[NOTE: This is another in the series of repostings of my previously-published articles. This article on developing a promotion plan for your website was published in April 1999, in the pre-Google era, as you will see below. I have not updated references for historical reasons. The same basic principles still apply for websites and blogs, even though the techniques and tools are now somewhat different, and the article still has a lot of value. I'm usually known for my patience, but I've been known to get irritated when a self-styled "web marketing expert" condescendingly lectures me about these same principles while trying to impress me with his or her expertise. That's an area where you want to be talking to the real experts, especially those with real legal marketing experience, who you can spot because they listen and discuss rather than merely talk at you. At the time the article came out, I had nearly four years of experience promoting my own website. I still believe that most people do not do enough non-Internet promotion of their websites and blogs, and promotion plans are still few and far between.]
Promoting Your Web Site: A Twelve Step Plan for Reaching Your Target Audience
The greatest web page in the world does you no good if no one visits it. Much has been written about how to design web pages, but relatively little information is available on how to promote your web site and make it findable.
You cannot simply launch your page, sit back, and expect your page to be a success. Based on my own experiences with my own web pages, I have come to the conclusion that you need a strategic plan for your promotional efforts. You should put in at least as much effort into promoting your web site as you do into its design and your choice of graphics. Here are twelve steps for creating a strategic plan for promoting your web site.
1. Why do you have this web page? Your plan to promote your web page begins with this basic question. Your answer will help you define your target audience and give you a sense of the level of promotional efforts you want to make. Are you simply providing information? Are you supplementing other existing marketing efforts? Do you want to generate new business directly from the web page? Or do you want to sell new products or services to existing customers? Most importantly, what is your target audience?
2. What are your goals for the page? Your goals should be specific, well defined and attainable. A goal may be as simple as generating enough savings or revenues to pay the costs for the page. If you want to have a million hits a day on your web page, different efforts will be required than if you are simply providing customer support or supplemental information to existing clients or customers. While web pages can also be used to sell products directly, other valuable uses include streamlining customer support, providing technical information and reducing costs of printing and postage catalogs and other marketing information. Goals can change over the course of time, but your goals will help you create a framework for your promotional efforts. Goal number one will be finding good ways to reach your target audience.
3. A written plan. Promoting your web page is a continuing process that will evolve after a number of false starts. You will need to develop some checklists and logs of what you have done to promote the page. Take notes on how well each of the strategies has worked. Keeping a written record of this information will help you avoid duplicate your efforts and give you a road map for promoting new pages you may develop.
4. Thoughtful choice of a domain name. Web users will typically try the most obvious domain name, e.g., www.yourcompany.com, to find your page before they will resort to search engines or other finding techniques. If you have not chosen a domain name well, you will make unnecessarily difficult for people to find your site. You will want to avoid using initials used only by insiders in your company or other non intuitive choices. It is also helpful to avoid long, unwieldy web addresses for commercial sites.
5. Listing your page effectively on search engines. The most common way that somebody will find your web page is by using a search engine. Search engines are extremely large databases containing information on millions of web pages which allow you to do keyword searches to find web pages. The larger search engines are AltaVista, HotBot, Excite and Infoseek. [Note: Wow! I wrote this article in the pre-Google era.] When you use a search engine you are not searching the World Wide Web itself. Instead, you are simply searching a database that the search engine company has created which is designed to mirror the World Wide Web. By definition, the search engine will always be somewhat out-of-date and never completely and accurately index the World Wide Web.
It is extremely important to realize that your page will not simply appear in a search engine or any other index. You must add your page to the search engines index. You can do this by simply clicking on an “Add URL” button at the bottom of most search engine home pages and submitting the requested information.
Simply getting your page listed on a search engine is not enough. You need to design your page and promote it in such a way that when someone does a keyword search on a topic he or she will find your page. You need to keep your target audience in mind. If, for example, you are targeting people are looking for a St. Louis law firm, then you will want your page to appear high on the list of responses of someone who does a key word search on “St. Louis law firm.” If, on the other hand, your target audience is anyone who is interested in securities law, your strategy will focus on a different set of keywords.
There are a number of ways to enhance your findability on search engines. You can use programming techniques such as metatags, which are hidden codes which help you specify the key words which a search engine will index your page. You might also buy banner advertising for certain key words. You can also strategically use word placement on your page to help your page receive a higher priority in response to key word searches. All of these techniques require you to develop a good understanding of how search engines work.
