This excerpt is part of Entrepreneur.com's Second-Quarter Startup Kit which explores the fundamentals of starting up in a wide range of industries.
In Start Your Own e-Business, the staff at Entrepreneur Press and writer Rich Mintzer explain how to build a dotcom business that will succeed. In this book, you'll find recipes for success, road maps that pinpoint the hazards, and dozens of interviews with dotcom entrepreneurs who've proved they’ve got what it takes to survive in this sometimes fickle marketplace. In this edited excerpt, the authors discuss why using email signatures, online discussion groups and other marketing tactics can help increase traffic to your site.
The tough reality is, no matter how great your site is, chances are slim that a customer will randomly happen on to your site. So it’s imperative that you use a variety of strategies to get your website noticed by the nearly 2.5 billion people who now surf the web. They make up over one-third of the planet’s population.
Winning visitors becomes a matter of creative, persistent marketing. The good news is that it’s still the little things that will bring plenty of traffic your way. There are fundamental steps that too many businesses neglect. For instance? You should always put your URL and a reason to visit your website on all printed matter, including your business cards. You should also mention what people will get when they visit your site, such as a newsletter or a list of “Top 10 Tips” or some type of content that will pique their interest. That substantially increases visitors, and eventually visitors become customers and/or subscribers.
An email signature is also an especially powerful and absolutely free tool. Create a signature with a link to your website in it and have it automatically attached to every one of your outgoing emails. It takes only a few seconds to create an email signature, and it may bring in visitors to your site every day.
Another low-cost traffic builder is online discussion groups and chats. Where appropriate, give out your URL. Look for places in which you can join in discussions on topics that relate to what you sell, but don’t be a salesman. Be knowledgeable, show your expertise, provide helpful solutions, and point out great articles on the topic. Eventually, people will read your profile or ask how you know so much and then you can mention that you work in the industry. Make people want to come to you, visit your site, and buy. That’s what inbound marketing is all about. You put yourself out there, and people come to you, rather than the old-school advertising approach of chasing down customers and hitting them over the head with your advertising messages.
Similar advice is true for social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+. You’ll want to create a profile for your business, get active in the groups that cater to your web audience, and befriend other like-minded businesses and people. Like any community-oriented activity online, you don’t want to cross the line into spam. Only “friend” people when it makes sense. And keep your profiles updated. If you’ll be participating in real-world events with your business, put that in the “events” section on your Facebook page, for example. If you’ve updated a section of your site or added a new product or service, broadcast that on your Twitter feed to instantly alert your audience. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and other social media platforms are ideal ways to draw traffic to your website with links and content that tie into your site.
Another big-time traffic builder for any retail website is posting items for sale on the major auction and marketplace sites, such as eBay, Yahoo! and Amazon. Those sites let you identify yourself to viewers, and a few dollars spent on highlighting your items on those sites may just bring in lots of traffic from surfers seeking more information. Many small etailers tell me their entire advertising budget consists of less than $100 monthly spent on eBay, but they're nonetheless seeing traffic counts above 500 daily, with most of those viewers coming via eBay. Even if you sell those specific goods at no profit, the traffic increase your site may experience could well justify your efforts by leading to additional, or future, sales.
For many businesses, good old email may be the surest and certainly the cheapest tool for building traffic. And it gets results: Customized email can generate response rates upward of 6 percent.
A good way to get folks to opt in to your email list, which, of course, they'll have the option of opting out of, is to offer a free monthly email newsletter. Effective newsletters usually mix news about trends in your field with tips and updates on sales or special pricing. Whatever you do, keep it short. Create interesting lists, give them tidbits, factoids, trivia, or anything they can digest quickly. People don't even want to bother scrolling down, so give them as much as you can in the preview screen with a little more below the line. The sides and corners are for promoting your products and services.
Another key: Include hyperlinks so interested readers can, with a single click, go directly to your site and find out more about a topic of interest. And, if you provide great content, add “forward to a friend” so they can spread the word about your business.
Always think viral with online marketing. Whether you're emailing a newsletter or using Facebook or Twitter, you want to encourage others to spread the word, since word-of-mouth marketing is the best possible means of no-cost marketing. It is also how you use the power of social media to grow your following.