Too many web marketers work on the if-you-build-it-they-will-come model. They won’t. Once you build a Web site, you must give them a reason to come. A Web site is a passive form of marketing: providing a signboard that points visitors to your products and services. To be most effective, a Web site should be used in conjunction with seven active forms of marketing, which we will examine briefly in this article. Just how do small business people on a limited budget entice visitors to their Web site?
1. Advertise your Web site to Web search engines that index the Web, such as Yahoo, Lycos, WebCrawler, and InfoSeek. The actual registration process can be deceptively simple. A service called SubmitIt! (http://www.submit-it.com) provides a way to submit information to approximately 15 of the most important indexes. If you do this late at night when Internet traffic is at its lowest, you can transmit your business’s online address and description to all of these within three-quarters of an hour. Done right, a person seeking a consulting engineer in Northern California with experience in large electrical systems will quickly locate your name. Widget customers can pick you out from the increasing crowd of online vendors.
The danger is that the untutored can construct a carelessly-written 25-word or 200-character marketing description that blows their opportunity to be seen by vast blocks of potential customers. These 25 words must be written to include the chief keywords by which customers would locate you. If you want to change your description in a month or two, it takes much longer than an hour to contact each of the services separately and then convince or nag them into making changes.
You can pay modest amounts to several services to perform this important task for you. For example, my company, Wilson Internet Services, offers as part of our website packages to carefully register your Web site with the most important indexes. See also services available for a fee at AAA Internet Promotions and WebPromote (http://www.webpromote.com).
2. Give them a good reason to come. A tried-and-true marketing approach is to offer something of value for free. A number of well-financed corporate Web sites offer entertaining fare that changes constantly. While most small business Web marketers can’t afford to compete, you can afford to offer valuable information. If you take the time to provide up-to-date information about your industry, for example, you’ll find people returning again and again to your site, each time increasing their chances of doing business with you.
3. Find industry-wide linking pages and negotiate reciprocal links to and from their Web pages. Your trade association probably lists members. Several online craft centers, for example, offer free links to other crafters. If you are a hotel, be sure to get a link with “All the Hotels on the Web.” Consultants will seek links with the expert marketplace or try for a listing in the virtual trade show. The entire list can seem endless but specific to each industry. Surf the net enough to find the key sites for your field, and then seek links there.
But be judicious in your use of outgoing links. You’ve just got those people in your door; don’t quickly send them away again.
4. Purchase Web advertising, usually a rectangle ad with a clickable link to your site on a carefully-selected, high-volume Web site. A certain percentage of their thousands of visitors will explore your Web site and hopefully like what they find. A whole industry has sprung up to act as brokers for such ads. A couple to consider are WPRC (http://www.wprc.com) and WebConnect (http://www.webconnect.com). Small business people will need to find ways to test the effect of specific ads on the bottom line, perhaps by sending people from each ad to a different Web page “front door” so you can monitor traffic from each ad.
5. Become active in several of the thousands of Internet news groups and mailing lists. Find the groups most likely to be frequented by your potential customers — groups can be very narrowly targeted — and join in the discussion. You might find groups that relate to your industry by doing a bit of research with DejaNews (http://www.dejanews.com), which searches messages about particular topics or companies voiced in thousands of groups and mailing lists.
“Lurk” for a few weeks so you understand the particular culture of the group you are targeting. Then find ways to add constructive comments to the discussion. At the bottom of each message, include a “signature — a 4- to 8-line mini-advertisement with your product, phone number, and Web address. Every time you contribute to the discussion, your mini-ad is seen by hundreds. You’ll find considerable fruit this way, but like anything, it comes in response to hard work and persistence.
Resist the temptation to send bulk e-mail messages to dozens of news groups — “spamming” in Internet parlance. People do it, but while it may bring customers, it doesn’t offer the solid reputation and respect which will build your business in the long run.
6. Make your Web site part of one or more of the many “malls.” Businesses in physical shopping malls benefit from the traffic flow of the multitudes who are window shopping. The same can be true online.
Some malls only include businesses that subscribe to a particular Internet Service Provider (ISP) or pay a fee or percentage of their gross revenues. Others take any business that fits their particular criteria. Dave Taylor, for example, developed The Internet Mall (http://www.internet-mall.com/), a collection of upwards of 30,000+ businesses that meet under one roof. The mall is illusory, however, since businesses in the mall are hosted on separate ISP sites all over the world. Perhaps the largest mall, if you will, is Yahoo (http://www.yahoo.com), which doesn’t charge anything, but gets its revenues through advertising. Make sure you have a good link there.
7. Include your e-mail and Web addresses on all your company’s print literature, stationery, and display advertising. If people believe they can find out more about your products or services by looking online, many will do so.
There you have it, seven important ways to increase traffic to your company’s Web site. If you use most or all of these forms of marketing, the chances are that two years from now, you’ll be bragging about your foresight in developing a Web site when you did, rather than trashing Web marketing as just another fad where you threw good money after bad.