The Web Marketing Checklist: 32 Ways to Promote Your Website by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson, E-Commerce Consultant
Web Marketing Today, June 14, 2006
Note: The following article includes dozens of links to resources and more information — much of it carefully organized on my website (and in some books) for further study, much of it entirely free. Please excuse the many links to my site. This article originally appeared in Web Marketing Today, Issue 39, December 1, 1997. As one of our most popular articles, it was revised most recently on June 14, 2006.
Cited in PC Magazine, 9/21/99, p. 36Cited in PC Magazine, Business lunch about Web marketing and e-commerce
How can you get more visitors to your website? What can you do to stimulate traffic? Here's a checklist of 32 items you need to consider. Many of these you're probably doing already; others you meant to do and forgot about; still others you've never heard of. Of course, a great deal has been written about this. You'll find links to thousands of articles on site promotion in our Web Marketing Research Room (www.wilsonweb.com/research). While we're not breaking any new ground here, we've tried to summarize some of the most important techniques.
Search Engine Strategies
Perhaps the most important — and inexpensive — strategy is to rank high for your preferred words on the main search engines in "organic" or "natural" searches (as opposed to paid ads). Search engines send robot "spiders" to index the content on your webpage, so let's begin with steps to prepare your webpages for optimal indexing. They idea here is not to trick the search engines, but to leave them abundant clues as to what your webpage is about.
Blue bar at top of web browser containing the Title
1. Write a Page Title. Write a descriptive title for each page of 5 to 8 words. Remove as many "filler" words from the title, such as "the," "and," etc. This page title will appear hyperlinked on the search engines when your page is found. Entice searchers to click on the title by making it a bit provocative. Place this at the top of the webpage between the
<HEAD></HEAD> tags, in this format:
<TITLE>Web Marketing Checklist — 32 Ways to Promote Your Website
</TITLE>. (It also shows on the blue bar at the top of your web browser.)
Plan to use some descriptive keywords along with your business name on your home page. If you specialize in silver bullets and that's what people will be searching for, don't just use your company name "Acme Ammunition, Inc." use "Silver and Platinum Bullets — Acme Ammunition, Inc." The words people are most likely to search on should appear first in the title (called "keyword prominence"). Remember, this title is nearly your entire identity on the search engines. The more people see that interests them in the blue hyperlinked words on the search engine, the more likely they are to click on the link. Competiton for ranking occurs every day
2. Write a Description and Keyword META Tag. The description should be a sentence or two describing the content of the webpage, using the main keywords and keyphrases on this page. If you include keywords that aren't used on the webpage, you could hurt yourself. Place the Description META Tag at the top of the webpage, between the <HEAD></HEAD> tags, in this format: Some search engines include this description below your hyperlinked title.
<META NAME="DESCRIPTION" CONTENT="Increase visitor hits, attract traffic through submitting URLs, META tags, news releases, banner ads, and reciprocal links">.
Your maximum number of characters should be about 255; just be aware that only the first 60 or so are visible on Google, though more may be indexed.
When I prepare a webpage, I write the article first, then write a description of the content in that article in a sentence or two, using each of the important keywords and keyphrases included in the article. This goes into the description META tag. Then for the keywords META tag, I strip out the common words, leaving just the meaty words and phrases. The keywords META tag is no longer used for ranking by Google, but it is currently used by Yahoo, so I'm leaving it in. Who knows when more search engines will consider it important again? Every webpage in your site should have a title, and META description tag.
