12 Steps to Marketing Your Web Site

by Peter W. Van Ness
President & CEO
Van Ness Group, Inc.

Released: July 2006
Latest Revision: January 2011

Over the last two decades, the World Wide Web has thrust the Internet into our everyday lives and transformed it from a private, obscure—almost secret—tool of science and defense into one of the most profound communication revolutions in human history.

From the dawn of language to the alphabet, the printing press, radio, telephone, television—and now the Internet, we humans continue our struggle to communicate with one another. Has this marvelous new tool enhanced our communication? Only time will tell. What we can say with confidence is that we as a people are utterly enchanted by it.

There are tens of billions of Web sites (sounds a bit like Carl Sagan, doesn't it). With so many Web sites out there, how can yours possibly stand out? How can you get people to come to your Web site?

The good news is that it isn't as difficult as you may think — and unlike most other media, the Web isn't controlled by a few giant corporations that keep everyone else out — at least not yet. Well established marketing techniques, a little technical savvy, a bit of luck and — most importantly — an open mind will empower you to use the Web to your advantage and benefit all your stakeholders.

You may have heard the term Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which is only one part of Web marketing. Below, I have listed twelve steps that we take when we develop a comprehensive Web marketing campaign for our clients. Those campaigns include SEO and Web promotion along with marketing, advertising in other media and public relations.

These 12 Steps are by no means a complete guide, but they do represent a good outline that you can use to promote your Web site.
1. Know Your Audience
This age-old bit of marketing advice cannot be stressed enough! Before you even think about promoting your Web site (whether you're building your first or revising an existing one) you must put yourself in the shoes of your audience and ask yourself, why would I go to this Web site? Much has been written on the subject of knowing your audience (or client, customer, etc.) If you're not quite sure how to go about this, just search Google for "marketing 101" and you'll find plenty of info.
2. Know the Purpose of Your Web Site
Web sites can be used for numerous things. Some allow you to purchase products right there over the Web. Others are just designed to get you to contact the business. Still others promote a particular philosophy or political agenda. Some are communities. Some are pure entertainment. In Step One, you defined whom you serve. Now you must decide what you want them to do once you get them to your Web site.

If you have a small business and limited marketing/advertising resources, having a page on a Web site that promotes your type of business may offer you the best return on investment. For example, many musicians and record labels rely on MySpace, Facebook or a new music pipelline called gimmesound.com for their primary Web presence. Small restaurants in the area north of Boston, MA rely on Udine4Less.com.

Web marketing companies, such as Udine4less.com and gimmesound.com, and business organizations, such as the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce, spend considerable resources promoting a specific interests and you can leverage that spending to your advantage. See section 9 for tips on the best ways to use other Web sites to promote yours.
3. Give Them What They Want
Nearly everyone who comes to your Web site is looking for something. Give it to them. Make it obvious that you have what they want and make it easy to find. This goes for search engines and people.

People want simple, intuitive navigation and most importantly, they hate getting lost. This means you should be able to get to nearly every page from every other page on your Web site without ever having to hit the back button.

Search engines want the same thing. If you're not a Web developer, ask someone who is to review the code on your Web site. They will look for clean code with obvious HTML links and certain tags at the top of the page.

For example: <!DOCTYPE ... should always be the very first thing in the code. The TITLE tag should be very near the top. All style elements should be put into a .CSS file. Most JavaScript should be put into a .js file.

Look at the code for this page. It's a simple example of very clean code. Also don't get too fancy with your code. If your code only works in one browser, it's likely to cause problems. At the very least, your code should work in Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari and run on a PC and a Mac.
4. Never Forget: Content is King
This is the corollary to number 3. In order to get people to come to your Web site, you must have what they're looking for. Put it another way: your content is the main force that will drive traffic to your Web site. Search engines will read your content and put it in their indexes. Other Web sites may want to link to your Web site — but only if you've got content that is relevant and interesting. Perhaps most importantly, once people get to your site, they will decide whether or not to stick around based on your content.

