As a web developer, I work with a lot of entrepreneurs: some are established and looking for a simple web presence, but the vast majority are building something completely new, and they need help spreading the word.
Marketing online is a huge subject, but the key concepts applicable to most sites are fairly straightforward:
- Get people to link to you (especially blogs and well-respected sites)
- Maintain your own blog with frequently updated (and tailored) content, and practice good SEO techniques
- Consider paid advertising
One of the main tasks involved in promoting a new web site is to get other people talking about it. This serves a number of purposes, first and foremost is gaining valuable backlinks, which greatly improve your search engine rankings. It’s also one of the most difficult and time-consuming tasks.
The process is fairly straight-forward. Identify and rank blogs that discuss your subject material. Using a site like Technorati (or just Google) will help you pick out relevant sites. Then, rank them based on popularity and suitability. This ranking will help you prioritize your high-value sites from your nice-to-haves.
Once you’ve identified the sites to contact, work on a compelling pitch. It should be short and get to the point quickly (preferably in the first sentence or two). Be sure to include why the blogger should write about your site, and even include helpful content they might use in their own article. Make the blogger have to do as little work as possible to write about your site. This increases the likelihood of a post.
Once you’ve crafted your pitch, send it out. Be sure to personalize it for each blog though: include the writer’s name, and some relevant notes about why your site is perfect for their blog. Once you’ve sent out the pitches, you need to be persistent (but not annoying). Follow up after a week or so with another personalized note (and tweak your pitch). Bloggers are just like everyone else: they’re very busy and are likely deluged in email every day.
Practice good SEO techniques
Search Engine Optimization isn’t a panacea of web marketing, despite what many snake-oil salesmen might have you believe. SEO is really just the ticket to entry: if you aren’t practicing good SEO, you could be hurting your site quite a bit.
In general, SEO is fairly common-sense: use proper web coding and design practices and don’t play tricks with web crawlers. A good web developer will do this automatically (and a bad one could get you banned from search engines). There are a number of other techniques you can do, however, that can make a big difference.
The key here is to update often, and to tailor your updates to the kind of keywords you expect your target users to enter into search engines. As an example, if you’re a toy company, you’ll want to tailor your content to mention key toy-related words (“action figures”, “dolls”, etc). By doing this, you’ll be setting up relevant information for people in your key demographic, who are more likely to come to your site when searching for “action figures” or “dolls” on a search engine.
Updating frequently via a blog is also helpful in SEO because it gets search engines to crawl your site more frequently. Why is this good? Well, for one thing, search engines are increasingly interested in the timeliness of the content they crawl. Information that has just been posted online is presumably of greater interest to web searchers then content from years ago. Keeping your content and web site updated frequently can be helpful in your search engine rankings.
The first two aspects noted above are considered “organic” web marketing, and can have the biggest impact on your site. The downside is they are extremely time-consuming to implement. For some sites, however, paid advertising makes a lot of sense (especially if you have something of a budget). It’s a quick way to start getting your site noticed, and it can be quite affordable.
Paid advertising comes in two flavors: CPC (Cost Per Click) and CPM (Cost Per Thousand impressions). The former is the typical model of search engines like Google, where you pay some amount each time a person clicks on your ad in search results. CPM, on the other hand, is often used on higher-traffic destination sites, and you pay a certain amount to show your ad to visitors (an impression is every time a page is loaded).
In general, you’ll want to start with CPC and then consider branching out to CPM, primarily because the barrier to getting started with CPC is so minimal. In fact, all you need to do is setup a Google AdSense account, write some ads, and set a daily budget, and you could have ads showing today.
So, just how effective is paid advertising? Well, it depends on several factors: how much time and effort (and money) you’re willing to put into your campaigns, and how effective advertising is going to be for your target user.
Tailoring CPC ads via Google and other search engines requires a lot of fine-tuning. You should be familiar with A/B testing, landing pages, and willing to experiment with your content. It can take quite a bit of time to nail down a highly-optimized paid advertising campaign, and you’ll need to work with your web developers to get the landing pages just right. Once you have a well-oiled advertising campaign, it should start paying for itself (and you can even track those conversions automatically).
CPM advertising is a little different, and usually involves some graphic design. You’ll often need to put together some catchy-looking web banners and corresponding landing pages to create a successful CPM campaign. You’ll also need to do your research: finding the right web site to place your banners requires you to get in depth on their users. Make sure you’re buying ad space on a site that reaches a lot of your target users, and tailor your web banner and landing pages to them explicitly.
Web marketing is a complex subject, and the key takeaway here is that it’s also time-consuming. With a good team at your disposal, you can avoid many of the mistakes of inexperience (some of which can cost you greatly).
Ultimately, it’s a process of fine-tuning. As you experiment, you’ll learn what avenue and message works best at reaching your target customer, and what web marketing techniques result in the highest return.