Some of the most effective promotion you can do doesn't involve any high-tech HTML wonkery, but instead amounts to variations on the theme of good old fashioned advertising.
The first step is to find other Web sites like yours. If you're creating a topic-oriented siteyour musings on, say, golf, fine jewelry , or jeweled golf clubsthese kinds of similar sites are friendlies that make up the larger online community to which you now belong. So why not introduce yourself? Strike up a reciprocal link relationship (see the next section).
On the other hand, if you're creating a business site, similar sites are, obviously, your competitors . As a result, you're unlikely to share links. However, it's a great idea to Google your competition. You'll probably find other sitesbusiness directories, news sites, content sites, and so onthat link to these competitive sites. Once you've found these places, you can advertise your Web site in them as well.
A reciprocal link is a link-trading agreement. The concept is simple. You find a Web site with similar content, and you strike a bargain: Link to my site, and I'll link to yours. Reciprocal links are an important thread in the underlying fabric of the Web. If you're not sure where to start searching for potential link buddies , pay a visit to Google and use the link : operator (as explained in Figure 11-1) to see who's linking to sites similar to yours.
Reciprocal links only work if there's a logical connection between the two sites. For example, if you've created the Web site www.ChocolateSculptures.com , it probably makes sense to exchange links with www.101ChocolateRecipes.com . But www.HomerSimpsonForPresident.com is a far stretch, no matter how much traffic it gets.
Topic isn't the only consideration. You should also look for a site that feels professional. If a similarly themed site is choked with ads, barren of content, formatted with fuchsia text on a black background, and was last updated circa 1998, keep looking.
Once you've found a site you want to exchange links with, dig around on the site for the Webmaster's email address. Send an email message explaining that you love www.101ChocolateRecipes.com , and plan to link to it from your site, www.ChocolateSculptures.com . Then, gently suggest that you think your Web site would be of great interest to the readers of www.101ChocolateRecipes.com .
Once you enter into a link agreementeven if it's just an informal exchange of emailsremember to keep your end of the deal. Don't remove the link from your Web site without letting the other Webmaster know about your change. It's also a good idea to keep checking on the other site to make sure your link remains prominent. If it disappears, don't fly into an Othellian ragejust send a polite email asking where it went or why it disappeared.
Reciprocal links are also a good way to start working your way up the search engine rankings (see Section 220.127.116.11). That's because one of the criteria Google takes into account when determining how to order results in a Web search is how many sites link to your Web site. The more popular you are, the more likely you'll climb up the list.
A Web ring is similar to a reciprocal link, but instead of sharing a link between two partners , it binds a group of Web sites together.
For example, imagine you've created a brilliant new site featuring reality TV trivia. To get more exposure, you could join a Web ring dedicated to reality TV. You agree to put a block of HTML on your Web site that advertises the ring and lets surfers visit other sites in the ring. As payback, you become another stop on the ring (see Figure 11-2). Web rings are almost exclusively used with topic-based sites.
Sadly, the majority of Web rings consist of gaudy, amateurish Web disasters. Pair up with these nightmares, and your Web site will be deemed guilty by association. However, with a little research you may find a higher quality ring. To search for one, use Google (see Figure 11-3). If you want to establish and manage your own ring, check out http://dir.webring.com/rw or www.bravenet.com.
To get your Web site listed on many popular sites, you'll need to fork over some cold, hard cash. However, some of the best advertising doesn't cost anything. The trick is to look for sites where you can promote and contribute at the same time.
For example, if you've created the Web site www.HotComputerTricks.com , why not answer a few questions on a computing newsgroup or discussion board? It's considered tactless to openly promote your Web site, but there's nothing wrong with dispensing some handy advice and following it up with a signature that includes your Web site URL.
Here's an example of how you can answer a poster's question and put a good word in for yourself at the same time:
An answer posting is much better than sending an email directly to the original poster, because on a popular site, hundreds of computer aficionados with the same question will read your posting. If even a few decide to check out your site, you've made great progress.
If you're very careful, you might even get away with something that's a little more explicit:
Some sites allow you to post tips, reviews, or articles. In this case, you can use variations of the same technique. Remember, dispense some useful advice, and then follow up with a byline at the end of your message. For example, if you submit a free article that describes how to create your groundbreaking vacuum enclosure, end it with this:
Promotion always works best if you believe in your product. So make sure there's some relevant high-quality content on your site before you boast about it. Don't ever send someone to your site based on some content you plan to add (someday).
Attracting fresh faces is a critical part of Web site promotion, but novice Webmasters often forget something equally importantreturn visitors. In order for a Web site to become truly popular, it needs to be able to attract visitors who will return again and again. Many a Web site creator would do better to spend less time trying to attract new visitors and more time trying to keep the attention of the current flock .
If you're a marketer, you know that a customer that comes back to the same store three or four more times is a lot more likely to make a purchase than someone who's there on a first visit. These regulars are also more likely to get excited and recruit their friends to come and take a look. This infectious enthusiasm can lead more and more people to your Web site's virtual doorstep. The phenomenon is so common it has a name : the traffic virus .
So how does your Web site become a favorite stopping point for Web surfers? The old Internet adage says it all content is king . Your Web site needs to be chock full of fascinating must-read information. Just as important, this information needs to change regularly and noticeably. If you update information once a month, your Web site barely has a pulse. If you update information two or three times a week, you're ready to flourish.
Never underestimate the importance of regular updates . It takes weeks and months of up-to-date information to create a return visitor. However, one dry spellsay, three months without changing anything more than the color of your buttonsdoesn't just stop attracting newcomers, it can actually kill off your current roster of return visitors. That's because savvy Web surfers immediately realize when a Web site's gone stale. They have much the same sensation you feel when you pull out a once-attractive pastry from the fridge and find it's as hard as an igneous rock. You know what happens nextit's time to toss the pastry away, clear out the Web site bookmarks, and move on.
The other way to encourage return visitors is to build a community . Discussion forums, promotional events, and newsletters are like glue. They encourage visitors to feel like they're participating in your site, and sharing your Web space. If you get this right, hordes of visitors will move in and never want to leave. You'll learn specific techniques for community building in the next chapter.
| GEM IN THE ROUGH |
Your first challenge is to get a Web surfer to add your site to her browser bookmarks. However, that's not enough to guarantee a return visit. Your Web site also needs to be fascinating enough that it beckons from the bookmark menu, tempting the visitor to come back. If you're a typical surfer, you regularly visit only about five percent of the sites you've bookmarked.
One way to make your Web site stand out from the crowd is to change the icon that appears in the bookmark or favorites menu (technically called a favicon ). This technique is browser-specific, but it works reliably in most versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari. The illustration in this box shows the favicons for Google and Amazon.
To create a favicon, just add an icon file to the top-level folder of your Web site, and make sure it's named favicon.ico . The best approach is to use a dedicated icon editor (see the shareware sites listed on Section 4.1.1) because that will let you create an icon file that has both a 16-pixel x 16-pixel and larger 32 x 32 version of your icon in the same file. That's handy because some operating systems and browsers use the favicon when you drag a shortcut to the desktop. If you don't have an icon editor, just create a bitmap (a .bmp file) that's exactly 16 pixels wide and 16 pixels high.