4. Driving Traffic
Note: If you haven’t done so already, I recommend you download Before You Take the Web Site Leap, which provides a thorough treatment of the strategies involved and includes examples of specific approaches. Otherwise, spend some time considering the points we covered in the first section on design.
We refer to customers, vendors, subscribers, supporters, employees, members, congregants -in short, all those groups with whom you now interact and for whom your site will or might provide some benefit. Aside from simple curiosity, they will be driven to your site because it addresses some need, problem or concern they have. Consider how you address those needs now. Does a vendor need delivery instructions to you or to a remote site? Does a customer need to ask about repair, get advice or inquire about pricing? Does your membership need to know about a function or project you’re planning, or do you need to recruit some talent or muscle? Can employees pick up job instructions or work tickets from your site?
You would do well to take a mental X-ray of your organization and note everything that might possibly be done better or faster (from the constituent’s point of view) on your web site. At the same time, you should draw a red line through anything that might take more time, trouble and expense than it is worth. For example, someone who sells products might see more results from asking for an email or phone call than from attempting to operate a real-time virtual store. On the other hand, someone who provides a standard array of services (a cleaning business, perhaps) might do well to put a virtual service ticket on their site for customers to check off what they want. If your business is a frequent target of solicitation by community groups and charities, a web site is an excellent way to take in their information, advise of submission procedure and even to list the groups you already support. In any event, with a keen eye to everything you do, prepare a list of those that could be enhanced with your web site to the benefit of the site visitor.
Tried and True Rules:
Some things never change -and ought not to change. In a nutshell, this means that your web site should not be experienced as a barricade between you and the constituent. Your address, phone, fax, hours and days of operation -all those things which people are accustomed to seeing otherwise should be clearly evident on your site, and the traditional ways of contact with you should not, except in special circumstances, be eliminated. If a web site innovation doesn’t uphold the values and priorities you’ve always had -don’t do it.
You’ve always known that constituent information is important, but sometimes it is difficult to gather and organize in a useable fashion. Asking for an email address at time of sale (or laying out a guest book and invitation to disclose the address) can get in the way of what you’re really there to do and worse, what your customer is there to do. Furthermore, entering the data into an email address book or database takes up time and effort. Of course, any time an email address can be discovered, it should be. But the disclosure and record maintenance can happen automatically -or nearly so- when a visitor to your site sends you an email from it, or submits a form. Since the contact originated with the constituent, what they get in return from you is a response as opposed to an uninvited solicitation. Obviously, most of the people who have email addresses also have access to a computer and the internet and because of that you have an additional point of presence with them.
Ask for Help:
Through every means at your disposal, ask your constituents for help while you plan your site and after it goes live. Ask them to criticize it and help you make it better serve their needs. Do this with outgoing mail (bills, letters, etc.) put it on business cards, stick it to products -put it everywhere.
Rethink and Revamp Your Advertising:
Understand what a web site can do that traditional advertising cannot do (at any comparable cost). Your web site allows you take as much space and use as many attention-getting devices as you wish to get and keep attention; to tell your story. No print or broadcast media can do this, not even an “infomercial.” Directory advertising (such as the Yellow Pages) is therefore an area where a few key facts and directive to the web site can replace the big ad you maintain now. (See the story of Mac’s Vacs and Vac Attack Shack in Before You Take the Web Site Leap). Beware, however, of these Yellow Pages counter-measures reported by some of my customers. Likewise, display ads in the newspaper may possibly be reduced to listings of what you have, do, or need and include a directive to your web site for details.
On the other hand, bear in mind what traditional advertising can do that your web site can’t possibly do: present your message to people at virtually every turn: billboards, radio spots, the classifieds, matchbooks, direct mail… you get the idea. Understanding what the two forms of public presence can and cannot do is the key to linking them together so they are mutually supporting. Accordingly, while the size of traditional ads may be reduced, the frequency (number of “impressions”) may be increased; each one pointing back to the web site. What must be understood is that most traditional advertising asks people to buy something -responding to an ad usually means there will be a cost. But responding to an ad pointing to a website will exact NO cost and what’s more, it is entirely at the visitor’s discretion and convenience.
