The movie Field of Dreams has always been a favorite of mine…any movie with a Fenway Park cameo should be beloved by everyone. However, a woman once told me that she hated it. “It's so unrealistic.” Field. Of. Dreams. Maybe she missed the opening scene when they showed the title.
In the movie–for all you cricket fans–a voice keeps telling Kevin Costner that all he needs to do is build a baseball field and he will be reunited with his dead father (“if you build it he will come”). Many people, even after the hype of the Internet has subsided, still believe this is true with their own websites. That once the site is built their work is done, and people will visit their site in droves and buy out their entire inventory.
Field. Of. Dreams.
Successful websites require traffic, and traffic comes from ongoing marketing. This may include keyword analysis, search engine optimization, solid copywriting, reciprocal links, advertising, good PR, online tools, and cross-media pollination. If you are going to spend money on a website you should make sure people are going to find it. Celebrities don't appear on David Letterman for the free mugs and abuse; they know that after their movie has wrapped they have to promote it if they want to sell tickets.
Here are some tried and true measures to increase your site's visibility. While they won't overcome a sluggish economy or a poor business plan (Tickle-Me-Marilyn-Manson dolls, anyone?), they will improve your chance at success.
Research your keywords. Whether you hire a firm or do it in house, uncover the exact phrases people are using to search for the products or services you offer. Don't guess at success. If you're selling “Trapper-Keepers” and everyone's searching for “Back-to-School-Supplies” you won't make many sales.
Optimize for the search engines. I've already written two articles on search engine optimization, so I won't go into the details here. But the simple advice is this: take your researched keywords and sprinkle generously on your pages: in your copy, your headers, and most importantly your page titles. Set aside some of your budget to cover the submission fees that most major search engines now charge. They can range from $35 to $299 per year. You don't have to get into every search engine, but try and cover the big four: Google, Yahoo, MSN Search and AOL Search. (Recent and future media buyouts and mergers may change this line up.)
Consider hiring a copywriter. I know, I know, you've written books, articles, and a dissertation on the mating dance of Norwegian bumblebees. You have an advanced degree from a well-respected school and patches on the elbows of your smoking jacket. You know your parts of speech and how not to dangle a participle. Regardless, that doesn't mean you can write compelling copy for the Web. When writing for the Web you need to consider at least two audiences: humans and the search engines' spiders that visit your website. If you do “go it alone” do your research and Google “Writing Tips for the Web” first.
Gather incoming links. Links to your site provide two important marketing benefits. First, people visiting other sites will find the link to your site, and if interested, visit. Secondly, many search engines consider a link to your site as a “vote of confidence” and will rank your site higher, all other things being equal. Since it's difficult for new sites to have many incoming links consider search engine advertising for the first few months through a service like Google Adwords or Overture to help boost traffic.
Advertise. Yes, it can be expensive, but it can pay huge dividends. We may not all have the money for TV or even radio, but regular advertising in a local paper or magazine with a desirable, targeted readership can be very beneficial. A direct mail piece to primary care physicians might be a good buy if you are trying to be a preferred provider of certain specialized services. In his books “Selling the Invisible” and “What Clients Love”, Harry Beckwith suggests that people don't remember whether it was an article or an ad, but they remember your brand. This improves consumer confidence and the likelihood they'll choose your services. Be sure to include your URL in a prominent place and consider a special offer.
Get the word out with good PR. Once your site is launched, or after a major revision, get out a press release. This is something you can do yourself or hire that same copywriter to handle. It's not expensive and a good copywriter may have experience in submitting press releases to both local papers (who are more likely to carry the piece because it's got local flavor) and national periodicals that may target your audience.
Use viral marketing. By placing “Recommend This Site” or “Email this Article to a Friend” forms on your site you can use word-of-mouth advertising to connect with prospects. These forms allow people to email friends right from your Web page and you'll be able to add your own marketing message along with links back to your site. Add a free email newsletter signup (see last issue) and start delivering new content right to subscribers' email on a regular basis.
Cross-pollinate with other types of media. Your website should promote your other collateral and back again. Dare I say it, my dad has a good grasp of this. His website, www.drrobertbrooks.com, promotes his speaking engagements and books. His books list the URL for his site. At his talks he refers to his website and his free email newsletter. His email newsletter is delivered monthly to over 5,000 subscribers and contains links back to his website and any new books he has written. This is a great example of cross-promotion.
All this “extra work” may seem daunting when you're first planning to develop your site, especially if you were under the impression “if you build it they will come”.
The point is not to be intimidated, but rather educated and realistic. Better to build a smaller site that people will visit than a larger one that will gather dust. Your site doesn't need to be the biggest, flashiest, or even the best. It just needs to be effective in helping you reach your goals. Whether marketing your website means increasing your budget or reducing the size of your site, it's an essential piece of Web marketing strategy.
President, flyte new media