Promoting the Web Site

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PROMOTING THE WEB SITE

The Web represents a new marketing channel. Promoting the Web site is about giving people specific, tangible reasons to visit your Web site. These include service-oriented reasons, such as being able to track order status, review purchase history, and receive e-mail reminders, among others. Price-related reasons for visiting an e-commerce site include discounted merchandise and special sales.

A site's content can also give people a reason to visit. In addition to product descriptions, an e-commerce site can include editorial stories, tips, recipes, how-to advice, and similar items that indirectly promote a business's products and services.

There are many specific ways to promote an e-commerce Web site. Some ways, such as offline advertising, involve millions of dollars. Others can be done at little or no cost. In addition to online and offline advertising, Web sites are promoted through e-mail marketing, promotions and incentives, viral marketing, search engine listings, reciprocal links from other sites, and affiliate programs, among other ways.

According to a 2001 report by the Yankee Group, traffic to a Web site remains driven primarily by offline methods. Instead of developing integrated marketing plans that incorporated both online and offline media, companies were typically listing their Web sites only in traditional marketing materials.

Web marketers are interested in how Internet users discovered the Web sites that they visited. According to a survey by Forrester Research, the most popular ways that Internet surfers found Web sites in 2000 were

  • by using search engines (80 percent)
  • by linking from another site (59 percent)
  • via viral marketing (56 percent)
  • by watching television (48 percent)
  • by guessing the URL (22 percent)
  • and through radio (19 percent).

Since respondents could list more than one method through which they found Web sites, the totals added up to more than 100 percent. All of these methods suggest ways that Web sites can be effectively promoted to increase traffic.

BUILDING TRAFFIC AND SALES

Increasing sales at a Web site is a two-step process that involves driving traffic to the site and, more importantly, converting a percentage of visitors into customers. E-commerce sites must develop strategies to attract the maximum number of buyers to their Web sites and also entice them to return to the site often.

There are a wide range of marketing activities that companies can engage in to drive traffic to their Web sites. Once marketing efforts have driven a high number of visitors to an e-commerce Web site, the site itself must convince them that the company is serious about meeting their needs and providing a sufficient level of service. In other words, building traffic is only half of promoting the Web site. The other half of the equation involves promoting the site to people who are already there and converting them into repeat customers.

OFF-SITE PROMOTIONS

Offline advertising in print and broadcast media is probably the most expensive way to build name recognition and drive traffic to an e-commerce Web site. The online job recruitment site Monster.com spent about $45 million on branding in 1999, with about 65 percent of the budget going to television advertising. The company's ads ran more than 500,000 times during 1999, including its first Super Bowl ad. Immediately after the Super Bowl ad appeared, traffic at Monster.com increased by 450 percent. The results encouraged the company to spend more on TV advertising and brand building. Monster.com spent an estimated $250 million around the world to build the company's brand in 2001.

Online brokerages spent heavily on print and television advertising to gain brand recognition. In 1997 Ameritrade launched a $20 million national advertising campaign that focused on Ameritrade's online trading fee of $8. Heavy advertising expenditures helped increase the number of new accounts at Ameritrade and boosted revenue, but they also resulted in much higher quarterly losses. Ameritrade justified its strategy of pursuing market share by noting that online accounts were relatively cheap to acquire through advertising and marketing.

Priceline.com adopted an aggressive radio and newspaper advertising strategy that later expanded to include television. It featured the actor William Shatner as a spokesperson and resulted in the company having name recognition among at least a quarter of the U.S. adult population, or some 50 million people, according to a study by Opinion Research Corp.

PROMOTING THE WEB SITE ONLINE

According to a report from Jupiter Media Metrix, the top 25 new Web sites of 2000 achieved their ranking through word-of-mouth, direct marketing, traffic-sharing, sweepstakes, and promotions. Without the help of brand-name backers, many of these new Web sites asked visitors to register at their site in order to build a database. The Web sites would then market to their databases of visitors and extend their online reach. Again, the challenge for these sites was to convert visitors into customers.

After debuting in March 2000, discount online marketplace Half.com grew more than 500 percent in terms of traffic, from 1.3 million unique visitors to 8.2 million in December. It was the top ranked new e-commerce firm of 2000 in terms of traffic growth, according to Jupiter Media Metrix. Half.com was the most advertised new site of 2000 with nearly 800 million online ad impressions. It was owned by auction giant eBay and thus enjoyed big-brand affiliation.

Ad swaps can help reduce the cost of online advertising. It's common practice to swap ads with other sites. Instead of paying for an ad, a Web site puts up a banner ad on its site for free and places its ad at the other site for free.

SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION

Web sites can improve their traffic by optimizing their placement with search engines. Search engine optimization is the process by which companies can improve a Web site to achieve higher search engine rankings. Search engine optimization can be a cheap and effective marketing tool for promoting a Web site.

According to research published by www.searchengines.com, a search engine optimization resource, some 55 percent of all e-commerce transactions originate with a search listing. By optimizing key elements of a Web site, the site can improve its rankings on searches within its category. Web sites that appear on the first page of a search result are likely to attract more traffic than Web sites that appear further down on the search results.

