You finally did it! You got yourself a Web site. You have your own domain name. You spent a fair amount of money with a professional development firm to design and program your site.
It has graphics and good functionality that should result in customers and prospects wanting to visit and keep coming back for fresh information. Maybe you are even selling your product or service through this Web site. OK, here we go bring on the business.
Thirty days later, the dialogue between the Web site developer and the business owner often goes something like this:
Business Owner: Hey Mr. Web Developer, why do we have only 100 hits to our home page, with half of them coming from us and the other half coming from customers who were told that we have a new Web site? How are we supposed to get a return on our investment at this rate?
Mr. Web Developer: Well, thats your problem. I never said that if you build a Web site, people would magically show up on your doorstep.
Thats your problem. This exchange is common. Many businesses believe theres something magical about the way people find a Web site. Wont people find me in the search engines, visit my site, and want my products or services? they ask. Not exactly.
Just as you do with your brick and mortar business, you have to take the time and money to market and promote your Web site if you want anyone to visit.
Indeed, you must dedicate a portion of your marketing budget specifically to promotion of your Web site.
After you have gotten past the point of spending the time and money to build a professionally designed and functioning site, your biggest challenge lies ahead. The World Wide Web is full of clutter like no other medium before it.
As a user, you have more choices than ever. You decide what to see and where to go. So even if users somehow become aware you have a Web site, they still have to make the decision to visit. That means youd better devise a creative, stand-out strategy to get them there.
Let me take you through a recent site launch and the promotion planned around it to drive traffic to the site. On Feb. 1, 1999, the Canned Food Alliance launched a Web site (www.mealtime.org) in honor of National Canned Food Month. (Yes, February was, in fact, National Canned Food Month, the same month we celebrate Black History, Groundhog Day, Valentines Day, Presidents Day, and the Chinese New Year.)
The initial plan was to drive immediate traffic to the Web site throughout February and design it in such a way that people would return over long periods of time. The two things to consider were getting people to the site for the first time and giving them a reason to return. You cant think of these two things independently, because some items that may get them to the site in the first place may also result in users returning.
For this Web site, Ketchum Public Relations in Pittsburgh provided traditional forms of promotion, public relations and advertising. However, I will only address the online marketing portion of this campaign.
Lets work backwards. What will bring visitors back after their initial visit? Beyond informative and educational content, several ideas were incorporated into the site, giving it a more interactive nature.
- A recipe database This is interactive, searchable and frequently updated. Not a bad idea. Users will never get through all the recipes in one or even two sittings and will keep coming back, even if just to get a recipe for dinner.
- An e-mail newsletter, Recipe CANnection Users can subscribe and receive monthly recipes and information about site enhancements via e-mail. Consumers found this attractive; nearly 450 people signed up the first month.
- An Ask the Expert area on the Web site Guest experts answer consumers questions.
- A good, old-fashioned bulletin board Users can share information and post comments.
For a Web site that was predominantly informational, this proved an attractive package which users should enjoy, and, of course, result in repeat visits.
But this package needed to be promoted. The following steps were taken for the online portion of the campaign:
- Key words were registered with search engines. The site was registered with more than 730 search engines. But theres one caveat: It takes the engines eight to 10 weeks to index a site, which means that, unless youre going purchase targeted key word advertising, search engines arent going to work as the primary way to drive high levels of traffic to your site.
- An e-mail list was purchased. This was a demographically targeted list of 50,000 e-mail addresses of people who subscribe to sites that promote recipes or grocery coupons. Since these people have shown an interest in this subject matter, we helped them out a little bit and exposed them to the information on www.mealtime.org through an e-mail.
- News about the Web site was posted in appropriate newsgroup sites throughout the duration of the campaign. A powerful hook was needed to attract interest in those newsgroups. Among the most successful is to give something away. A contest was developed in which users submitted their best canned food recipes. The winning entry would receive a $250 grocery shopping spree.
Giveaways are always a sure bet to get people to your site. But even giveaways or contests have to be promoted if you want participation. In this case, the contest was mentioned in the mass e-mail and the newsgroup postings, and postings were made at sweepstakes/contest sites. The result was more than 560 contest entries in one month.
The contest was taken one step further. Why just give away any grocery shopping spree? Why not give away one to a major online grocer? While were at it, lets not just go to its site and buy a gift certificate; lets get some reciprocal promotion out of that grocer.
Several online grocers were approached, and one of the largest, www.netgrocer.com, agreed to participate. In exchange for mentioning the grocery site in the contest promotion, that company also provided banner advertising on its site in the canned food aisle promoting the www.mealtime.org Web site and the contest.
As a whole, this strategy netted tremendous results. For a modest budget, traffic to the new site increased by 34,000 percent to nearly 27,000 visitors over monthly traffic to the previously existing site.
Build the best Web site you can, but dont expect it to produce for you if youre not going to support it as you do your existing business and products.
Steven H. Bass is a co-founder of Compuvisions Inc., a North Side based designer and developer of informational and e-commerce Web sites and online marketing and Web promotional services. Reach him by phone at (412) 322-4494 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.