There are hundreds of search engines to choose from. For-hire site registration services typically say they submit to more than 100 engines. But there's little value in being on an index no one uses, which is why e-tailers should focus on a handful of high-traffic engines. According to Piper Jaffray Inc., the leading search destinations are Google, Yahoo!, MSN, and AOL. Together they have more than 80 percent of the market share.
What will lure visitors to a site? Although heavily funded internet companies can make seven- and eight-figure deals to buy prime advertising real estate on the major internet portals and online services like Yahoo! and AOL, you're likely priced out of that race. So winning visitors becomes a matter of creative, persistent marketing. And the good news is that it's still the little things that will bring plenty of traffic your way.
There are fundamental steps that too many businesses neglect. For instance? "You should always put your URL and a reason to visit your Web site on your business cards", says Larry Chase, publisher of Web Digest for Marketers, a weekly e-mail newsletter that delivers short reviews of marketing-oriented sites. "I call this cyberbait. For example, you should mention what people will get when they visit the site, such as a newsletter or a list of 'Top 10 Tips'. That substantially increases visitors and eventually customers or subscribers."
An e-mail signature is an especially powerful--and absolutely free--tool. Create a signature with a link to your web site in it and have it automatically attached to every one of your outgoing e-mails. If your e-mail recipients click on the link, they'll be taken to your site. It only takes a few seconds to create an e-mail signature, and it'll bring in visitors to your site every day.
Another low-cost traffic builder: "Get active in online discussion groups and chats, and, where appropriate, give out your URL," says Shannon Kinnard, author of Marketing With E-Mail. Sell bird toys? Scout out the many groups that focus on birds and get active. A good place to find groups is at Google Groupswhich archives discussion lists. Getting active in these groups spreads the word about you and your site. That spreads the word about you and your site, and "you'll get traffic coming to you," says Kinnard.
Another big-time traffic builder for any Web site that retails is posting items for sale on the major auction sites, such as eBay, Yahoo! and Amazon. Those sites let you identify yourself to viewers, and a few dollars spent on putting out merchandise to bid just may bring in lots of traffic from surfers seeking more information. Many small e-tailers tell me their entire advertising budget consists of less than $100 monthly spent on eBay, but they nonetheless are seeing traffic counts above 500 daily, with most of those viewers coming via eBay. My advice: Put up a few items for bid on each of the leading auction sites and then track traffic. Even if you sell the auctioned goods at no profit, the traffic jams your site may experience could well justify your efforts.
Classified ads offer more possibilities for traffic generation on the cheap. Check out Yahoo!, for example. Classified ads there are low-cost and vary depending on what you're selling. Listing is simple--just follow the steps at the site--and, again, you can insert your URL so readers who want more information can get it with a click. For my money, classified ads--at least the freebies--represent one of the very top ways to generate no-cost traffic, yet many businesses ignore them. Why? The complaint is that such sites have too many listings--hundreds of thousands--but don't let that stop you. Put up some ads, and watch your hit count climb.
Spam-Free E-Mail Marketing
For many businesses, direct mail--good old e-mail--may be the surest and certainly the cheapest tool for building traffic. "E-mail still gets results," says Hans Peter Brondmo, senior vice president of strategy and corporate development at Digital Impact, a San Mateo, California-based direct marketing solutions provider for companies such as Dell Computer Corp., Citibank, and MasterCard. Who reads spam? Nobody, says Brondmo, but well-constructed e-mail is "informative and personal, and people will look forward to getting it and reading it."
A key to making e-mail effective: Use "opt-in" sign-ups, where Web site visitors are asked to indicate if they want to receive e-mail from you. How to get sign-ups? "Offer a free monthly newsletter," says e-mail expert Shannon Kinnard. "The key is to give really good information."