputation.

Most people would do better to focus on some basic strategies for improving their web sites.

There are also a number of web sites with information and tips on registering your site with search engines. The basic method is this: 0) prepare your site well, 1) make a list of search engines, 2) go to each search engine, 3) find an "add url" or "help" link, 4) read how to do it, and 5) do it.

Preparation work before you submit your site to a directory like the Open Directory Project (DMOZ.org) is a good idea. Prepare descriptions of different lengths (50 words, 25 words, one line) and a selection of keywords that might be used as search terms. Keep the descriptions factual. DMOZ says:

"Descriptions of sites should describe the content of the site concisely and accurately. They should not be promotional in nature. Submitting a promotional description rather than an objective, well written description may significantly delay your site from being listed or prevent your site from being listed at all."

The (approximately) 25-word description and the keywords should already be incorporated into your own web site as "meta-tags" -- don't worry if you've never heard of this, just ask your web developer if it's been done.

get other sites to link to your site

Have great, meaty, useful content on your site - reasons for people to visit and a reason for other sites to link to you. What that means depends on who you are.

If you want to learn more, you could easily spend a week learning about this. To start, though, here are two fairly comprehensive resources on working with search engines. I do not endorse these, and I haven't reviewed them thoroughly; you should probably look around to see what else is out there and how other people regard these resources:

Search Engine Watch - Possibly the most well-known web site in this field. Tons of information. You can become a member and get access to "premium" information for a relatively modest fee, but there's an awful lot that's available for free.

Pandecta's Search Engine Reference - this is a free Adobe Acrobat book that calls itself "The Mother of All Search Engine Reference Books". It's got a fairly decent list of both major and minor (specialized for a particular topic) search engines. As with Search Engine Watch, you can pay a little to get still more information - there's another, bigger book called the "Search Engine Yearbook".

Get Links!

What they are

Links on other web sites to your site can bring likely interested visitors from related sites to your site.

Links to your site will also help your search engine rankings, provided that the links are from legitimate sites and not so-called "link farms".

Here are some example scenarios:

- Someone looking over that other site may want detailed information on a specific topic on which *you* are an expert. If there's a brief note that indicates the information is on your site, along with a link, it's very easy for someone to follow that link.

- Maybe another site gives general information about an activity or service, and a visitor reads this information before deciding to go ahead and purchase a product or hire a service -- a link to you would be quite convenient, and would bring you an educated customer.

- A trusted organization may have a directory of qualified members or associates, so that any web site visitor can visit the directory and, seeing your information and a link, feel comfortable trusting trust you because you're in such good company.

These are just a few examples of how links to your site can be a good thing. They can also serve as a starting point for finding web sites that might be interested in linking to you. Here are some possibilities:

- Web sites that cover a topic just slightly broader than your area of expertise;

- Service directories, especially somewhat selective ones;

- Any organization to which you belong that normally publishes details about its members;

- Other businesses or organizations that complement your own, for example, a sheet music provider might get a link from a musical instrument retailer, or a sports medicine clinic from a local fitness center.

For more ideas, just use a search engine to find sites that are focused on topics related to your site's topics. Any site that's a direct competitor to you is probably not going to want to link to you, but look at some of the others. If a site has a "links" page, or if it seem appropriate to you, they're a candidate.

Once you find sites that could benefit from a link to your site, consider whether it makes sense for you to link to them. A link from your site to another is, in a way, a compliment, and it's nice to be able to mention these links when requesting links from the other sites to your own. It can also be useful to your site visitors and clients to have a list of resources you endorse available on your web site; this is one way the classic "links page" can be handy.

Finally, it's time to contact the owners of these sites. Individually. If you send a form letter or e-mail to all of these sites at once, chances are you won't be very successful - form letters are likely to be deleted before being read, and even if a link to your web site would be a wonderful addition to any other site, the site owner will still be doing you a favor.

