Generating Traffic for Your Web Site

You can't make money on the web if nobody knows about your web site.

Even the best web business, with the most carefully crafted business model, is useless without one critical component - visitors. Every commercial business on the web faces the challenge of getting people to go to their web site. Today, many of the web businesses that haven't met that challenge have gone out of business. Others, starting up in today's post-boom Internet market, will soon fall by the wayside.

In the midst of the dot-com boom, a lot of companies spent vast amounts of money on advertising, most of which was ineffective. Many of those companies ignored one of the most effective web advertising strategies in existence - links.

Yes, links to your site from other websites, especially complementary ones.

We'll take a look at some of the advertising ideas and gimmicks that failed, then we'll explore the power of links to bring visitors to a web site.

Doomed Promotional Efforts

Advertising is the art of getting people to do something that you want them to do...like buying your product or going to your web site so that they can buy your product. Over the past few years, we've seen some startling bad advertising efforts from a prodigious number of Internet startups. Here are a few examples of the types of advertising that fizzled:

  • Superbowl Ads: Quick, name any Internet company that ran a Superbowl advertisement besides Monster.com and HotJobs.com. You probably can't name one, or if you can, you probably don't remember what they sell. It's probable that the only Internet companies for which those ads made sense were HotJobs.com and Monster.com.

  • Flooz Man: Flooz.com, an online gift service, sent a man wearing a superhero costume to wander around Washington D.C.'s subway stations advertising the services of their company. This probably was not an effective way to reach people in the Washington area, let alone the rest of the world.

  • The Naked CEO: Beyond.com CEO, Mark Breier, was interviewed in the nude on CNBC to generate publicity for his ailing dot-com.

  • Pets.com: This online company spent money hand-over-fist to take the position as the top supplier of pet-related products online, spending a fortune on television spots for its ubiquitous sock puppet "mascot."

The only successful companies in the above list were Monster.com and HotJobs.com. Most of the dot-coms that ran SuperBowl ads went out of business. Even HotJobs was purchased by a larger company, Yahoo. Flooz.com and Beyond.com held out to the bitter end, but eventually succumbed. Finally, Pets.com closed its doors suddenly and unexpectedly when its venture capitalists withdrew any further funding.

All of these failed companies failed for one simple reason. They essentially spent more money on getting vistors to come to their site than they could ever realize from the purchases that those visitors would make.

How Much Would You Pay For a Permanent Advertisement?

Most web businesses seem to ignore one of the simplest advertising mechanisms of all - other sites that link to your site. Think of it this way. Each link is a permanent advertisement for your site.

Television ads, radio ads and newspaper ads cost money, appear for a while and then go away. But those links are still there, funneling traffic to your site. Day after day. Week after week.

After studying the web statistics of some past clients, it appears that their web sites received an average of about five unique visitors a day as the result of each link to their site. The more complementary the other site is, of course, the better. For example, a resume writing service that had links to a career site could be expected to generate more visitors for the career site than a site about carpentry.

Let's do the math. One link on a complementary site generates five visitors per day, 35 visitors a week and about 150 visitors a month. If you have a 100 links to your site from other complementary sites, then that translates into 15,000 visitors a month.

This turns into 180,000 visitors per year. That may not be Yahoo traffic, but it's still a lot of visitors. Your challenge is to give those users the kind of compelling content, service or prices that will bring them back again and again.

The Google Factor

Then there's the Google factor, named after the online search site, Google. Search engines are constantly competing to provide users with the most relevant search results. So, let's imagine that you're looking for detailed information about how to build a deck for your house. It would be nice to do a search and have the best, most authoritative web sites on the subject bubble to the top of your search results.

Well, Google found a way to do this.

Google search engine specialists noticed that the best web sites on a particular subject were generally referenced, or linked to, more often by other sites. In other words, Google could rate the relevancy of a web site by examining how popular it was, as determined by how may sites linked to it.

So, it's not just enough that links are permanent advertisements for your web site. But if you can build a "best-of-breed" web site that's referenced by lots of other sites, search engines may rate your site as more relevant, driving even more traffic to your site.

How Do You Get Links To Your Site?

So, links are looking pretty good as a way to drive traffic to your web site. Excellent! But how do you get those links?

Here are a few tactics that can be used to generate links to your site:

1. Search Engines: Search engines are the first source of links that you should target - your site needs to be listed. Register your site manually with the top ten search engines, particularly the largest ones, Yahoo and Google. Use an automated service to submit your site to the rest of the search engines in the universe. There are many such systems around; most web hosting companies also offer this as a service.
 
2. Reverse Searches: Use your competitors to help you find complementary sites. Use a reverse search to find out which sites are linking to your competitors. Then contact those sites and see if they'll link to you.

You can do a reverse search with some of the major search engines, including Google. For example, with Google, you can do a reverse search on Amazon.com by typing the following text into the search box: link:www.amazon.com. A list of sites that link to Amazon.com will be displayed. The total number of links found is displayed near the top of the search results.

 
3. Online Promotional Kit: Make it easy for complementary sites to link to your site. Include a web page on your site that provides approved marketing materials for use by other sites. Have standard 468x60, 120x60 and 88x31 banners ready for use by these complementary sites. For those that just want to provide you with a text link, have a marketing blurb for your site ready for their use; your marketing blurb will probably be better than what they would come up with independently.
 
4. Web Rings: A web ring is a list of sites on a particular topic, such as knitting. As part of the web ring, you place some navigational buttons on your site that allow users to navigate to the next and previous sites in the web ring. This allows users to quickly and easily view other sites on the same topic.

The downside to web rings is that they look somewhat amateurish, which is why you don't see them on commercial sites as a general rule. They also don't differentiate between good sites and mediocre sites within the list. Your site may be great, but sometimes web rings seem to group your site with lesser sites that are likely to get more traffic from you than vice versa.

One solution to using web rings is to create a landing page on your web site which has the web ring's buttons. This web page should include a well-organized set of links to all of your site's top features. This web page would also be the only web page on your site that would have the web ring's buttons on it, allowing you to participate in the web ring without experiencing some of the drawbacks.

 
5. Affiliate Programs: An affiliate program essentially pays another site to link to your site. You can define an affiliate program in many different ways. Some pay based on the number of click-throughs, i.e. the number of people who actually clicked on a banner or link and came to your site. Others, such as Amazon.com, pay a percentage of any purchases made by an incoming visitor from an affiliate. A carefully crafted affiliate program can generate a substantial amount of traffic.

These are just a few of the ways that you can get other sites to link to your web site. The techniques described can easily be used in conjunction with each other. For example, previous companies that I've worked with hired interns to generate traffic. The interns were taught to do reverse searches on competitors, provided with a couple of well-written marketing email messages and given the task of soliciting links from complementary sites.



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