No matter how cool your site or how fabulous your product, you're not going to generate enough sales to make your business viable unless you can generate traffic. You have to get the word out about your site and give people a reason to visit it, or else you'll go the way of the dinosaur.
The good news is, there are lots of ways to effectively advertise your site online and drive tons of qualified traffic to your site, all for free! And by qualified, I mean people who belong to your target market and who are most likely to buy the products or services you offer. These are the people you want coming to your site.
Without further ado, here's our countdown of the top 10 traffic-generating tactics:
Traffic Generation Tactic #10: Use viral marketing strategies to "infect" people with the desire to learn more about your product. These days, viral marketing messages are spreading through the Web like wildfire. Viral marketing is any type of advertising that is self-perpetuating, compelling people to share it with others so that it spreads through a community like a virus-but a good one.
The story of Hotmail.com is a textbook example of viral marketing on the Internet. Hotmail was one of the first free e-mail services on the Web. In its first year and a half in business, Hotmail managed to sign up an incredible 12 million subscribers! How did it accomplish this? Simple: At the end of every e-mail, Hotmail included the following message: "Get your private, free e-mail at http://www.hotmail.com," encouraging everyone who received an e-mail to sign up for the free service themselves.
Large companies use viral marketing messages to perpetuate awareness of their brand, often by creating humorous videos or animation clips that people send to their friends for a laugh. Some smaller companies have also used this strategy successfully. An example is Homestar Runner, a small business that's created a set of cartoon characters and animated shorts that circulate around the Web, encouraging people to visit the main site and buy the company's merchandise.
If you like to play around with video or animation, you might think about adopting this strategy to generate interest in your own product. Just keep in mind that it can be very difficult to determine the exact return on investment for viral marketing campaigns, since it's impossible to keep track of where the ad goes. And while this type of marketing is good for generating interest in your site and products, it doesn't always translate into immediate sales.
To see more examples of viral marketing, check out the following sites (Warning: Part of the popularity of some viral ads is their "cheeky" or risquÃ© nature. Some viral ads contain material that viewers may find offensive.):
- ViralBank. Go here to discover "the web's most entertaining e-mails." This site features images, video, games, microsites and text e-mails that have spread virally through the Internet.
- ViralMeister. This site features a list of news items concerning the latest viral ad campaigns as well as a sampling of popular viral ads circulating on the Web. Visitors are invited to submit "funny or cool videos, images, jokes or anecdotes" to be featured on the site.
- Lycos Viral Chart. This site offers a top 10 list of "cheeky" viral e-mails, as well as viral campaigns listed under other headings, such as "New Releases" and "Celebrities." Visitors are invited to submit viral ads for review and also vote on the best campaigns.
Traffic Generation Tactic #9: Employ online business networking communities to hook up with other entrepreneurs for link swaps and joint marketing ventures. Business networking communities are springing up all over the Web. They're similar to dating or social networking sites but are used by entrepreneurs to find other businesspeople with whom they can establish mutually beneficial business relationships.
Sites like these can offer great opportunities for entrepreneurs to establish joint marketing ventures with like-minded businesses, or simply to find link-swap partners who can help drive more traffic to their sites. (We'll be looking at link swapping in greater detail later on, in case you're not familiar with this effective traffic generation tactic).
Business networking communities can also help generate traffic by allowing their members to create personal profile pages with links to their main business sites. These links can improve a site's ranking with the major search engines.
If you decide to join a networking community, be sure to partner with people whose businesses are complementary to your own. Their sites have to attract visitors who are likely to become your customers as well. For example, it probably won't do you any good to have your all-vegetarian tofu burgers featured on a cattle rancher's industry association site.
Here are some business networking communities you may want to check out:
Traffic Generation Tactic #8: Become a recognized name in your niche market by participating in newsgroups, discussion forums or blogging networks. A great way to establish an online identity and develop relationships with your potential customer base is by taking part in newsgroups and discussion forums or by starting a blog related to your niche market. These tools can help you communicate directly with your target market and discover what their wants and needs are.
