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Better Websiting: Super Site Promotion

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Make a Bulletin Board

How do you get a bulletin board on your site? There are a number of options. For instance, FreeBB offers free bulletin board hosting in exchange for your allowing their ads on it. PHPBB offers the same service ad-free on your own site if you're tech savvy enough to install it on your own server. Wordpress.com will host your blog, which can double as a community site in that it allows visitors to comment on your posts and contribute articles. Download Wordpress.org (also called Cafelog or B2) if you want to install it yourself. PHPNuke is a content management system (CMS) which offers blog-style article posting, surveys, and other community-building features. The immensely popular "news for nerds" site Slashdot is an example of a CMS in action.

By the way, if you're looking for a website host for a good price, I highly recommend Startlogic. I have sites hosted with them and am impressed with the offerings they have, including simple activation of B2, PHPNuke, PHPBB, and much more at very reasonable rates.

As you can see, there are many ways to form a community on your site without having to program a discussion board or similar system from scratch. It'll take some time to get to the point that the site grows and steadily increases in popularity on its own, but in the end your work will be well worth it.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Forum Community

A forum, also called a discussion board or bulletin board system, has the potential to bring a great amount of quality traffic to your site. This form of community-building can greatly increase your site's stickiness -- making people want to return frequently. People come back to see what others have written and to make their own contributions.

This can be helpful as an amateur or professional troubleshooting forum, a place to share news about the site's topic, or have a variety of other uses. The key, like with your website, is to focus on a niche area not found frequently, with the potential for a large number of interested visitors.

Besides getting information from visitors who register on your site, you can also use the forum to get feedback from a user group you know is already interested in the topic. This can be both indirect through studying users' posts, and direct, specifically asking their input with questions, surveys, and polls.

A message board also benefits your site and business in the form of free content. A popular board continuously generates information from people who enjoy writing about the board's subject. New visitors are attracted to these frequent changes and may also find the site's forum through search engines, then proceed to the main site. Forums are another valuable aspect of a thriving website.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Newsletter Content

So you've decided you want to create a mailing list to keep in touch with your visitors. Now the question remains: What's the best material to put into it?

Start off with a catchy title in your email's subject line that hooks the reader ("Win a Trip For Two", "Save 50% On Our Top Brands This Weekend"). When they bite, let them find content that makes them look forward to reading it, not be ready to hit the "Delete" key. Add value to your newsletter by including something of interest to them: unbiased product reviews, links to similar (non-competing) sites, how-to articles... The list goes on and on.

Be careful what you include in your newsletter, whatever its purpose. People don't only want the "hard sell," where your letter is nothing but a sales pitch and list of products. If that's all you have, they may ignore your mailings, or worse, report your letter as spam. Being known as a spammer is a critical blow to any legitimate business.

You can find a great deal of free content simply by searching the Web. There are databases of articles available at no charge to be put into newsletters, just so the authors can promote their work. You can also find useful information from other websites. Just be aware of copyright issues. Always give credit in the form of a link to your source and never take more than a paragraph or two without permission unless they explicitly say you can.

Make sure you include several of the following in your newsletter. Starred (*) items are essential:

  • *your website address(es)
  • *an easy way to subscribe or unsubscribe
  • *copyright information
  • *the email address of your company contact(s)
  • personal introductory note
  • links to any products or sites mentioned
  • note telling readers to forward the letter to people they think will be interested
  • shortened privacy policy ("We'll never sell your email address...") and a link to the full one

Wow your subscribers with a great newsletter and they'll spread the word, driving traffic to your site.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Make a Great Newsletter

Mailing list, ezine, members' update, newsletter -- call it what you will, it is essential for your website to have a method of contacting your interested visitors. It can be an invaluable asset for a variety of reasons.

Even if subscribers have never bought a single item from you, once they give you permission to contact them, they provide you with a resource which is useful in several ways. The first aspect is obvious: Instead of being a random person who stumbles onto your site and bounces away again, someone who joins your update letter gives you the opportunity to increase your brand recognition and market your products and services to them, letting them know when the hottest and newest items appear. Having your name in mind makes them more likely to return to your site or brick-and-mortar store.

