Monday, October 5, 2009

Site Promotion on the Cheap

Promo on the Cheap:

Got No Dough? No Problem!

The idea is sound. You built the website yourself on a razor thin budget and you’ve launched your on-line dream. Now all you have to do is wait for that traffic to start coming by and you can quit the 9-to-5 world forever, right? Oh, so wrong!

The only people who even know you’re on the world wide web are the people you told. You can wait for the next millennium before somebody stumbles onto your site – and that would be a total fluke!

In order to achieve success on the web (turn a profit or get your message out to more people) you must promote the site. Yeah, but doesn’t that cost a lot of money? It can, if you go to one of those high-priced boutique ad agencies, or even if you pay some on-line company $500 to distribute a grand opening e-mail announcement to six million people. But promoting your site doesn’t have to cost big bucks. And the bucks you do spend can be put to work delivering 100% productivity.

There are so many things you can do (must do) to promote your site and actually become a viable entity. Cheap. Real cheap.

Register With Search Engines

This one is a no-brainer, but how you register with the big three – Google, Yahoo and Inktomi – will make a significant difference in how quickly your site appears anywhere in search engine results. You can also ensure that your site is correctly and completely indexed. Not all sites are and their owners are trying to figure out what went wrong.

The best way to submit your site to a search engine is by sending the search engine a map of your site, aka, a site map. First, by sending the site map, you’re inviting the search engine to crawl the site. It may take a day or two but that’s better than the months and even years it takes for some sites to be crawled. One of the reasons for this is that spiders follow links. That’s how they find a site and index it.

When you provide the site map, you’ve given spiders complete directions to all of the site pages. This ensures that the site is completely indexed. Just because a spider crawled by doesn’t mean that it indexed all of the pages on your site – that is unless you provide a site map that shows all links to all pages.

A word of caution, here. Search engines (at least the big three) each want site map submissions in different formats. No surprise. But also, no worries. You can purchase site map generator software for less than $100 that will create maps of your site based on the quirks of each search engine. If you’re serious about promoting your e-biz, site map generators are worth the price – especially if your site changes often. Most sites do.

Submit Your Site to Directories

Directories are free and that’s always a good thing.

Directories like the Open Directory Project, the Yahoo Directory, Incrawler and others can drive a lot of traffic to your site. Directories review sites for quality issues, and if a site meets the directory’s criteria, it’s included and categorized by the topics of the site content.

Visit the Open Directory Project to see a great example of how these tools help connect buyers and sellers. You’ll find it at Volunteer editors keep the site current and provide some quality assurance. The biggest problem, from the site owner’s POV, is that it can take weeks before an editor gets to your submission. However, you can get ready for that visit.

First, make sure the site is complete, all pages in place. An “Under Construction” page will exclude you. So will poor navigation, poor content architecture or little value to the typical directory user. Quality counts when you’re after a directory listing. And you should be.

Directories will point qualified prospects in your site’s direction. But it will also increase your link popularity – how many links connect to your site. This is one of the key factors in determining a site’s page rank. More quality inbound links from sites like the Open Directory Project or Yahoo is a real shot in the arm for an online start-up. Just be patient. It takes longer to get listed in a directory than it does to get indexed by a search engine. But it’s definitely worth the wait.

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Ads

OK, not free, but also not too expensive if you use PPC effectively. Google AdWords is probably the best known of these programs but links off of other sites are also PPC.

There are a couple of nice things about PPC programs. There’s no long contract so if one program isn’t working you can try another. There are plenty from which to choose. Another nice thing about PPC adverts is that you can set a spending limit and once that limit has been reached the link disappears. You know, going in, what this thing is going to cost you.

Finally, since you only pay for actual clicks, 100% of the cost of your PPC ad delivers potential buyers to your site – motivated, qualified buyers who took the time to click on your link.

Start slowly. Test, rework and test again. Welcome to the world of e-commerce.

Exchange Links

Remember search engines like sites that are well “connected,” i.e. lots of links to other sites. There are web sites with lists of site owners seeking links exchanges. Also, you can often find link-seeking contacts on the forums or bulletin boards of webmaster sites. Exchanging links may improve traffic and give you a bump up in page rank (PR) but there are a few cautions.

First, avoid linking to sites that have a lower PR than your site. Of course, if you’re just starting out, you’ve got no page rank so any link helps. Well, almost any.

Search engines want to deliver quality, relevant results to their users. That’s what they do. And part of the relevance of any site is determined by its links. The links on your site should be related to the subject or products you sell. If you sell life insurance online, links to financial investment sites would be helpful in furthering a user’s search. A link to a clothing outlet store wouldn’t be useful. Make sure your links are related to the subjects of your site and that your inbound links are on sites related to yours.

Buy Links

You can, you know. There are sites that auction links. This enables sites with low PRs to link to sites with higher PRs, which improves the PR of the lower-ranked site. It can also drive traffic if the connection between the two sites is in sync.

Run a Google search for “link auctions” and buy your way to success. Just proceed slowly and make sure the link to your site remains active. Also, make sure it’s cost effective. Banner links, on average, have a click through rate of about 1%, which means for every 100 pairs of eyeballs that see your banner, one will actually click through to your site. Think about your own computer use. When was the last time you clicked on a banner?

The key objective is to get noticed by search engines and buyers – not an easy thing to do in the world’s busiest marketplace. If you’re just starting out, organize a plan that uses some or all of the above suggestions. It’s a time consuming process but one that pays dividends big time.

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