Once you've committed time and money into creating a website, you'll want make sure it's visited by the audience you're trying to reach. There are a number of ways to market your site and drive traffic to it.
How Much Marketing Do You Need?
The extent of your website marketing activities will depend on how your website fits into your overall marketing strategy for your business. If you're planning an e-commerce site that will be the sole source of sales and income for your business, then marketing your site will be critical.
On the other hand, if your website is a basic marketing site that isn't a significant source of referrals and doesn't play a major role in marketing your business, don't worry too much about actively promoting it.
That said, all businesses should do simple things to increase traffic, such as including your website URL on your business cards, flyers, any ads it runs, and other materials it produces.
Work the Search Engines
Lots of people will find -- or not find -- your site by using online search engines, where they type in the words they're searching for. You should work on search engine optimization to make sure that your site turns up when a potential reader conducts a search. Here are two good places to go for tips on making your site stand out to search engines:
- Search Engine Watch (www.searchenginewatch.com) is an online newsletter that offers comprehensive, practical tips about making a site that search engines can find. There are also some good links for Webmasters here.
- The Web Marketing Information Center (www.wilsonWeb.com) has several articles, including one called "A Web Marketing Checklist: 23 Ways to Promote Your Site," by Ralph Wilson.
Develop Inbound Links to Your Site
One of the best ways to drive traffic to your website is to develop inbound links to your site. Besides the obvious traffic-boosting effect of having many other sites link to yours, another benefit is that sites with many inbound links will rank more highly in search engine results. Here are some simple methods for getting other sites to link to yours:
Create content at your site that other sites will want to link to. This is sometimes called "link baiting." Taking this a step further, you can share your site's content by licensing it to other sites, with a requirement that the other site provide a link back to your site.
Include sharing and syndication buttons at your site. The Web is poised for a major evolution. The trend is toward sites that allow users to facilitate networking with others who share the same interests, and sites that customize the information users receive.
For example, users of sites such as MySpace or Facebook can easily share their favorite articles with other MySpace or Facebook members. Other sites like Digg or del.icio.us, sometimes called "social bookmarking" sites, allow users to rate articles in a public forum. Google and other sites allow users to "subscribe" to blogs and other information sources, aggregating headlines from selected sites onto one page. The list goes on and on.
One way to take advantage of this trend is to include buttons at your site that allow users to share your content or receive it in a feed. For example, if your site features a how-to article on home repair, you could include a Facebook button, allowing a user to click on it and quickly share the article with their Facebook contacts.
Write for other sites. If you have expertise in a certain area, find online publications who are looking for writers -- you'd be surprised how many there are. You may not get paid for your writing but can usually get a link to your site. Remember that it's best to be brief when writing for websites -- usually 500 words or less.
Submit press releases to online newswires. Sending press releases to local reporters and editors is a great way to get exposure for your business. On the Web, you can submit press releases to distribution services such as www.prweb.com or www.sourcewire.com which, for a fee, can get your release picked up by Google News and Yahoo! News, as well as hundreds of news outlets. When your press release includes one or more links back to your website, this can result in quality inbound links.
List your business in online directories. There are loads of directories online, grouped by industry type, location, or other criteria. As long as the directories are reputable and not "link farms" (see Warning below), this can be a great way to develop inbound links. Some directories charge fees, so do some research before deciding where to list. Pick the ones that look like they get the most traffic and that fit into your budget.
Warning -- search engines include the quality of inbound links in their algorithms. To favorably influence your search engine rankings, inbound links must come from other reputable sites -- not from shady sites such as "link farms," which are meaningless Web pages with hundreds or thousands of links created by unethical Web marketing firms trying to trick search engines. Quality inbound links are ones from legitimate sites like online publications, trade associations, or other businesses in related industries.
Join membership organizations that provide an online directory listing. Keep in mind that some organizations, such as your local chamber of commerce or other trade organizations, will list your business in their online and print directories as a benefit of membership. Again, evaluate the membership fees and estimated distribution of the directories before deciding on which ones to join.
Use Advertisement Exchanges
An organized program of exchanging ads is a way for sites with modest traffic to break into an ad revenue business.
How ad exchange programs work. You join an advertisers' group, called an exchange, and trade banners or other ads on your site with other exchange members. You specify where you want to run your banners, and the exchange takes care of all the bookkeeping. Members get detailed reports about when and where their ads were run so that they can measure their effectiveness.
Each member makes available slightly more ad space than they use themselves, with the exchange selling the excess inventory for a small fee to other advertisers. That's how the exchanges make enough money to cover their operating expenses.
Finding ad exchange programs. You can find listings for advertising exchanges by using your search engine and plugging in terms such as "banner exchange", "link exchange", or "advertising exchange". Exchanges are free to join and use, making them a risk-free and sensible way to go.
Promote Your Website Offline
Don't neglect offline ways to publicize your website:
- send press releases and emails about interesting features on your site to print as well as online media in your niche
- list your Web address wherever you also list yourself: business directories, professional associations, and chambers of commerce, and
- speak at trade shows or conventions.
To learn more about creating a website for your business and other important information you'll need to launch a business, read The Small Business Start-Up Kit: A Step-by-Step Legal Guide (Nolo), by Peri H. Pakroo.