6. Placement in directories and finding lists.Good promotion involves a narrowing of your focus to your target audience. In most cases, search engines are not the most effective means to promote your page. Directories, such as Yahoo (www.yahoo.com) or FindLaw (www.findlaw.com) for attorneys, and finding or “subject matter” lists can allow your page to be included on a specialized list of pages relating to a given topic. For example, if you are a computer consultant, you will want to find directories of computer consultants and other lists of consultants and get your page placed in those lists. This technique narrows the scope of your promotion and helps you direct web users more interested in your topic to your page. As a general matter, someone who finds your page through the use of a directory or finding list is someone more interested in your page than someone who found your page through a search engine.
7. Reciprocal links and targeted web advertising. If you do your homework on the World Wide Web before you publish your page, you will find a number of excellent web sites and lists of resources on which you would like to have your page listed. The real utility (and beauty) of the World Wide Web comes from these lists of hyperlinked pages. The way to get your page listed on a page you like is simply to request that the webmaster of that page add a link to your site on his or her page. In exchange, he or she will generally ask you to add a link to his or her site on your page. Since every webmaster is interested in getting more publicity for his or her page, this method works very nicely. Since every webmaster would also like to earn some money from his or her page, offering to place banner ads which link to your web site can also be a very effective means of generating traffic. [Note: My, how the world has changed! Reciprocal links are still a good thing, but the practice has been so abused that it's hard to get them any more. As for banner ads . . . ]
8. Announcements, advertising and other non-Internet techniques. Excellent, focused promotion of your page can come from both Web and non-Web efforts. Letting your existing customers know about your web page is an extremely important first step that can be overlooked if you focus too much on getting listed on search engines. Put the address of your web page on your business card, stationery and yellow page listing. Announcing the debut of your page in brochures, by a special mailing or even by e-mail will be very beneficial. Even on the Internet, nothing works better than word of mouth. Tell your employees and friends about your page so that they understand the benefits of the page. As you have undoubtedly noticed, many television and radio commercials and other advertisements routinely include a mention of a company’s web page address. You’ve already paid for the time or space, so why not include a mention of your web page? Be creative.
9. Obtain favorable mentions from others. People are eight times more likely to believe a recommendation from an independent source than they are to believe an advertisement. An excellent way to promote your web page is try to secure favorable mentions of your site from independent sources. This method, of course, implies that you have good content, good design or something else that will cause independent sources to give your page favorable reviews. You can enhance your prospects of getting favorable publicity by sending an e-mail to a columnist or other writers who write on Internet topics or offering to write an article yourself. The bottom line in web promotion is that it never hurts to ask.
10. Pay attention to your promotion efforts. Many times, people put a lot of effort in promoting the rollout of their web page and then neglect to follow up with other promotional efforts. As I mentioned previously, your web page can fall down in priority on a search engine or even fall off a search engine. If you are adding content on a regular basis and updating the graphic design of your page, it makes good sense to focus on promotional efforts at the same time. Attention to promotional efforts is as important as attention to updating content.
11. Evaluate results on a regular basis.You must have a method to evaluate the success of your promotional efforts. Many pages have a simple counter that counts the number of visitors to a page. These counters provide useful information, but for the most part they are inadequate to help you with promotional efforts. More sophisticated web monitoring software is available and can generally be supplied as a part of your web page hosting arrangement. These programs will let you know how successful different techniques have been. Subscriptions to e-mail newsletters available on your web page are another excellent way to assess the number of quality visits. And, obviously, sales from the page may be the most important measure of all for some sites. This information should be analyzed and used to help you reinforce existing sources of traffic and to help you find new locations on which to put links and advertising.
12. Go back to the first item and start again. Do you still have the same reason for having your page? Do you still have the same goals? Do you now have a better understanding of your target audience and how to reach it? You will certainly have a better sense of what works and what doesn’t work. Like content and design, your promotional efforts will evolve as you learn and as new techniques become available. A written plan will help you focus your marketing efforts and to improve these efforts on an ongoing basis.
Maintaining a great web page is a commitment. One key part of that commitment is to develop new ideas and new ways to publicize your page. Web pages can be extremely beneficial to you and your company, but you cannot expect simply to create a web page and to see results without making any other efforts. Your promotional plan will put you well ahead of many other companies with web sites, give you an important competitive advantage and help you connect with the audience you want to find.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
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