Besides simply being another sales ad, the interactive nature of mailing lists can be used to your benefit for research purposes. Your list of subscribers becomes a free, targeted focus group you can use to determine your customer demographic, what your customers want and need, suggestions from users about how to improve your business, and much more important information.

There are a number of free mailing list services available which you can use to maintain your subscribers with ease. One that I've used to good effect is offered by Bravenet. It has a small ad at the bottom of each mailing, but the list system works quite well, providing an easy way for visitors to join or leave and a simple newsletter creation template. They also have a number of other services, from guestbooks to counters and more, most at no cost whatsoever.

Use your mailing list wisely, always include content your readers will find interesting -- not just what you want them to buy -- and respect the fact that they've trusted you with their personal information. Don't break that trust. Done correctly, your newsletter can be a great contribution to your site's success.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Your Site's Personality

Whether intentional or not, your website conveys an image of your company, a personality, to your readers. It can be one of excellence, playfulness, carelessness, professionalism, or a number of others. Each one gives visitors a certain sense of your business which affects their decision whether or not to buy from you.

A number of companies try to portray themselves online as very businesslike and formal in order to win customers. This approach may actually be counter-productive, though: Many people are not searching the Web for a faceless corporation, but for a friendly person with good advice on their subject of interest. Instead of picking a book off a store shelf, they want a friend to recommend it to them.

Your company can exploit this fact by making your content conversational instead of like a brochure. While remaining professional, use a style of chatting with a customer, not giving them a dull, jargon-riddled copy of your company manual. Write directly to your target audience, be they computer programmers or stay-at-home moms. In addition, don't just list your product descriptions and prices (though these are also necessary). Give potential customers the information they need to make their purchasing decision: product reviews, comparisons with the competition, testimonials from happy buyers, and so forth.

By using these strategies, you give visitors the information they're searching for and they reward you by purchasing your product or service. Everybody wins.

[Thanks to Luke from ChristianNerds for suggesting this topic.]

Friday, April 01, 2005

Using Search Engines Effectively

One key factor in making your online presence known to the public is to register your site with the most popular search engines and directories. This is because the vast majority of people searching for websites immediately go to these to find their information. You don't have to worry about submitting to thousands of such sites, though. A handful of giants -- headed by Google, MSN, and Yahoo! -- take up the lion's share of searches, and also spread their results to a number of smaller engines. The rest really aren't worth your time.

Just having your site listed isn't enough, though. You have to use the keywords many people are searching for, and also which thousands of sites before you haven't yet used. Both of these considerations are vital. A site with hugely popular keywords which are already listed on a hundred thousand other sites is often as worthless as one with top rankings in a keyword phrase nobody searches for. Keyword optimization, which is basically the process of focusing your page on the most relevant topic keywords, is also important.

How can you know which keywords are the best to use? That's where you need to dive into some research. Like your overall site niche, your keywords have to be targeted to a certain subject or group of people. You can get an idea of what's already been done by using online tools such as Wordtracker and the Overture Keyword Selector. Overture is actually a search for what keywords would be best to bid on for placement, but also works to show you what keyword phrases have already been used often.

Wordtracker is an excellent keyword search service which offers the best tools I've found for finding keywords to use on my website. It offers a way to find frequently-searched phrases and then employs a formula to determine how likely your search words are to bring in traffic. A free trial is available, but is limited in that it only has one search feature and never shows you the keywords which would have the maximum effectiveness. In the paid version, which begins at about $8 for one day's unlimited use, you have access to a great variety of search methods and features. This is in addition to finding the keyword phrases which have the absolute highest potential to bring you great results. I highly recommend this service to anyone wanting to increase their site's traffic, no matter what its focus.

$ Webmaster bonus: If your site's content is related to website design or similar topics, you'll want to consider signing up for the Wordtracker affiliate program. When you join, you can earn money for the life of the customers you refer!

Thursday, March 31, 2005

General Strategies

Some Web marketing and promotion techniques may seem intuitive once they are discovered, but it's amazing how many people still overlook them. Here are a few simple ways to improve your site and your understanding of it.