So, to each site owner of whom you're requesting a link, send a personal e-mail that includes:

- your name, your web site's title, and your site's web address;

- the main topic or subtitle of your site;

- a brief description of what on your site would be interesting to the other site's visitors, especially any particular articles or other informative content on your site;

- if appropriate, mention any link you've made to their site, and perhaps a link to the specific page that contains the link;

- reasons why you think a link from their site to yours is appropriate (this is also a good place to mention the high quality of the other site);

- a politely and humbly-worded mention of how you hope that a link from that site to yours would be of mutual benefit;

- some suggested text to accompany the link that describes, in as few words as possible (one line), what visitors will find at your site. This description should distinguish your site from others that the linking site already lists, and should help people know whether the specific information they want is likely to be found at your site. Specific information here will encourage people to visit your site.

- a note that of course the other site's owner can use whatever link text he feels is appropriate;

- your contact information.

Link Exchanges

Personal connections

If you have a really great site, then it's conceivable that even a few enthusiastic visitors could tell one or two friends, and they'll tell two friends, and so on, leading to good site traffic from really interested people. Some of the most well-known sites today started building traffic this way. There's one **very important thing** to remember with these approaches, though -- people do not want to be sold to in most social contexts.

It is **very important** to avoid offending your colleagues, friends, and associates by taking advantage of an informational or social channel to sell a product or service. Even if the product or service is going to make their lives 150% better and you are offering it to the world because you truly believe in it and want to help people, a commercial message in a non-commercial information channel will alienate people, and not only will they not try the service, it will be difficult to establish yourself as anything other than someone who's out to make a buck. What I'm saying here is that it's probably not a good idea to send an e-mail to everyone you know saying "Check out my new FooBar.com site, with the best grockets on the market!"

That said, consider whether you: Are a member of a professional organization with an e-mail mailing list; Are a member of a community group with a mailing list; Have family or friends that might enjoy knowing about your site because they know you; Have existing customers who might find the site helpful or interesting; So, since the direct approach is not generally a good idea, what do you do with these people?

There are some people who care about you and will be interested in a message like:

"Hey, everybody! I finally made a web site for my candy and steel girders business! You can see it at http://foobar.com/"

These people are probably not very numerous, but they may actually be interested enough to look at your site. They may also be extremely valuable in another way: giving you constructive criticism. If you trust their opinions, now would be a good time to ask for feedback, especially if they haven't seen the site while it was in progress -- they will be fresh and will easily see things you'd miss.

The rest of the world will probably not be quite as interested, but still may be intrigued. Yet you don't want to "sell" to them, and you don't want to clutter their e-mail with an announcements in which they aren't interested. What to do?

If you're a member of an organization with an e-mail discussion list (listserv), it's a good idea to find out if they have a policy statement on what kinds of announcements are allowed. Often, there will be no formal policy statement, so you have to get a feel for the group and the kinds of messages that appear there. Your experience over time with the list, or reading the list archives, can be your guide here. If they do allow announcements, great! Make your announcement factual, concise, and humble (but not obsequious), for heaven's sake spell-check it, and maybe even get comments on it from someone else -- perhaps a member of the e-mail list - before sending it out. This is probably not the place for an entire press release, since very few people will read it. Just a few lines will probably be fine. HTML e-mail is probably *not* a good idea, and you should almost certainly avoid sending images in an announcement of this kind. That's what the web site is for, and you're not sending an ad here, just a note to let people know that a new resource is available to them.

For those situations where announcements are not welcome, you can spread the word by sending the messages you'd usually send, but including your site address as part of your e-mail identity. This is discussed in detail below.

Your E-mail Identity

There are two ways to include your web address in every e-mail you send: your e-mail address, and your "signature". We'll talk about exactly how these work in a second, but first a few words on why are they useful.

As mentioned above, you may be a member of an organization, professional or otherwise, with an e-mail discussion list. Every time you send a message to such a list, whether you're answering a question, solving a problem, or asking for information, you send an e-mail message that contains your address and associates you with the content of the message. If your web address is included in each message, it becomes associated with helpful information and your personality. If you send several or a dozen pithy messages per day, that's a decent amount of exposure for your web address, even if it is perhaps to the same people over and over again. They will eventually be able to remember your web address by heart, which will make it extremely easy for them to refer other people to your site.

Another reason to have your e-mail identity set up to reflect your web address is that it helps your current customers, with whom you correspond in e-mail, easily find your site. Assuming you have your own domain name, it will usually make your e-mail address much easier for people to remember. The easier you are to contact, the more likely people are to contact you.