Do not hide your content in Flash or images. Search engines cannot read words that are in Flash or in images. That means your Web site will not show up in search results for words and phrases unless those words and phrases are displayed in HTML text on your site. Therefore, it is imperative that your most important names and descriptions are displayed in HTML text. If you're not sure what this means, ask you Web developer/programmer.
5. Keep Your Content Fresh and Your Visitors Engaged
Both search engines and people are more likely to come back to your site often if you've got new, interesting content. Simply put, fresh content = fresh traffic. For some Web sites — news sites, for example — generating new content is an obvious part their mission. But almost every Web site is capable of generating new content on a periodic basis. If you sell products, your content will change when ever you add or change products or their prices and descriptions. If you don't sell products, you can still keep your content fresh. Here are some specific ways you can do it:
NOTE: Many of these ideas will also help you build an email mailing list, which provides you with an inexpensive way to keep your name in front of customers and prospects.
6. Research
Remember number 3 (everybody's looking for something). Even if you have what they're looking for, it can sometimes be frustratingly difficult to determine how they're looking. For example, what exactly are they typing into Google to search for what you have? Happily, there are some tools you can use to mitigate some of the guesswork. Be aware that search habits are evolving extremely quickly and new tools become available every once in a while. Therefore, research is an ongoing process. In order to be effective, you should expect to spend at least 5 to 6 hours every month discovering what people are searching on.
7. Modify Your Content Based on Results of Your Research
Remember Number 5? Here's one of those excuses to update your content. Once you think you know how people are searching for what you offer, be sure to include those words and phrases (we call them Keywords) in the text of your content.

It is extremely important here to remember that not all content is treated equally by search engines. In determining relevance to a particular Keyword, certain HTML tags are given priority, and proximity to the top of the page is also given priority.

For example, let's say you sell musical instruments. If your Web site's Home Page is entitled Colonel Wingbat's Wicked Cool Stuff and you go on and on about the good Colonel's history of philanthropy for a couple of paragraphs before mentioning that he founded your music store in 1927, you will not rank very well for the keywords that have anything to do with the products you sell (guitars, drums, keyboards, microphones).

Here is a list of practical changes you can make to your content that will help your page rank better for the words and phrases on which you believe people are searching (some of these suggestions require coordination with your Webmaster or programmer):
8. Make Search Engines See Your Web Site
Once you are confident that you have an attractive Web site with good content, you want search engines and directories to know about it. If you have a new Web site you can tell search engines about it. All the major search engines and directories allow you to submit your site to them so they can be sure to index it. Best of all, it's free. Don't submit every page, just your domain name (a.k.a. URL). For example, www.vngroup.com is our domain name.

Here are the most important places to register a new Web site. Be sure to follow all directions. Open an account with Google. It's Free. Google's Webmaster Tools is perhaps the most valuable tool available to help you promote your Web site. What's more, it is only part of a suite of tools that Google calls Webmaster Central.

Create a Sitemap. In most cases your site will be more accurately indexed if you provide Google with a Sitemap. Here is a free tool for creating sitemaps.

Put Your Business on the Map—Literally. If you want people to come to your door, you can put your business on the map. Google's map, that is. Google offers an opportunity to create your own Google Places Page to help you get found on the Google map. Check it out here.

Before you begin your Web Marketing Campaign, you should sign your site up to Google Analytics so you can have a baseline from which to measure success. More about this in Section 11 below.

Yahoo also has a Webmaster service called Site Explorer, which can be useful.

Warning: Beware of software and services that offer to add your Web site to dozens or even hundreds of search engines. The vast majority of search traffic comes from Google, Yahoo and Bing. Plus many of the others get their search results from the top three. In particular, you should avoid automated software that claims to boost your search engine ranking. Those programs often do more harm than good and most major search engines penalize you for using them.
9. Get Other Web Sites to Link to Yours
Links from other Web sites to your Web site (we call them Inbound Links, or IBL) have the most power to drive traffic to your site. First, there's the obvious fact that any link from another Web site to your Web site has the potential to send you a visitor (namely the person visiting the other Web site).

Inbound links also help your site rank better in search engines. Google, in particular, places tremendous value on inbound links in determining the overall value of your site and its relevance to the user's query.

All links are not created equal. Beware of services that offer to generate hundreds of links to your Web site. These companies often create pages with hundreds of links on them, called link farms. Links from these pages can hurt your position in search engines.