8. Submit Your Webpage URL to Search Engines. Next, submit your homepage URL to the important Web search engines that robotically index the Web. Look for a link on the search engine for "Add Your URL." In the US, the most used search engines are: Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL Search, and Ask.com. Some of these feed search content to the other main search engines and portal sites. For Europe and other areas you'll want to submit to regional search engines. It's a waste of money to pay someone to submit your site to hundreds of search engines. Avoid registering with FFA (Free For All pages) and other link farms. They don't work well, bring you lots of spam e-mails, and could cause you to be penalized by the search engines. We'll talk about submitting to directories under "Linking Strategies" below. If your page is already indexed by a search engine, don't re-submit it unless you've made significant changes; the search engine spider will come back and revisit it soon anyway. 9. Fine-tune with Search Engine Optimization. Now fine-tune your focused-content pages (described in point 7), and perhaps your home page, by making minor adjustments to help them rank high. Software such as WebPosition (www.wilsonweb.com/afd/webposition.htm) allows you to check your current ranking and compare your Dr. Wilson's Plain-Spoken Guide to Search Engine Optimizationwebpages against your top keyword competitors. I use it regularly. WebPosition's Page Critic provides analysis of a search engine's preferred statistics for each part of your webpage. You can do this yourself with WebPosition. The best set of SEO tools by far is Bruce Clay's SEOToolSet (www.wilsonweb.com/afd/clay_seotoolset.htm). You can find links to hundreds of articles on search engine strategies in our Research Room (www.wilsonweb.com/cat/cat.cfm?page=1&subcat=mp_Search). If you want more detail, consider purchasing my inexpensive book Dr. Wilson's Plain-Spoken Guide to Search Engine Optimization (http://www.wilsonweb.com/ebooks/seo.htm). Many small and large businesses outsource search engine positioning because of the considerable time investment it requires. If you outline your needs, I can point you the right direction to SEO firms I know and trust (www.wilsonweb.com/recommendations/seo-services.htm). How to Promote Your Local Business on the Internet 10. Promote Your Local Business on the Internet. These days many people search for local businesses on the Internet. To make sure they find you include on every page of your website the street address, zip code, phone number, and the five or 10 other local community place names your business serves. If you can, include place names in the title tag, too. When you seek links to your site (see below), a local business should get links from local businesses with place names in the communities you serve and complementary businesses in your industry nationwide. For more information, see my book How to Promote Your Local Business on the Internet (www.wilsonweb.com/ebooks/local.htm). Linking Strategies
Links to your site from other sites bring additional traffic. But since Google and other major search engines consider the number of incoming links to your website ("link popularity") as an important factor in ranking, more links will help you rank higher in the search engines, too. Google has introduced a 10-point scale called PageRank (10 is the highest rank) to indicate the quantity and quality of incoming links. All links, however, are not created equal. Links from popular information hubs will help your site rank higher than those from low traffic sites. You'll find links to articles on linking strategies in our Research Room (www.wilsonweb.com/cat/cat.cfm?page=1&subcat=mp_Linking).
11. Submit Your Site to Key Directories, since a link from a directory will help your ranking — and get you traffic. Be sure to list your site in the free Open Directory Project (www.dmoz.com), overseen by overworked volunteer human editors. This hierarchical directory provides content feeds to all the major search engines. Plus it provides a link to your site from an information hub that Google deems important. But don't be impatient and resubmit or you'll go to the end of the queue.
Yahoo! Directory is another important directory to be listed in, though their search results recently haven't been featuring their own directory as prominently. Real humans will read (and too often, pare down) your 200-character sentence, so be very careful and follow their instructions (http://docs.yahoo.com/info/suggest/). Hint: Use somewhat less than the maximum number of characters allowable, so you don't have wordy text that will tempt the Yahoo! editor to begin chopping. Business sites require a $299 annual recurring fee for Yahoo! Express to have your site considered for inclusion within seven business days (http://docs.yahoo.com/info/suggest/busexpress.html). Other directories to consider might be About.com and Business.com.
Reciprocal Linking Tools, by Ralph F. Wilson
12. Submit Your Site to Industry Sites and Specialized Directories. You may find some directories focused on particular industries, such as education or finance. You probably belong to various trade associations that feature member sites. Ask for a link. Even if you have to pay something for a link, it may help boost your PageRank. Beware of directories that solicit you for "upgraded listings." Unless a directory is widely used in your field, your premium ad won't help — but the link itself will help boost your PageRank and hence your search engine ranking. Marginal directories come and go very quickly, making it hard to keep up. Don't try to be exhaustive here. 13. Request Reciprocal Links. Find complementary websites and request a reciprocal link to your site (especially to your free service, if you offer one). Develop an out-of-the way page where you put links to other sites — so you don't send people out the back door as fast as you bring them in the front door. Your best results will be from sites that get a similar amount of traffic to your site. High-traffic site webmasters are too busy to answer your requests for a link and don't have anything to gain. Look for smaller sites that may have linking pages.
