Lately, many websites have begun to follow the trend of the inexperienced startup – lots of enthusiastic content, but very little effort put into marketing, expecting the hits to come from (presumably) the quality of the content itself. Allow me to offer a single sentence of advice that will forever change this peculiar perspective.
That hasn’t worked for almost a decade.
What does work (and I’ll go into more detail below) is the following:
- Making sure your website is as well-designed as possible; making it easy for them to buy or get information from your site means they’ll make purchases and, more importantly, return at a later date.
- The right kind of advert – if you’re a filmmaker, a wraparound flash advert will work well; some other businesses find a quieter, subtle approach more effective.
- Suitable advertising format – there are huge differences between text and flash adverts, wraparounds and small adverts in sidebars. Think about your impact and the message you are sending. Do you want to subtly suggest your site, or make a bold and forward statement?
- Customer feedback – you need to take this into account more than anything else; put yourself in the shoes of the average customer, and take feedback from friends posing as potential customers, or from the customers themselves.
These are just few ideas, and it starts simply. You need to market a website for people to visit – this is as simple as business practice in the real world. Small websites are not like a local florists – although we have word-of-mouth equivalents everywhere from IRC channels to horticultural forums, it’s not going to bring you as much traffic as, say, an advert on Google or a gardening blog will. Hits on sites that are newly built are often random – people will visit sites because a random combination of words in a search by someone looking for a cheeseburger recipe may throw up a link to your article about the lovely yellows and browns of daffodils on fresh soil.
A lot of review and criticism sites have grown steadily by word of mouth, having established themselves in the days when Google was just one of many options, and all anyone could talk about was AOL and their endless amounts of free internet CDs (or floppies, if you’re going back far enough, there’s no shame in the humble slice of plastic). However, these sites, now massive and garnering millions of hits a year, if not per month, have adverts to other sites on them – some will be for the manufacturers of the products they review, and some for sister sites or affiliates that do the same things as their own site, just differently enough not to pose as a competitor for their online title.
So, our florist website. How do we advertise and make this online business bigger? There are a few ways to make sure you’re easily searchable and appealing to those who might just see your advert next to an article on dating advice, and I’ll go into these below.
Step one is most definitely to make sure you’ve got a consistent image and tone across your site. If it comes across or reads like a jumble of half-thought-out ideas and clashing colours, people are going to view your business as a mess, even if this isn’t the case. It’ll cost a pretty penny to get a decent website built, but having a slick online interface for window shoppers and potential customers is the difference between a mangled bookstore’s address and a list of books in a PDF file, and Amazon. Amazon are by no means a site with corporate roots – they clawed their way to the top the same as everyone else, and they benefit because of their presentation and constant redesigns according to feedback from customers. Of course, Amazon’s popularity rose with their use of text adverts – customers hovering over text content talking about subjects relevant to Amazon’s products and services were offered them and as a result, their influence grew mroe subtly than many of the dot com boom businesses.
If you’re looking for feedback on your site, but would rather it came from its users than your online business pals, consider a contact page. Even if it’s a text box, an email slip and a “submit” button, this unassuming bit of HTML can save you a lot of time when considering your next web-expansion and what direction to go in. When the site is slightly larger, consider a forum, though be careful to disguise this – forums tend to encourage criticism and, more often, arguments and heated debates between users, as anonymity is the number one cause of antagonistic online behaviour. Amazon, as our ongoing example, have discussion forums situated deep into their site as opposed to it being a front-page feature – long time customers and site veterans are the main contingent writing content in this area, and this means you’re not clearing out swathes of spam, unwanted or inappropriate content, or dealing with arguments when you could be selling products and services.
The second major thing to consider to is making sure your business or brand is out in the public space. When browsing sites, people tend to take in everything on an internet page, and for this reason everyone from Eurogamer to YouTube are now offering wraparound advertising space to businesses, artists and artistic products. Make sure, however, that any sites you approach and wish to advertise on coincide with your vision and your views, both as a business owner and a person. If you’re working with text-based advertising, many companies will ensure the site your advert appears on is closely related to the site whilst remaining a subtle suggestion – bear in mind doing the job yourself may sometimes lead to problems; specialists are worth what they’re paid. A lot of sites that would seem fine on the surface may contain content that reflects badly on you as both an individual and a CEO, so make sure to nip problems like these in the bud when negotiating with sites about advertising deals.
When advertising on other sites, consider how you’re advertising. Are you using text adverts, banner images, or Google ads? The method by which you’re advertising needs to suit the business you’re running, or you risk confusing potential consumers. Advertising a film with a banner image is smart: it’s a visual advert for a visual medium. Advertising the same film with a text advert isn’t the right direction for it, and this is why it’s rare to see this happening. Going back to our wonderfully convenient (because I’m constantly using it, assumably) analogy, a florists would benefit from any kind of advert – because it’s visual, but we’re also likely to look it up on the web, text adverts supply the same amount of information. Films, games and TV are transient products that aren’t in the commercial space long enough to warrant directory entries, and this is a great acid test when considering whether you want Flash, or some smart SEO text content.
These are just a few ideas to get you started, but consider your options – who are you? What are you offering? How would you want to display these products and services to your target market? Make everything smart and straight-forward, and you’ll attract new visitors whilst still retaining the old ones. If you’re reading this and you sell flowers, however, I think you’re definitely quids in, now.
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