For example, if you sell mountain biking shoes, spend some time hanging out in mountain biking forums-that's where your target market's going to be. Or start your own blog in which you describe your latest mountain biking adventures, complete with attention-grabbing photos. You could even combine the two tactics and generate interest in your blog by mentioning it in forums and newsgroups.
However, most newsgroups, blog networks and discussion forums do not allow people to blatantly advertise in them. If you want to generate traffic through these sites, the best way to do it is to offer friendly, useful advice to people who express a need for something, and then include a subtle link to your site at the end of all your messages. If people like what you say, they may decide to visit your site and check out your products or services.
Traffic Generation Tactic #7: Get your visitors to tell their friends about you. A good way to drive visitors to your site is to ask your existing customer base to do it for you. There are lots of sites that offer free "tell a friend" buttons you can place directly on your site in order to encourage visitors to send e-mails to their friends telling them about your site.
If your site offers a free opt-in newsletter, contest, quiz or "tip of the day"-in other words, any information that people will want to share because it's fun, valuable or exciting-include an "E-mail this" button in that feature as well. There's nothing more powerful than a personal recommendation from a friend or colleague.
Here are just a few sites that offer free "tell a friend" tools:
Traffic Generation Tactic #6: Encourage repeat visits with interactive traffic generators. One of the best ways to get traffic to your site is to offer valuable content that's updated on a regular basis so that your visitors are prompted to pay frequent return visits to see what new information you have available. Provide content that's relevant to your industry, such as articles, product reviews or "how-to" advice columns-anything you think your visitors will find useful or entertaining.
As you develop your collection of written content, consider placing it in a searchable archive so your visitors can access past articles and product reviews. This will encourage people to think of your site not only as a place where they can buy things but also as a valuable source of information.
You should also consider offering other free resources to attract your target audience. Remember, the most powerful word in a marketer's arsenal is "free." The more useful tools and resources you offer your visitors, the more they'll appreciate your site.
Offer fun or helpful interactive tools that relate to the purpose of your site. For example:
- If you sell recipe books or kitchenware, include a measurement converter that easily allows people to convert imperial measurements to metric and vice versa.
- If you sell clothing, include a size converter that shows how the clothing sizes compare to measurement systems used in different countries. (For example, a woman's size 10 in the U.S. is equal to a size 12 in the UK and a size 40 elsewhere in Europe.)
- If you sell scuba gear or sailing goods, link to current tide and weather information.
- If you sell books on philosophy or self-improvement, include IQ tests or quizzes that determine personality types.
- If you sell education products, include interactive math or grammar games and other fun learning tools.
This strategy tends to be better for getting repeat traffic than for attracting new visitors, but if you include a "tell a friend" button with your interactive traffic generator, you may prompt visitors to share the news about your site with others-and get them to drive new traffic to your site for you!
Traffic Generations Tactic #5: Increase your site's exposure by swapping links with other sites. If you want your site to be seen by as many potential customers as possible, try to get it mentioned on other sites they're likely to visit. Look for sites that are related to yours but don't compete with it directly.
For example, if you sell ski goggles, try to get your product mentioned on alpine tourism sites, sites that sell skis, boots and poles, and sites that sell winter clothing-but not on other sites that sell ski goggles. Or if you own a souvenir shop, see if you can get your site listed on local hotel and restaurant sites, as well as other travel and hospitality sites tourists are likely to visit, but not on other sites that sell souvenirs.
A great way to get your site mentioned on other sites is to contact those sites directly and offer to "link swap" with them. (Be sure to look for sites that get a lot of traffic.) Tell them you'll put a link to their site on your site if they'll do the same for you. Not only will this generate a lot of increased exposure for your site, it can also boost your ranking with the search engines.
Traffic Generation Tactic #4: Get the message out about your site by giving away free content. One of the best ways to make sure your site gets mentioned on other sites is to offer them valuable free content.