Check out Ken Evoy's free SiteSell Value Exchange. It (1) registers your site as one that is willing to exchange links with other sites that have a similar theme/topic content and (2) searches for sites with similar topical content (http://sales.sitesell.com/value-exchange/). Additionally, two automated link building software programs stand out — Zeus and Arelis. These search for complementary sites, help you maintain a link directory, and manage reciprocal links. However, use these programs to identify the complementary sites, not to send impersonal automated e-mail spam to site owners. When you locate sites, send a personal e-mail to the administrative contact found in the Whois Directory (www.networksolutions.com/whois/). If e-mail doesn't get a response, try a phone call. I've written a brief e-book on Reciprocal Linking Tools outlining various linking strategies and other software you can use to make the task easier. (www.wilsonweb.com/ebooks/linkingtools.htm) One warning: Be sure to only link to complementary sites, no matter how often you are bombarded with requests to exchange links with a mortgage site that has nothing to do with yours. One way Google determines what your site is about is who you link to and who links to you. It's not just links, but quality links you seek.
Three free e-books
14. Write Articles for Others to Use in their Newsletters. You can dramatically increase your visibility when you write articles in your area of expertise and distribute them to editors as free content for their e-mail newsletters or their websites. Just ask that a link to your website and a one-line description of what you offer be included with the article. This is an effective "viral" approach that can produce hundreds of links to your site over time.
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15. Begin a Business Blog. Want links to your site? Begin a business blog on your website, hosted on your own domain. If you offer excellent content and regular industry comment, people are likely to link to it, increasing your site's PageRank. Learn more about business blogs in our Research Room. (www.wilsonweb.com/cat/cat.cfm?page=1&querytype=category&subcat=ms_Blogs). If you have a blog on a third-party blog site, occasionally find reasons to talk about and link to your own domain. 16. Issue News Releases. Find newsworthy events and send news releases to print and Web periodicals in your industry. The links to your site in online news databases may remain for years and have some clout with link popularity. However, opening or redesigning a website is seldom newsworthy these days. You may want to use a Web news release service such as PR Web (http://wilsonweb.prwebdirect.com). Placing your website URL in online copies of your press release may increase link popularity some. More info on PR is available in our Research Room. (www.wilsonweb.com/cat/cat.cfm?page=1&subcat=mp_PR) Issuing press releases is a traditional promotional strategy, but there are other traditional approaches that can help you as well. Traditional Strategies
Just because "old media" strategies aren't on the Internet doesn't mean they aren't effective. A mixed media approach can be very effective.
17. Include Your URL on Stationery, Cards, and Literature. This is a no-brainer that is sometimes overlooked. Make sure that all reprints of cards, stationery, brochures, and literature contain your company's URL. And see that your printer gets the URL syntax correct. In print, I recommend leaving off the http:// part and including only the www.domain.com portion. 18. Promote using traditional media. Don't discontinue print advertising that you've found effective. But be sure to include your URL in any display or classified ads you purchase in trade journals, newspapers, yellow pages, etc. View your website as an information adjunct to the ad. Use a two-step approach: (1) capture readers' attention with the ad, (2) then refer them to a URL where they can obtain more information and perhaps place an order. Look carefully at small display or classified ads in the back of narrowly-targeted magazines or trade periodicals. Sometimes these ads are more targeted, more effective, and less expensive than online advertising. Consider other traditional media to drive people to your site, such as direct mail, classifieds, post cards, etc. TV can be used to promote websites, especially in a local market. 19. Develop a Free Service. It's boring to invite people, "Come to our site and learn about our business." It's quite another to say "Use the free kitchen remodeling calculator available exclusively on our site." Make no mistake, it's expensive in time and energy to develop free resources, such as our Research Room (www.wilsonweb.com/cat/), but it is very rewarding in increased traffic to your site. Make sure that your free service is closely related to what you are selling so the visitors you attract will be good prospects for your business. Give visitors multiple opportunities and links to cross over to the sales part of your site. E-Mail Strategies
The E-Mail Marketing Handbook, by Dr. Ralph F. WilsonDon't neglect e-mail as an important way to bring people to your website. Just don't spam. That is, don't send bulk unsolicited e-mails without permission to people with whom you have no relationship. You can find lots to details and tips in my book The E-Mail Marketing Handbook (www.wilsonweb.com/ebooks/handbook.htm).