  • Cross-pollinate: Put your website address on your brochures, paper ads, commercials, and other media. This is an easy, cheap ad for your site. In addition, including your traditional contact information such as your phone number, postal mail address, and so forth on your website allows the customer to contact you in the way they feel most comfortable.

  • Use your current content: If you're stumped on what to put on your website, chances are you already have content you can use. Do you have company brochures? Flyers? Informational papers you hand out to potential customers? All of these can be transferred to your website, autoresponder, frequently-asked questions, and so forth with ease.

  • Content Organization: Certain techniques may boost your signup ratio simply by the way your content is organized. You can give the basic info found on all your brochures to all website customers, then include a members-only section for people who register on your site for free. In it, include more detailed information, free samples, helpful advice, and other exclusive, special information for your valued members.

  • Plan frequent revisions: A website is worth little more than a pile of company literature if it doesn't change often. You should keep your site current with all the latest information and news on your company, including anything you hand out to potential clients at your brick-and-mortar building and possibly more. Don't abandon your site or let it grow obsolete. If you do, you'll lose any gain you might have had in putting the website. If you neglect your website, they'll expect you to neglect their business in the same way.

  • Set reasonable goals: The end result may be that your website produces few direct sales. That doesn't mean it's worthless, though. It could be a valuable resource for your customers and a way for them to gain knowledge about your products and services before they call you or walk in to actually order. This also reduces your printing and question-answering costs. It allows customers to consider your offerings even before or after business hours.

For more info: The Internet Marketing Plan: The Complete Guide to Instant Web Presence - Kim M. Bayne

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Begin With a Plan

Now you know that companies must be innovative and savvy of the current trends on the internet. Where do you start, though? What's the first step toward breakthrough success?

While the Web is constantly evolving, the underlying foundation of online commerce is still the website. Before you go hire a designer and put your site address on all your business cards, though, you have to do some brainstorming. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why do I need a website?
    What good will a site be to your potential customers? Will they use it to get information, communicate with you or other interested people, buy products and services online? Any of these goals are viable, but you need to decide what will help your customers and solve their problems. Think from the customer's standpoint, not that of the business.

  • What will be my unique selling point?
    Chances are that what you're doing has already been done on the Web. When your viewers can go to your competitor with a click of the mouse, you need a way to draw them to you and make them stay. What can you do better than anyone else? Give exceptional one-on-one service? Offer the greatest ease of use? Provide a previously-undiscovered solution to a pressing problem? Find your best advantage and emphasize it in your marketing efforts.

  • What is my niche?
    Since the Web is almost universal, it's going to be extremely difficult to build your company for large general categories like selling books or real estate. Instead, you have to find a subcategory -- rare books or oceanfront property in Rhode Island, for example -- and carve your niche. Even if you have fewer visitors overall, those who do come will be interested in exactly what you're offering. Done right, that translates into a big payoff.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Super Site Promotion

The introduction to Evan Schwartz' Digital Darwinism includes an apt metaphor for the state of business on the internet. In it, he describes how we are beyond the times of businesses founded on a simple, untested idea like selling a product. Winners must "invent breakthrough business tactics especially suited to their swiftly shifting surroundings."

Companies that want to prosper on the Web "must constantly adapt to their changing environment or face extinction.... [They have to] grow in a profitable direction and develop new skills and traits or perish." You have to be aware of the latest developments and discover your own innovations in order to exploit them for your company's success.

On the other hand, you must also know the general trends of websites so that you don't confuse your visitors by using tactics totally foreign to them. Menu interfaces must be intuitive, links look and act as expected (clicked to open instead of opening by hovering over a word, for instance), and so forth.

Hardly any of this even takes into account what you need to do to make a person sign up to your newsletter or buy a product. You can work countless hours on your site, but if it doesn't make an impact on people, you won't succeed on the Web. That's why you need this reference. In it, you'll find proven strategies for increasing your site's effectiveness and popularity without breaking the bank. Bookmark it and return often for frequent tips on these and related issues.