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Spread the Word.

Setting up a Website is the easy part of e-commerce. To be successful, you have to get customers to visit. Here's how to get the word out.

IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME, RIGHT? WELL, BEFORE YOU bet the farm on the success of your new e-business, keep in mind that generating traffic, let alone cash flow, is going to take some serious time, strategy, marketing--and money. Think of launching your Web business as throwing a party: The success is usually directly related to the number and kinds of guests attending--as well as the entertainment you provide.

Marketing on the Web is very much like that, says Noelle Wojciehowski, director of client solutions at Princeton, New Jersey-based TelecomClick, a vertical online community that provides solutions for telecommunications professionals. Knowing your audience (or worse, not knowing them) can make or break any marketing initiative. "Understand your audience: what is important to them, and how to best reach them. Introduce a marketing campaign that makes sense for the audience and the site," advises Wojciehowski.

When Deborrah Cooper launched AskHeartBeat.com in 1996, she set her goals high. She knew that attracting and keeping customers would require constant site maintenance, a strong marketing campaign, and most of all, determination. Based in Oakland, California, AskHeartBeat.com is a resource for information on male-female romantic relationships. The site focuses on the romantic dilemmas and issues specific to African American men, women, and teens, as well as those in or curious about interracial relationships. Says Cooper, "My goal was to be the first and the largest such site on the Internet, a goal we have achieved with approximately 3.5 million page views per month."

Cooper, whose main source of income at the site comes from banner ad placement, solicited help from friends and family, who all believed in the vision and the importance of disseminating this type of information to the black community. "We were able to save quite a bit of money because I do the Web development and marketing myself. Total start-up costs for the site were approximately $2,000," explains Cooper.

S.F. Barry McDonald's venture, StoryAlbums.com, is in the start-up phase of operations. Launched in September 2000, the site allows members to create and share dynamic stories and photos on the Web with friends and family. McDonald, who refers to himself as the company "CEO, president, HR manager, and janitor," chose to design and maintain the site himself. "I'm trying to make it as an out-of-the-garage start-up, the way things used to be done," he says. McDonald runs the Ypsilanti, Michigan-based company on a part-time basis.

StoryAlbums.com allows members to link the pages together to tell personal stories. Members can record birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, or other notable dates for each page in the album. "The more members join, the richer the tale. The intent is that each person can add their piece of the story and then weave it together to form an ever-expanding adventure," McDonald says.

So far, the site has attracted about 1,000 users solely through listings with portals such as BlackPlanet.com and the Black Web Portal, and through word of mouth. McDonald is analyzing the site's Web trend report for traffic patterns so he can better focus his marketing efforts. "I wanted to prove out the concept prior to mass marketing by using word of mouth to draw a small number of users. I would use their feedback to improve the product," he says. With this in mind, here are a few things you should consider.

GETTING STARTED

Now that you've created your new Website, begin registering it with as many of the main Web search engines as you can find. Some will be free. Getting your dotcom on these sites will require writing a description of the site. A descriptive title should contain only five to eight words for each page. Removing as many filler words from the title, such as "the" and "and," will help target your title. Make the site sound provocative to encourage people to click through. Sit around with colleagues and friends who may fit your target demographic and brainstorm on keywords. Don't repeat any word more than three times, or some engines will penalize you for "keyword spamming."

Once the text and Website have been carefully proofed and checked; for bugs and broken links, consider using a submission service such as 123Link (www.1231linkcom/ulinki/ form2.html) or All4one Submission Machine (www.all 4one.com/all4submit/). The most important search engines that robotically "spider," or index, your site are: AltaVista, Google, Excite, HotBot, Lycos, Infoseek, and WebCrawler. Finally, there's Yahoo!, which is technically a directory, but probably the most important site to get your name on. A helpful hint: When submitting to Yahoo, be concise. Real humans will edit your text and pare it down if you aren't.