20. Install a "Signature" in your E-Mail Program to help potential customers get in touch with you. Most e-mail programs such as AOL, Netscape, and Outlook allow you to designate a "signature" to appear at the end of each message you send. Limit it to 6 to 8 lines: Company name, address, phone number, URL, e-mail address, and a one-phrase description of your unique business offering. Look for examples on e-mail messages sent to you. 21. Publish an E-Mail Newsletter. While it's a big commitment in time, publishing a monthly e-mail newsletter ("ezine") is one of the very best ways to keep in touch with your prospects, generate trust, develop brand awareness, and build future business. It also helps you collect e-mail addresses from those who visit your site but aren't yet ready to make a purchase. Ask for an e-mail address and first name so you can personalize the newsletter. You can distribute your newsletter using listservers such as: Constant Contact (www.wilsonweb.com/afd/roving.htm) Got Marketing Campaigner (www.wilsonweb.com/afd/gotmarketing.htm) AWeber (www.wilsonweb.com/afd/aweber.htm) Topica Email Publisher (www.wilsonweb.com/afd/topica.htm) Gammadyne Mailer (www.wilsonweb.com/afd/gammadyne.htm)
If you're just getting started you can use a free advertising-supported newsletter from Yahoo! Groups (www.yahoogroups.com). See articles on newsletter marketing in our Research Room (www.wilsonweb.com/cat/cat.cfm?page=1&subcat=me_Newsletter).
22. Send Offers to Your Visitors and Customers. Your own list of customers and site visitors who have given you permission to contact them will be your most productive list. Send offers, coupon specials, product updates, etc. Personalizing the subject line and the message may increase the results. You'll find scores of articles on general e-mail marketing in our Research Room (www.wilsonweb.com/cat/cat.cfm?page=1&subcat=me_Email-Gen). 23. Rent targeted e-mail lists. We abhor "spam," bulk untargeted, unsolicited e-mail, and you'll pay a very stiff price in a ruined reputation and cancelled services if you yield to temptation here. But the direct marketing industry has developed targeted e-mail lists you can rent — lists consisting of people who have agreed to receive commercial e-mail messages. These lists cost $40 to $400 per thousand or 4? to 40? per name. Do a smaller test first to determine the quality of the list. Your best bet is to find an e-mail list broker to help you with this project — you'll save money and get experienced help for no additional cost. You'll find many articles on opt-in e-mail marketing in our Research Room (www.wilsonweb.com/cat/cat.cfm?page=1&subcat=me_Opt-in). Miscellaneous Strategies 24. Promote Your Site in Online Forums and Blogs. The Internet offers thousands of very targeted e-mail based discussion lists, online forums, blogs, and Usenet news groups made up of people with very specialized interests. Use Google Groups to find appropriate sources (groups.google.com). Don't bother with news groups consisting of pure "spam." Instead, find groups where a serious dialog is taking place. Don't use aggressive marketing and overtly plug your product or service. Rather, add to the discussion in a helpful way and let the "signature" at the end of your e-mail message do your marketing for you. People will gradually get to know and trust you, visit your site, and do business with you. You can learn more from articles in our Research Room (www.wilsonweb.com/cat/cat.cfm?page=1&subcat=mm_Newsgroups). 25. Announce a Contest. People like getting something free. If you publicize a contest or drawing available on your site, you'll generate more traffic than normal. Make sure your sweepstakes rules are legal in all states and countries you are targeting. Prizes should be designed to attract individuals who fit a demographic profile describing your best customers. See dozens of articles on contests and incentives in our Research Room (www.wilsonweb.com/cat/cat.cfm?page=1&subcat=ma_Incentives). 26. Ask Visitors to Bookmark Your Site. It seems so simple, but make sure you ask visitors to bookmark your site or save it in their Favorites list. (www.wilsonweb.com/wmta/bookmark.htm) Why don't you bookmark the article you're reading right now? You know you'll want to find it again soon. 27. Exchange Ads with Complementary Businesses. Banner exchange programs don't work well these days. But consider exchanging e-mail newsletter ads with complementary businesses to reach new audiences. Just be sure that your partners are careful where they get their mailing list or you could be in trouble with the CAN-SPAM Act. 28. Devise Viral Marketing Promotion Techniques. So-called viral marketing uses the communication networks (and preferably the resources) of your site visitors or customers to spread the word about your site exponentially. Word-of-mouth, PR, creating "buzz," and network marketing are offline models. #14 above, "Write Articles for Others to Use in their Newsletters," is a viral approach. The classic example is the free e-mail service, hotmail.com, that includes a tagline about their service at the end of every message sent out, so friends tell friends, who tell friends. You can learn more in my e-book Demystifying Viral Marketing. You can find articles on viral marketing in our Research Room (www.wilsonweb.com/cat/cat.cfm?page=1&subcat=mm_Viral). Paid Advertising Strategies
