Promote A Site with Little (or No!) Money!
By David Bancroft -- January 20, 1998 (Updated 7/15/00)
Are you one of the many small business owners who constantly wrestles with where, how, and when as it relates to prioritizing your limited financial resources relative to overwhelming needs?
And now you have just invested in the development of a web site with little or no budget left to promote it.
Does it hit home?
You aren't alone!
In fact, many (if not most) small businesses with web sites have limited budgets for the purpose of developing exposure and traffic, especially for their target audience. Unfortunately, some probably have the means, but ownership suffers from a lack of understanding of a general marketing rule... You must spend money (wisely, of course) to make money.
Now, if you really have budget constraints or are just starting a business, then you should investigate and utilize every free promotional resource and tool available to maximize your exposure and traffic. And all that really requires, besides good business sense, are time and perseverance.
Spending the time necessary to enhance site exposure and target audience visits can go a long way in making up for being unable to afford professional assistance. Another good thing is that your own time is adjustable.
Here are some ways to enrich site exposure and traffic, both on- and off-line.
Before I venture into the online world, it is important to address what can be done offline to assist in the promotion of a business web site with little or no additional expense.
Sprinkle URLs Liberally
Be sure to include your URL and e-mail address on every stitch of printed material that leaves your office. This includes all collateral materials (literature), business cards, letterheads, invoices, and the like. Several different e-mail addresses can be used on specific literature (for example... sales department, customer service, and/or technical service).
Go Tell It On the Mountain
Send a letter to your clients and prospects announcing the web site. (And until the letterhead needs to be reprinted, the web site URL and respective e-mail address should be highlighted under the signature of the author.)
Advertising and Point of Sale (POS or POP)
Any advertising you do after the web sites completion needs to include both the site's URL and main e-mail address. (Yellow pages and business white pages are part of the process.)
Also, any business that uses POS packaging and/or display (such as at trade shows) needs to incorporate the web site URL and main e-mail address. Again, there is no additional cost to add this information if it occurs in the normal process of advertising, reprinting, or maintenance.
Now . . . Online
There are many free and relatively inexpensive online avenues you can travel down to give your business web site some much-needed exposure. Again . . . the expense is directly related to your (or one of your employees) time!
There are business-specific, marketing, and promotional newsletters that offer the chance to receive some free exposure if a business site offers something relevant to the readers. Subscribe to those that meet your requirements . . . and send the editor an e-mail when you come across a subject that relates to your site.
Do not attempt to over-promote your site in the e-mail, but point out specifics that complement a subject the newsletter may have covered. Some editors may consider including your comments in a future issue, or may invite you to pen your own piece. Of course, sponsorship offers the best chance of direct exposure, and is relatively inexpensive.
There are guides -- like About.com, and Suite 101 -- that should have one or more guide sections that should relate to your business. Send the individual who is responsible for the respective section information about your site with an invitation to visit.
Just make sure that the site has a professional look to it, or your invite will be for naught. If your work impresses the guide, your site stands a good chance to be mentioned in the guides page(s) -- with a permanent link!
Another good reason to approach the guides: many issue awards to sites that are considered "best of the web."
Speaking of awards for sites . . . Applying for them is a good approach to help promote your site. However, the site must be well-designed with solid content and an effective message if you expect to receive recognition by the better and meaningful awards.
You will also stumble into the occasional award- issuing sites that are more interested in giving an award for reciprocal link purposes. They can still be helpful if they have a winners list. Otherwise, it is not worth the application time, because the award issuing site really only benefits. (As an FYI: I developed a micro site called AWARD SITES! for the purpose of assisting site owners and their representatives in applying for awards.)
It is also advisable to visit some of the winning sites prior to applying for an award. It will help you determine if your site would benefit to be the recipient of any particular award.
Discussion Lists, Chat Rooms, and Bulletin Boards
Become involved in all of the above that are relevant to your business products and services. There are business-related sites that offer excellent avenues to expose members of your target audience to your business site. Lurk for a while to learn the rules and see who is participating. Then, join in the discussions once your are comfortable with the format and process.
Banner / Link Exchange
The free banner link services like LinkExchange and BannerSwap can be very useful if you have established some traffic already.
The number and placement location of banners are strategic points that need to be weighed carefully. They can be a distraction to the visitor, whisking them away to a site that is being presented on a banner. Monitor the data generated by these services to determine if the site is benefiting. You may find after several months that the traffic being generated is not worth the visitors being lost.
Reciprocal linking with other sites is another avenue to investigate. It can take some time developing the linking relationships, but it is free.
You can use search engines to target the type of sites you want to reciprocate links with, but remember that not all of them offer reciprocal linking. (One tip: List your web site with a brief description under your name on all your e-mail messages. That can assist in attracting your target audience and reciprocal linking opportunities.)
Directories, Malls, and Marketplaces
It can only help to list your site with the many directories, malls, and marketplaces on the Internet. They range from excellent to so-so (and worse!), so you will have to determine which ones best fit your business web site best. Some will ask you to pay for a premium position; that's a choice you'll need to make.
Sending press releases to specific trade media may be the smart approach. But there are general interest eZines, local newspapers, business journals, and Internet related magazines that may find the press release of value, too.
Unless you are experienced in writing press releases and have your media e-mail list in hand, it may be better to spend some money and go through one of the online services like PRWeb. It even offers a free press release submit service.
Posting to Newsgroups
Posting on selective newsgroups about what your company's web site has to offer might be useful. But be aware that it will also open you up to potential spamming of business opportunities. Trust me, it's happened to me every time.
Free Promotional Services
There are other free promotional, advertising, and marketing resources that can offer excellent information and links to other helpful sites. One of the most popular ones is VirtualPROMOTE. You can find more via search engines.
Search Engines – Keyword and Description Meta Tags
Of course, I should mention search engines and more importantly . . . key word and description meta tags. Being listed on search engines is one thing. But these two meta tags must be focused towards your type of company, products/services, market(s), and target audience. And they must be within word limits. Your target audience will find you more often if these tags are done right!
And hopefully . . . the time you spend finding ways to promote your site will generate exposure and financial success -- perhaps enough where you can then afford professional assistance for the next phase!
Copyright © 1998 - 2000
All Rights Reserved
David G. Bancroft
Originally Published by ClickZ Today . . . February 10, 1998