Put up a Sign. Make it Bigger. For Free:
One of the factors that works against many web sites is the sheer enormity of the Internet. How do you tell people to come see you? How do you tell the right people? It is just that same enormity of the internet that has spawned a new browsing and search modality now being deployed by the major Internet portals such as Yahoo and Google: Local Search. What usually spawns the local results to appear is a search which includes a city name. Thus, “tent rental” by itself will draw citations from all over the Internet and all over the world. But a search for “tent rental charlottesville va” will pull in as a group all the tent rental companies in Charlottesville, VA. Within that group, the user may then see your business or organization whether or not you have a web site because the search engine is pipelining “hits” from the Yellow Pages and other business directories. Because the major portals are competing with one another, most encourage the owners of businesses appearing on local search to update and enhance their own listings -for free! Because the local search technology is based on the way most people would look for something in a particular city, it supports queries made from the basic search box -the user does not need to select “local,” “shopping,” or some other directive -they search the way they always do. Try it yourself to locate your organization. You, or EZBiz, can update your location details.
Pay for It:
Almost last, and probably actually last for most visitors here, is “pay per click.” By whatever name, the technology pushes you to the top of results in response to a search phrase that includes key words specified by you. The search formula may be conditioned to respond only to queries made from the geographic regions you specify, or from everywhere. When the web surfer clicks your web site, you get a bill. Simple as that. Sites pushed to the top of hit lists usually are on one side of the page or grouped within a box or surrounded by a particular color scheme or otherwise separated from whatever floats to the top “naturally.” As you might imagine, people who are giving something away for free or acting strictly in the interest of a limited interest group would not be motivated to pay for the privilege of a top ranking; conversely, many who surf or shop on the web reasonably wonder if the cost of that ranking might be included in the price of what the site is selling. Makes sense. In fact, though, many free (genuinely, truly, really free) sites do pay for top ranking. The reason leads us to our next Driving Traffic topic:
Make Them Pay For It (Really):
Many, if not all, the “pay per click” sites with high rankings (and who are, in fact, “free”) are actually affiliate sites whose pages include links to what the web site owners hope you think are interesting or very cheap products and services. Thus, the links to mortgage brokers with no closing fees, cheap long distance, discount vacations, romance, and so on, will earn a commission for the web site that has the links, either when a sale is made or, sometimes, merely on the click-through itself. Obviously, more traffic comes to the highly ranked web site, and so more will click on a vendor link -it’s a numbers game. And, obviously, the higher up on search results you are, the greater the chances someone will click YOU as opposed to someone ranked 50th on a “natural” search.
This site, EZBiz, is itself an affiliate of some of the companies whose images you’ll find on these pages. There is no reason for you not to link to affiliated organizations that pay you when someone clicks through you to them and then buys something. However, I hope that EZBiz also serves as an example of applying the strategy in a rational manner that delivers a real value to the customer and has some logical connection to what you’re doing in the first place. Accordingly, I provide the links only to those places whose products and services I use, or would use, myself. Beyond that, I attempt to explain the real benefits of doing business with my click-through to affiliated vendors. In so doing, I believe that no one will perceive my marketing efforts as a subtle or underhanded way to separate the visitor from his or her money.
There are numerous organizations who act as intermediaries in the realm of affiliated advertising, the largest of which is Commission Junction (www.cj.com). Here, you may sign on as a “publisher” (the one who hosts the ads) and select any organizations -and there are hundreds, including well known companies- whose products and services believe would be an asset to your site. Otherwise, any web site you have found on your own that yields good value and an ethical business model may have an affiliate program. Look for a “partners,” or “affiliates” link on their pages and click through to see what what they offer.
Doing It Naturally:
Finally, there are measures you and I can take to enhance the possibility of higher rankings from search engines where paying for position is not a factor. This has to do with “key words,” page headers and titles and similar aspects of preparing web pages for their lives in cyberspace -all of this, part of the design process. Aside from selecting catch words and phrases that are actually relevant to what you’re doing, it is important to establish relevancy between those keywords and the actual content (the printed text) of your web pages. The search engine “spiders” which cruise the internet looking for new arrivals and checking old ones will, among other things, compare page header, title and key word submissions with what is actually in the viewable text of the web page. A problem may arise when a home page, for example, has beautiful art work or graphics….but doesn’t contain much readable text. (The fact that the art includes words doesn’t matter…it is just a picture to the spider). Because comparing key words to a picture is an “apples to oranges” situation, the page may not be marked as “relevant” to likely search phrases and it will languish off the radar. That said, what the spider brings home is reviewed at some point by a flesh and blood person who has the final say. The point is that great design with no actual text pushes you toward the end of the line.
The exact mix of the strategies you employ will depend on the specifics of your situation. Clearly, however, among your first priorities is to make the most of what you already have: your existing constituency, your advertising presence and your listings as they currently appear now on the Internet.