None of the approaches described above is "free," since each takes time and energy. But if you want to grow your business more rapidly, there comes a point when you need to pay for increased traffic. Advertising is sold in one of three ways: (1) traditional CPM (cost per thousand views), (2) pay per click (PPC), and (3) pay per action, otherwise known as an affiliate program or lead generation program. Do some small tests first to determine response. Then calculate your return on investment (ROI) before spending large amounts. Here are some methods:
29. Buy a Text Ad in an E-Mail Newsletter. Some of the best buys are small text ads in e-mail newsletters targeted at audiences likely to be interested in your products or services. Many small publishers aren't sophisticated about advertising and offer attractive rates. For example, we offer low-priced 2-Line Ads in Web Marketing Today each week (www.wilsonweb.com/ads/2-line-ad.htm). Banner ads get such a low click-through rate (0.2%) these days that I don't recommend paying much for them. Banner ads typically cost about 50? to $1 per thousand page views. Report on Affiliate Management Software 30. Begin an Affiliate Program. Essentially, a retailer's affiliate program pays a commission to other sites whose links to the retailer result in an actual sale. The goal is to build a network of affiliates who have a financial stake in promoting your site. If you're a merchant you, need to (1) determine the commission you are willing to pay (consider it your advertising cost), (2) select a company to set up the technical details of your program, and (3) promote your program to get the right kind of affiliates who will link to your site. Consider affiliate management software. More info in our Research Room (www.wilsonweb.com/cat/cat.cfm?page=1&subcat=em_Associate). You can see current software reviewed in my book Report on Affiliate Marketing Software 2005 (www.wilsonweb.com/ebooks/affilisoft.htm) 31. Purchase Pay Per Click (PPC) ads with Yahoo Search Marketing (formerly Overture) (www.wilsonweb.com/afd/overture.htm) and Google AdWords (https://adwords.google.com/select/). The top ads appear as featured links to the right of "natural" search engine results for your keywords. Your ranking is determined by how much you've bid for a particular search word compared to other businesses. This can be a cost-effective way to get targeted traffic, since you only pay when someone actually clicks on the link. An excellent e-book on PPC strategies is Andrew Goodman's 21 Ways to Maximize Profits on Google AdWords (www.wilsonweb.com/afd/pagezero.htm). More information on PPC ads can be found in our Research Room (www.wilsonweb.com/cat/cat.cfm?page=1&subcat=mp_PPC). Pay Per Click advertising can be quite cost-effective when you learn how to use it. Yahoo Search Marketing even offers some free credit to get you started. (www.wilsonweb.com/afd/overture.htm). You can learn about software to administer such programs in my Report on PPC Bid Management Software (www.wilsonweb.com/ebooks/bidmgt.htm). 32. List Your Products with Shopping Comparison Bots and Auction Sites. Shopping bots compare your products and prices to others. Google's Froogle (www.froogle.com) is free, so be sure to list your products there. A Froogle listing also helps your product page's ranking on Google. Some work on a PPC basis: mySimon (www.mysimon.com), BizRate (www.bizrate.com), PriceGrabber (www.pricegrabber.com), and Shopping.com (www.shopping.com). Others expect a commission on the sale and sometimes a listing fee, especially sales systems that host the merchant. These include eBay (www.ebay.com), Yahoo! Shopping Auctions (http://auctions.shopping.yahoo.com), Amazon zShops, Marketplace, and Auctions (http://zshops.amazon.com), and Yahoo! Shopping (http://shopping.yahoo.com). You pay to acquire first-time customers, but hopefully you can sell to them a second, third, and fourth time, too.
We certainly haven't exhausted ways to promote your site, but these will get you started. To effectively market your site, you need to spend some time adapting these strategies to your own market and capacity. Right now, why don't you make an appointment to go over this checklist with someone in your organization, and make it the basis for your new Internet marketing strategy?
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Copyright © 2006, Ralph F. Wilson. All rights reserved.
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Planning Your Internet Marketing Strategy, by Dr. Ralph F. WilsonDr. Ralph F. Wilson is an e-commerce consultant and the founding editor of Web Marketing Today. Praised in the Wall Street Journal, PC Magazine, Business Week, and MSNBC, he was selected from among his peers to receive the Tenagra Award for Internet Marketing Excellence. He is the author of Planning Your Internet Marketing Strategy (John Wiley & Sons, 2002). Dr. Wilson has assisted over 100 small to medium-size businesses to develop an Internet presence, and consulted with CEOs and marketing directors of hundreds more. He has speaks widely in the United States and Europe.