Anyone who surfs the Web has seen myriad offers to submit your pages to, say, 300 different search engines. We've found some of these services to be a little shady, and not very helpful. Most of the places your pages will get submitted aren't actually search engines at all. These marginal directories come and go very quickly. Consider linking yourself to other industry pages, like reputable trade publications. It may cost you something, but it will help attract your target audience.

Cooper says that AskHeartBeat.com's new visitors find her through a few key sources: search engines, links on other sites, and offline sources that include word-of-mouth and traditional advertising and marketing.

TRADITIONAL MEDIA

Another option is to promote your site via traditional media. Don't discontinue the print advertising that you've found effective in the past because you think banner ads alone will generate traffic. "Offline marketing makes sense because traditional mediums are still driving Web traffic," says Wojciehowski.

Cooper concurs. "AskHeartBeat.com is marketed as much offline as it is online, using traditional sources such as flyers, posters, print (magazines and newspapers), public appearances on radio and television, speaking engagements, and offline events for singles."

When purchasing ads in trade journals and newspapers, be sure to include your URL boldly in any display or classified. Make sure people know what you're offering. An ad may be clever, but does it define what you're selling? View your Website as an information adjunct to the ad. Catch readers' attention with the ad, then refer them to a Web page where they can get more information or place an order.

McDonald agrees that traditional advertising is important to success. "This still seems to be the best way to attract the large number of users that I need to make the site profitable."

Offline ads are more targeted, more effective, and often less expensive than online advertising. Consider other traditional media to drive people to your site, such as direct mail, classifieds, and postcards. Include the URL on everything: company letterhead, business cards, and brochures. And make sure the URL syntax is correct. Leave off the "http://" part and include only the "www.domain .com" portion.

Too often, though, small businesses spend far too much money when it comes to advertising. "There are lessons to be learned from the now-defunct dotcoms that spent millions of dollars on marketing initiatives," Wojciehowski cautions.

STOP THE PRESSES

If your service or business initiative is unique, it might also be newsworthy. If it is, you'll need a press release. The release should be simple and concise, but not boring. If you are offering something free at your site, place emphasis there. Send news releases to print and Web publications that parallel your company's initiatives.

"Sponsor events [your] audience attends, run advertising in and seek editorial coverage in the print vehicles they read, release news to the press and wires, do a road show, and/or invest in premiums," says Wojciehowski. Cooper says she sends out a new press release every quarter.

Also consider holding a contest or offering something for free, even if it is just a daily recipe or office joke of the day (make sure it's not offensive, though). When you give something away free, doors open. Surf the Net looking for other sites that might be a good link to your site, then e-mail the site owner or Webmaster with your site name, URL, and a brief description (say, 200 words) of what you offer.

Because StoryAlbums.com is a free service, McDonald participates in affiliate programs from which he generates revenue. "My philosophy is not to deluge my customers with banner ads or other blatant sales gimmicks. I do provide links to the sites I have an affiliate relationship with on a separate page, so customers have to make a conscious decision to click [through]." McDonald receives a commission on each purchase made through an affiliate.

For greater success, however, Wojciehowski suggests companies send updates and point visitors to free offers and new site features. Companies should also include a checkbox on the site that lets visitors "opt in" to receive notices.

NONTRADITIONAL ADS

Joining a banner exchange program is another way to attract customers and make money. Microsoft's Link Exchange (www.bcentral .com/lede fault.asp) is the biggest. By signing up for one of these programs, you agree to show a rotating banner ad on your site provided by other Link Exchange businesses, and they do the same for you. There's also a possibility you'll earn additional revenue through paid banner ads as well.

Spending money for banner ads can sometimes prove effective. The key is to choose sites that will attract your target audience. Expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $70 per thousand people who see your ad, for a click-through rate of 0.5% to 1%. Media brokers can help you find appropriate and cost-effective places to advertise, especially if you have a significant budget for branding purposes.