Many online business owners are happy to get quality information to put on their site or in their opt-in newsletters, so offer them some of the regularly updated content you've posted on your own site (as suggested in Traffic Generation Tactic #6. By providing other sites with free articles, product reviews or advice columns, you'll be doing them a favor-as well as increasing the exposure of your own site.
Try to get your content published on popular websites or in newsletters that have huge mailing lists. So before you offer your content to any site, do a little research to discover how much traffic it gets or how many people subscribe to the site's opt-in newsletter. And try to determine which sites are the "hot spots" in your niche market-that's where you want your articles to be published.
It's important to remember that this tactic will only work if you include your contact information and a link to your site at the end of every article. That'll make it easy for people to visit your site and learn more about the products or services you sell, so make sure every site or e-zine that publishes your content includes this contact info and link.
Traffic Generation Tactic #3: Be one of the first sites people see listed when they search for your keywords in the free search engines. The free search engines such as Google, Yahoo!, and MSN are still one of the most effective ways to get the word out about your site. There are lots of different techniques you can use to ensure you get a good ranking with the free search engines. For example, you can...
- Submit your site to the free search engines and online directories.
- Optimize your web site so that it's easily indexed by search engine spiders.
- Pay close attention to your keyword inclusion and placement.
- Create content-rich "information pages" to direct traffic to your site.
And these are just a few tactics that will help you improve your search engine ranking. You can do all this work yourself, or you can use software that will do the job for you. (To read more about search engine optimization strategies, see "The Dos and Don'ts of Search Engine Optimization.")
Traffic Generation Tactic #2: Use e-mail promotions to present your visitors with offers they can't refuse. Yes, it's true: E-mail promotions are one of the top two ways to attract qualified traffic to your site. If you have a list of customer or subscriber e-mail addresses, then you're ready to get started.
People who've visited your site and signed up for your newsletter (or a contest or survey) are far more likely to buy from you than someone who's never heard of your site before. It's essential that you stay in touch with these people!
Encourage visitors to frequently return to your site by e-mailing them attractive promotional offers, such as e-coupons or discounts on new products you're offering, notification of a sale or a contest you're running, or even free services or products you've decided to give away to a limited number of people.
You can manage your mailing list and automate your e-mail promotions using existing software programs. To learn more about how to build a substantial list of opt-in e-mail addresses, read "Attracting Newsletter Subscribers."
And now, the time has come for...
Traffic Generation Tactic #1: Build an army of affiliates to drive traffic to your site for you. Without a doubt, an affiliate program is the probably the best way to increase your site's exposure. You can get your affiliates to drive qualified traffic to your site using all the techniques we've mentioned so far, as well as other effective advertising techniques that require an initial investment.
You can literally get your affiliates to do all your marketing for you. In fact, one of my most successful clients doesn't spend any time optimizing his site for the free search engines-he lets his affiliates do it for him. Many of them go to great lengths to make sure their sites are highly ranked, and because they all link to his site, they boost his search engine ranking as well.
The best thing about affiliate programs is that you don't pay your affiliates a dime for all the work they do unless they help you make a sale. It really is a win-win proposition: The more sales your affiliates help you make, the more money they earn as well.
In order to maximize your site's exposure, it's best to use a combination of the tactics listed above. For example, if you're sending out an e-mail promotion, you may want to include a "tell a friend" option in the e-mail so the people on your mailing list will send the promotion to others. If you have an affiliate program, you should ask your affiliates to post your articles and product reviews on their sites in order to help you build a reputation for yourself as an industry expert.
Remember: When it comes to online marketing, there are three words you need to keep in mind: location, location, location. Your site has to be mentioned often in places where your niche market hangs out if you want your site to be seen by as many potential customers as possible.
If you think you could be doing more to boost your site's traffic numbers (and really, who couldn't?), start putting these top 10 traffic generation tactics to work for you today-then sit back and enjoy all that free traffic coming your way.
Corey Rudl, author of Insider Secrets to Marketing Your Business on the Internet and founder of www.marketingtips.com, is widely recognized as an Internet marketing expert because what he teaches are not theoretical approaches to online marketing but real examples of what works.