Beyond Search Engines

Some webmasters report that search engines account for 75% or more of their total website traffic. However, it's important not to become too dependent on search engines for new business. Achieving a top listing from a major search engine is becoming more and more difficult over time. The competition for top spots is intense and it's getting harder every day to get listed at all. Also more and more search engines are moving to a pay-per-click model, and paying for top listings may not be in your budget.

The major search engine companies tend to be secretive about the details of their ranking process, so you have to rely on trial and error when optimizing your site to get a higher ranking. Also, search engines change their algorithms every now and then, and when they do you might find your Web pages bumped down to a lower position. To keep up with the latest search engine ranking procedures you'll either need to spend considerable time on it yourself or pay for the services of an SEO specialist.

While search engines can be a great source of targeted traffic, the visitors they send are not always your best prospects. True, the traffic is targeted in the sense that the visitor has actively searched for keywords which your site is relevant to, but that searcher is also viewing (and presumably visiting) the links of some of your closest competitors who also appear in the search results. In other words, they're "shopping around", and your site is a contender but not the only choice. In contrast, someone who visits your website after reading your article, seeing your ad in a respected ezine, or being referred by a friend is interested in your site in particular.

For all of these reasons, your marketing plan should not rely too heavily on search engine placement. You should never become too dependent on any one source of website traffic, and search engine rankings are particularly vulnerable to sudden changes. Being bumped from the first page of results to the second, or going from the second page to the third, can mean a significant drop in traffic. You should diversify your marketing efforts and use a variety of promotional techniques to bring visitors to your site rather than putting all your time and effort into getting a search engine listing.

Here are ten other ways you can promote your online business:

1) Get your articles published in ezines and on websites. Find high quality ezines and websites that offer plenty of useful and relevant content that would appeal to your target market (but which are not your direct competitors). Contact the publisher or webmaster and offer free reprint rights to an article you've written which would be a good fit for their readers or site visitors. They get extra content and you get new leads - it's a win-win situation.

2) Exchange links with other webmasters. Go to your favorite search engine and search for other quality websites with content related to the theme of your site. Then contact the webmaster and offer swap links - you link to their site from a resource page on your website and in exchange they link to yours. You'll both benefit from the extra traffic, plus you'll be adding useful content to your site.

3) Participate in banner ad and link exchanges. Swap banner or text link ads with other webmasters who share your market. You could join a banner exchange network or just arrange swaps on your own, but either way make sure your banner will be displayed to a targeted audience (those most likely to be interested in your product or service).

4) Practice viral marketing. Encourage your site visitors and existing customers to tell their friends and colleagues about your business. Make it easy for them to email a recommendation by providing a link on your site and in your ezine that will fill in the URL and other information in a form which they can personalize and send.

5) Run ezine ads. Place your ad in an ezine that appeals to your potential customers. If your budget allows consider sponsoring a whole issue; you get several ads throughout a single issue, which increases the impact of your sales message.

6) Place print ads. Run a series of classified ads in your local newspaper or business publications. Also, seek out special interest publications and trade journals of interest to your potential customers - the cost is usually reasonable and you'll reach a highly targeted market.

7) Give away logoware. Print your URL and logo on t-shirts, baseball caps, coffee mugs, mouse pads, keychains, pens, or other promotional giveaways. Include them with catalogs, slip them into order shipments, and give them away at public events.

8) Try mobile marketing. Have you ever thought about how much time you spend on the road? Putting your URL on a car window decal or on an ad panel in a bus or taxi reaches a broad audience for very little money. Put a decal or magnetic sign on your own car and ask your friends and family members to put your Web decal on their cars, too.

9) Distribute flyers and handouts. A flyer can usually be printed up and distributed for pennies. Just have a simple one page sheet printed up with a description of your business and your website URL and other contact information. Hand them out at a shopping center or supermarket or during a fair or special events, or pay a flyer distribution company to deliver them door-to-door for you.

10) Do a postcard mailing. Get some postcards printed up with a screenshot of your website's home page or photograph of your place of business on the front and a description of your business and website URL on the back. Bulk mail them yourself or pay to have them included in a "card pack" mailer that goes out in your community.

Search engines are clearly too important to ignore, but don't overlook the many other possibilities for driving traffic to your site. Even if you succeed in getting your website listed and ranking well, don't depend on search engines alone to bring you new customers. And if you've tried repeatedly to get indexed by major search engines only to find your site rejected or ignored, don't despair - you do have other options. Don't be afraid to try something new and different. Experiment with new marketing methods and track your results to find out which methods work best for you.

Jane McLain is a Web developer and SEO specialist and the webmaster of EClaunchsite.com, an online resource center for netrepreneurs with tools and information to help you plan, build, launch and grow your e-business.

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