"We have paid for very little online advertising, instead using the exchange programs, cross-links with other sites that have complementary content, search engine and directory registration, and by supplying content to other sites in exchange for promotional consideration," says Cooper.

Some of the best advertising buys are for small four- to 12-line ads in established e-mail newsletters, like Email Hello! (www.emailhello.com) or ShagMail (www.shagmail.com). Ads can both inform and motivate readers to click on the URL, and tend to draw more targeted visitors.

MAKE FRIENDS

The Internet offers thousands of targeted mailing lists and newsgroups made up of people with specific interests. Take advantage of them. Use Google.com (www.groups.google .com), formerly DejaNews (www .dejanews.com), to find potential customers that may be seeking your kind of service or product.

Find online discussion groups that relate to your business, but don't use aggressive marketing or overtly plug your product or service. Be an authority: Add to the discussion in a helpful way and let the "signature" at the end of your e-mail message do the marketing for you.

"If you do your homework and investigate your competition and the market in general before launching your site, you should have no trouble staying at the top. My best suggestion is to be unique; have something different to offer that no one else has. Let others copy you," says Cooper.

To encourage additional visitors, McDonald plans to offer a "kick-start program" that will scan customers' photos and create starter stories for a small fee.

PSST! SPREAD THE WORD

Another successful method is viral marketing, a strange name for a useful marketing tool. It uses the communication networks and often the resources of your site's visitors or customers to spread the word about your site exponentially. In plain English, it's word-of-mouth marketing. One example is the free e-mail service Hotmail.com or Iwon.com, which includes a tagline about the service at the end of every e-mail message. You tell two friends, and they tell two friends, and so on. The following are different types of viral marketing:

* Affiliate agreements. You won't necessarily need to open a warehouse to store your products. Try forging affiliate relationships with large, successful companies that can fulfill orders and ship products for you. For example, by offering books that pertain to your business through a company like Amazon.com, they take the orders for your book, handle shipping, and then give you a percentage of the business.

* Brand identification. Because the Internet has enabled many small businesses to offer the same line of products and services, building a brand is essential for attracting and keeping customers. Try using offline and online publicity and advertising to bring people directly to your site.

* Permission marketing. Visitors give you permission to send them information about your business. Through permission marketing, Web visitors receive targeted e-mail notices of new products and services. A newsletter is another form of permission marketing.

* Vertical site. With this, you can really be creative: Offer your customer everything they could possibly need. For example, if you're selling baked goods, offer recipes, cooking utensils, aprons, books, and other supplies.

Although StoryAlbums.com has yet to show a profit, McDonald is cautiously optimistic. "The business model that I'm using requires lots of browsers to use the site and make purchases through affiliates. It is very difficult to make a profit without a large user base; however, I have very little overhead, so most of the revenue, when it comes, will be profit."

Get the hookup

Reciprocal linking refers to the in-kind exchange of banner ads or links between sites with a similar subject matter or business. They can be an effective way to increase traffic and build a Web presence without paying for prime Web placement. Here are a few of the services that can help you connect with customers:

BannerSwap (www.bannerswap.com). A "free" advertising network where your odds are 2:1. In other words, you are required to publish two of their banner ads on your site for each one of yours they publish on theirs. The network provides statistics on impressions, click-throughs, and follow-up page views.

Critique (www.critique.com). Can you take criticism? This is a critique exchange: You critique someone else's site and then someone will do the same for yours.

IntelliClick (www.intelliclick.com). The first free banner exchange network that lets you include sound effects with your banner ad--no plug-ins required. What's not to like?

LinkShare (www.linkshare.com). A network of commission-based affiliate programs. You can join as a member and get paid to refer people to LinkShare's member sites. If you're a merchant, they can help you set up an affiliate program.

Editor's Note: This is the second of a three-part series on doing business online. Next month, look for Part 3, which will focus on inventory management and customer service.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:build your own web site to advertise your business
Author:AGUIRRE, HOLLY
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2001
Words:2460
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