There are several factors that affect the value of links to your Web site. Every day we learn more about how search engines work through our experimentation and study—but search engine algorithms change frequently. Suffice it to say that understanding how they work takes continued effort. While there is not enough room here to discuss all the factors that affect the value of links to your site, I will point out three major ones: A good way to determine which Web sites would offer you the most valuable inbound links is to search Google for your Keywords and see if you can get the sites that show up at the top of the list to link to you. Often successful Web sites charge for links, but not always. Sometimes all you have to do is ask.
10. Shift Your Advertising Budget from other media to the Web
If you spend any money at all on advertising at all, this may be your most important step. If you haven't spent any money on advertising, consider the advantages Web advertising has over other media. You may discover that where other media were not cost effective for your business, the Web is. Advertising works. It's that simple. You should try it.

Most of our clients have shifted much of their budgets from print and other media to Web advertising with spectacular results. Some have cut their ad budgets by as much as 2/3 while sales soar. Even very small ad budgets can produce measurable ROI from Web advertising. Most importantly, it is easier to track.

There are many advertising opportunities on the Web. We've had good success with Google AdWords. There is a bit of a learning curve, but once you master it, you can manage your own ad campaign including budgets and excellent tracking all online. Google AdWords appear to the right of the search results, and sometimes at the top in a shaded area as well. Google AdWords is primarily a Pay-Per-Click (PPC) model, meaning that you pay every time the user clicks on one of these ads and goes to your Web site. But you only pay for users that actually come to your Web site.

Another advertising model is to charge a flat fee for a link regardless of the number of people who click on that link and end up at your Web site. These ads are sold in the standard Cost Per Thousand (CPM) model that other media have been using for years. One thousand page views is the M in CPM.

CPM ads work best on Web sites that are popular among people you want to attract to your Web site. For example, if your customers enjoy independent music, advertising on gimmesound.com would be very cost effective.

One way to find good candidates for CPM advertising is to search Google for your Keywords and contact the top 5 sites to see how much they charge for a link and/or get their media kits.

There are many other advertising opportunities on the Web and new ones appear every day. Keep your eye on the news and keep checking the major search engines for new opportunities.

Before developing ads, check out the standard ad sizes so you can be prepared to create an appropriate ad. Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has set standard sizes and weight limits (weight is expressed in Kbytes): Preparing ads in standard formats will greatly simplify both the creative and ad buying processes.
11. Measure Success
One of the great benefits of a Web site is the multitude of data you can collect on traffic. Be sure your hosting company offers some form of traffic statistics. Take the time to learn to read and analyze them. They can tell you what works and what doesn't.

Use Google Analytics. This is perhaps the most powerful tool available for determining how well your marketing campaign is performing and for discovering simple changes you can make to improve performance. Not only will you learn how people find your site, Google Analytics also shows you how they navigate through it and how they become customers (or, if you're not selling anything, what they do before they leave).
12. Maintain Your Success
Just like promotion in other media (radio, TV, print), Web promotion is an ongoing process and results are directly tied to how well the program is managed. Many people make the mistake of stopping the Web Marketing Campaign once traffic to the site has increased. The problem is that the Web is changing at a furious pace. Research, tracking and analysis are required continually in order maintain any initial success.

It's also important to keep up to date on best practices. Google has useful guidelines for Webmasters here. There are many other valuable sources of information on Web marketing, including specialty sites like Search Engine Watch and Web Pro News.

Also, check out cutting-edge research on how people in the U.S. use the Web at Pew Internet and American Life. Understanding what people want and how they go about getting it will help you design a better Web site and focus your PR and marketing campaign. Pew Internet and American Life Project has some of the best research available.

Avoid unethical techniques, such as spamming, link farming and keyword stuffing — and beware of SEO companies who use them. These black hat SEO techniques can be dangerous. What's more, techniques considered unacceptable change frequently, which is why it's a good idea to keep your eye on the news. For example, in November and December of 2003 many businesses formerly at the top of Google search results suddenly dropped to the bottom due to changes in Google's algorithm. In 2006, clients of SEO companies, such as Traffic Power, found themselves removed from Google's index altogether as a direct result of the SEO techniques used to boost their rankings.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do to maintain your success is to let your curiosity flourish and use the Web yourself. Use it every time you want some info (e.g., the name of an actor you forgot, that article you heard about on the radio, a travel deal, new music, anything at all). Notice which sites seem easy, intuitive and fun. Notice which ones are at the top of Google's results when you search. You may get an idea that you can apply to your own Web site.

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