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How to Promote a Website

This article discusses Free Internet Site Promotion. So how to promote Your website? Many people believe that if you open a Web site, customers show up automatically. It just ain't so. You must drive customers to your site. That requires some work and a plan.

Take the scary but true story of Planmaker Business Plan Software. The people who run the company heard that more computer software is sold on the Internet than any other type of product. They figured a Web site would be an easy way to increase sales, but after their site opened, they weren't so sure. In the first month and a half, it attracted only ten visitors! Total sales were zero.

How could they turn this around? The company hired Webster Group International, a company that specializes in driving traffic to Web sites. Webster Group listed Planmaker's site in Internet directories and on search engines. It persuaded Web sites that deal with software or business to add links to Planmaker's site. It submitted the site to as many reviewers as possible. Result: In four months, Planmaker generated tens of thousands of dollars in sales from its Web site and also increased sales through retail channels.

Whether you hire experts or do the work yourself, there are nine good ways to lure visitors to your site, listed here in order of importance, plus a cautionary note about another that's likely to backfire:

1. Get prominent listings on search engines and in Web directories. The key word here is prominent. When Google returns 70,000 listings to someone searching for your type of product, you don't want to be buried on the bottom. You want to be in the first page of results. For most Web sites, search engines and directories are the most important sources of qualified visitors. They account for 70 percent or more of the visitors to many sites.

2. Rent or collect "opt-in" e-mail addresses and e-mail invitations to your prospects. "Opt-in" lists consist of people who have asked to receive e-mail about a specific subject. One country music site rented three separate e-mail lists of country music fans, combined them, and e-mailed an announcement about a country music contest. Within eight hours, 11.6 percent of
recipients visited the site. A week later, 30 percent had visited. E-mail lists like these are one of the best ways to build traffic quickly.

3. Beg or swap links to your site from other sites your prospects visit. Associations, educational sites, and other companies are likely candidates for links. What other Web sites do your prospects visit? See if you can get a text link from those sites to yours. Over time, they could send you a steady stream of highly qualified visitors. Sometimes you can get a link from another site just
by asking. Try that approach first. Most of the time, however, you'll scratch their backs and they'll scratch yours as each of you adds links to the other. If the other site's visitors are valuable enough to you, you might even offer to pay for a link.

4. Promote your site URL off-line everywhere you can. You've seen other people's URLs (Web site addresses) on buses, billboards, t-shirts, and TV commercials. You can do the same with yours. Put it on your letterhead, business cards, and checks--anyplace you print a phone number. Make sure all your employees include your Web address in their e-mail signature files.

5. Send e-mail and "snail mail" press releases to announce your site. When you launch your site, add something, or hold a special activity on your site, you can generate traffic through press coverage. Press releases are cheap, and they can produce stories in both electronic and traditional media. Those stories send a temporary burst of visitors to you, and the leads are qualified because the respondents are interested in the topic of your release.

6. Swap or buy banner advertisements on other sites. As opposed to text links (#3, above), banner ads deliver short-term bursts of visitors to your site. That can be expensive, but there are services that swap banner space on your site in exchange for displaying your banners on other sites. Swapped banners usually generate less-qualified traffic than targeted banner ads, but they cost much less.

7. Pay commissions to affiliates who send customers to you. You may have noticed that some Web sites have recommended reading lists, and when you click on the title, you are sent to a page selling that book on Amazon.com. This is no accident. If you buy the book from that page, Amazon pays a commission to the site that referred you. Those commissions have resulted in more than 50,000 sites selling millions of books for Amazon. Obviously, that method of driving traffic is suitable only if you, like Amazon, sell your products on the Web. An affiliate program of that sort is more complicated to set up than other traffic-driving methods, but it delivers the most rewarding visitors of all: paying customers. You don't pay for "click-through lookie-loos"; you pay only when somebody buys your product.

8. Carefully promote your site on blogs and forums. The key word here is carefully. forums can be worthwhile, but only if you move slowly and keep your eyes open. If you don't watch your step, this method can be the quickest way of alienating your prospects instead of attracting them. The reason is that online forums tend to attract the people who are passionately interested in a topic. If you become a valued contributor to a discussion, not selling your products overtly but just answering questions, other participants may spread good electronic word-of-mouth about your company. This technique often translates into increased traffic on your Web site--and sales. Conversely, if you pepper online discussions with sales announcements, participants will get angry and drive traffic away from you.

9. Buy sponsorships of sites or pages that your prospects visit. Whereas banners are short-term traffic-drivers, sponsorships are long-term, suitable for driving ongoing traffic. You sponsor a page, an article, or a section of a site for a specified time period, say a month or a year, perhaps longer. You usually pay per time period, regardless of how many visitors see the content that you sponsor. If you have chosen to sponsor content that's related to your prospects' needs, the response should be strong, and your site will be swamped with qualified visitors. Another benefit of sponsorship: It blocks competitors from running banners in your sponsored area.

Tip: Don't spam your prospects! All those e-mail messages you receive promising, "One million e-mail addresses for $20!!!" and similar stuff fall into the spam category. If you buy or rent a list like this, beware. One marketer purchased 27 million addresses but, after removing duplicates, found that only 2.2 percent of them were actual addresses, and half of those were unusable. The names on such lists are not selected because they are interested in your product or service, so they are marginal prospects at best. The people have not asked to receive e-mail, so many will be irritated by your message, and some may retaliate. If you want to grow your business by building relationships with repeat buyers, spam is not for you. This conclude the subject of how to promote a website.

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