So, how do you do it?

e-mail address

The idea here is to have your e-mail address be your name + your domain name. There are two simple steps to making this work.

Please note that if you don't have your own domain name (such as candyandgirders.com), then this won't be much use to you.

**set up the address**: Get an e-mail address set up by your web developer or web hosting company so that mail sent to the address actually gets to you. For example, if the web site is at candyandgirders.com, you might get the e-mail address joe@candyandgirders.com set up. If you don't know how to do this, just ask your web developer. It's extremely easy to do with almost all web sites, and it shouldn't cost you any more unless you get a phenomenal amount of e-mail. The new address can be set up to forward messages to your current e-mail account, so you won't have to check any additional places to be sure you're getting all your e-mail You may also get additional addresses set up, for example info@candyandgirders.com or webmaster@candyandgirders.com.

**change the address in your e-mail program**: Once the address is set up, configure the software you use for sending e-mail (It may be Outlook Express, Eudora, or another program) to show the new address as your e-mail address. This setting should be under "options", "preferences", or "settings", maybe under "identity". Be sure you don't change server settings, just your e-mail address. For more on this, look in the help for your e-mail software.

There are some people who use only free web-based e-mail services, like HotMail.com. These kinds of services may not allow you to set your e-mail address to be anything but the hotmail.com address. Bear in mind that these services also often attach ads to all messages. Many people find these kinds of messages slightly off-putting and unprofessional, so these kinds of services may not be the best choice for you if e-mail is one way you interact with potential clients.

e-mail signature

An e-mail signature is a little block of text that appears at the bottom of your e-mail messages. You've probably noticed them on other peoples' messages, sometimes blooming into significant blocks of text. You've probably realized that these people don't type all that in each time they write a message. How do they do it?

Again, this probably works best if you use e-mail software on your own computer, rather than a free service like HotMail. How exactly it's done depends on the software in question. If you're not sure, just search the help for your e-mail software for "signature" or "sig file".

The signature itself can be whatever you want, but a note of caution is in order: those honking big blocks of text, with borders or HTML or even images, are actually annoying to many people. It's probably a good idea to keep yours brief and understated. Three lines is usually plenty: your name or company name, your web site's address and title, and maybe a phone number or two. Your e-mail address shouldn't be necessary since it's automatically in every e-mail message anyway, as the "From" header.

You want people to be impressed with you and your service, not distracted by padding at the end your e-mail. Fancy borders made out of plus signs are not necessary -- this is intended as a convenience, and perhaps a subtle reminder, for your correspondent, not a new way to distract them with your advertising. Most people reading your e-mail messages are not going to be interested in reading ad copy or seeing your logo -- they want to relate to a person rather than a commercial enterprise.

Some people have tried to streamline the whole e-mail process by including a closing line in their signature; since it goes at the bottom anyway, they reason, why not put "sincerely, Katy" in there, too? This is, of course, a matter of personal preference, but I'm sure Miss Manners would have a thing or two to say about it. You may wish to close with "Thanks" much of the time, or "Yours", or with just your name or initials.

People frequently ask me how they can make their web address into a clickable link. This is simple. You do not need to write any HTML code or click any special buttons. If you simply start the address with 'http://', most e-mail readers will see a clickable link. For example, http://candyandgirders.com. If, however, you just put candyandgirders.com as the address, most e-mail readers wouldn't make it a clickable link.

One more thing: some web site addresses use 'www' at the beginning, like: www.candyandgirders.com or http://www.candyandgirders.com. For most (though not all) web sites, this is not necessary. You can leave off the 'www' part, and 'http://candyandgirders.com' will work just fine.

E-mail Marketing - Why Not Buy 50,000 Addresses?

*Do* you want to be using the same marketing strategy as the penis-enlargement industry? Do you want your company, your brainchild, in the same mental category as a thousand and one "free money" schemes?

There are many other reasons to avoid this tactic:

- your ISP or web hosting company may very well have a strict policy forbidding mass unsolicited e-mail;

- many if not most of the people who receive your e-mail, and 20 other unsolicited e-mails per day, will be rather annoyed with you;

- to avoid receiving a large number of annoyed messages, it's usually suggested that a spammer use a fake e-mail address as the address the message comes from - in fact, attempting to create a new business relationship with obfuscated contact information;

- it may actually be illegal depending on your location (for example, "in Europe":http://www.cauce.org/pressreleases/20020531.shtml

- unsolicited commercial e-mail is a significant burden on internet infrastructure and puts the burden for paying for advertising on the recipient, rather than the advertiser. Basically, it's pollution.

- People hate it and will be slightly embarrassed to hear you talk about it.

See "Further Resources", below, for more information.

E-mail Lists: the Better Way

After your initial announcements, people will visit your fabulous web site, and they may be interested enough to want to know when you make an update or addition, or when you have a special, or to receive additional information from you whenever you feel like sending it out.

This is the time to start creating one of your greatest assets: your own e-mail and contact list.

You may already have a feature on your web site that allows people to add themselves to your e-mail list. If you don't, you might want to consider adding this feature. A list of people who are truly interested in hearing about your business and products is ... {&&&}

Once you're ready to send an announcement, know how your e-mail software works. People don't want to see 50 to 500 e-mail addresses at the top of your message, so you should probably learn about the "Bcc:" setting in your e-mail software (trust me on this). Observe good e-mail style, keeping your paragraphs short, spell checking *everything*, and the formatting easy to read. Beyond this, it's all about you, your personality, and the great service you're offering at your web site.

Become "An Authority"

Spending money

Banner Ads

"Sponsored Links" on search engines

Other sponsorships

Affiliate Programs

Further Resources

An excellent article that covers much of this same material: "http://www.efuse.com/Grow/guerilla_marketing.html":http://www.efuse.com/Grow/guerilla_marketing.html

Great information on writing press releases:

- "http://www.pertinent.com/pertinfo/business/gebbiePress1.html":http://www.pertinent.com/pertinfo/business/gebbiePress1.html

- "http://www.infoscavenger.com/prtips.htm":http://www.infoscavenger.com/prtips.htm, and

- "http://www.efuse.com/Grow/guerilla_marketing.html":http://www.efuse.com/Grow/guerilla_marketing.html

For more information on why unsolicited bulk e-mail (also known as "spam") is bad, see the "Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail FAQ":http://www.cauce.org/about/faq.shtml for more information on why unsolicited mass e-mail is a bad idea.

---------- Below info is from an online article; intended to remind me of concepts to be incorporated above -----------

On-line Communities:

E-mail lists, web forums, and the like can be great resources for the people who use them. A discussion community focused on your specialty area can be an excellent way to get in touch with a group of people who are very likely interested in what you have to offer. However, you must obey the (sometimes unwritten) social contract of the community to avoid being ostracized.

Establish yourself as a helpful person who knows your stuff. You can include a signature line in your postings or e-mails with contact information, including your e-mail address and web site address. Then you are your own best advertisement.

Posting a message that's just an announcement of your company, product, or service can and will alienate people, who will then never do business with you. Further, they may send or post negative messages to you, or bombard you with messages since you would be a "spammer".

If you're willing to make the time commitment, you might also consider creating your own on-line community by starting your own web forum or e-mail list service...

Traditional marketing

Personal networking

Word-of-mouth can spread quickly on the Web. So one place to start is by talking to your friends and relatives. Not only will you be able to get some immediate traffic but also get friendly feedback. In my first e-mail to my personal network, I asked them to visit my site, give me some feedback, and, if they thought someone else would be interested in the site, forward the e-mail to them. Very quickly I had people visiting the site and giving me feedback.

You also can use your professional network to drive traffic to your site. The trick, of course, is to mention your Web siteURL every two minutes (just kidding - but you get the idea).

Business stationery

Make sure all of your business stationery carries your Website URL - whether it's your business card, letterhead, or whatever. Everything you put in print should include your URL. You could even consider putting your URL on one of those magnetic signs that attaches to your car.

Promotional material

You also can use traditional promotional material to drive traffic to your site. For example, if you are a bookshop, put your URL on bookmarks. You also can use fliers, newspaper ads, radio commercials, etc. I gave a monthly prize to one of the members of the site (someone who'd visited and signed up for our e-mail newsletter) - a bottle of wine. It was a small gesture, but it always thrilled people to get a gift. That also helped spread the word.

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