There are several aspects to optimizing a Web site for better search engine placements. They include elements internal to the Web site, such as HTML tags, meta tags, ALT tags, URL names, and more. External elements that affect a site's ranking include link popularity, click popularity, and themes. The major search engines, such as Yahoo! and AltaVista, have their own submission procedures, which must be followed in order for a Web site to show up on their search results.

OTHER WAYS TO PROMOTE A WEB SITE

E-MAIL NEWSLETTERS.

These are regarded as one of the most effective and low-cost ways to promote a Web site and generate leads. Through a weekly newsletter, companies can communicate with existing and potential customers on a regular basis. Often, these newsletters are forwarded to friends and colleagues, thereby increasing the Web site's reach to a wider audience of potential customers.

EVENT MARKETING.

Large companies hold events that are designed to generate enthusiasm about their products and services, including Web site promotion. Company representatives also talk with the media, visit customers, work trade shows, and speak at conferences to build enthusiasm for their company, its brand, and its products and services.

AFFILIATE PROGRAMS.

These programs let other sites drive traffic to a specific site. Programs for associates or affiliates are designed to make it easy for others to link to the designated site and to receive a commission on sales they generate. The simplest way to set up such a program is to put up a link to a simple sign-up form on the Web site. It's a good way to acquire new customers. The cost in commissions is usually no more than the cost of acquiring new customers by other means. Affiliate programs also make a Web site's content more valuable to visitors by offering them links to other products and services that are likely to be of interest. In addition to acquiring new customers, affiliates gain additional revenue from the traffic, leads, and sales they generate for other affiliates. Linkshare (www.linkshare.com) is an online information center for affiliate programs through which Web sites can join a variety of programs in different categories.

PUBLIC RELATIONS.

Web sites can be promoted very cheaply through a steady stream of news releases. News releases announcing new products, services, and features can be sent to local and national media. Once these news releases appear in the media, they become not just a business promotion but actual news.

PARTNERING.

Web sites that affiliate with established, brand-name companies enjoy higher visibility than stand-alone sites. E-commerce Web sites can build relationships with well-known trade magazines and media companies to gain more exposure and promotion.

USE ONLINE PROMOTIONS TO DRIVE REVENUE

Sweepstakes generate a large database of potential customers. It is effective to build a large database of people who are interested in your products or services, and then market to them on a regular basis. Price incentives work in term of attracting first-time customers. These can include a free trial offer, free shipping, or a 30-day money-back guarantee. For repeat buyers, loyalty programs work well but may be expensive. Price incentives based on the size of a purchase also work with repeat customers.

PROMOTIONS AT THE WEB SITE: SERVICE AND CONTENT

On-site service brings back customers. Web sites can increase repeat traffic by adding a range of services that make it easier for customers to place orders, develop a feeling of trust, and create a meaningful relationship. Web sites can publish their corporate contact information and provide detailed information on each product. By disclosing privacy and security policies (which may rarely be read) Web sites create a feeling of trust and reassure visitors.

In terms of services, e-commerce sites can provide order tracking and let customers review their purchase history. Many e-commerce sites offer reminder services that allow visitors to set up reminder e-mails for important birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. Many sites also offer an opt-in mailing list and send out a regular e-mail newsletter. Online help and video chat are not always expensive to add, and they again serve to reassure visitors, even if they are only available periodically in real time.

Web sites can provide links to the Web sites of manufacturers or partners while keeping customers within their site. E-commerce sites create a better impression on their visitors if they are selective about the links, logos, and banner ads they display. A confusing array of those items can alienate visitors and leave a bad impression.

All of these elements serve to promote the Web site to visitors who are already there and help to convert them first into customers, and then into repeat customers.

CONTENT KEEPS PEOPLE COMING BACK

If it is true that people go online to find answers and assistance, in both their personal and professional lives, then e-commerce sites that provide relevant content will fare better than sites that do not. Major online retailers that sell items such as books, music CDs, and consumer electronics, offer a wide range of relevant content, including product descriptions and reviews, that help consumers make purchase decisions. For business-to-business sites the notion of relevant content can include items such as case histories that demonstrate how a firm's products and services can be used to solve problems and create solutions. Adding relevant content that addresses the broader needs and concerns of potential customers to an e-commerce or corporate Web site involves extending online efforts beyond merchandising and transaction processing.

Relevant content that is presented at an e-commerce site may result in orders being placed online or offline. Since potential customers form opinions online, a company's Web site can be seen as the natural starting point in making purchase decisions. To the extent that a Web site can provide relevant content to help customers make decisions, the site will generate orders that may be placed through any channel.

VIRAL MARKETING AND COMMUNITY-BUILDING

In addition to strong content and value, some of the common factors among sites that have quickly built communities of repeat visitors include positive word-of-mouth, positive media exposure, and the fulfillment of an untapped audience segment. The most loyal audience of visitors is one that feels empowered. Giving them a sense of involvement and even ownership has been a key element in developing a loyal following.

Creating an online community within a Web site is an effective way to encourage users to visit more often, stay longer, and become repeat customers. Depending on the type of Web site, online communities can be structured in different ways and offer different features. In business-to-business e-commerce, online marketplaces have created community programs through bulletin boards, live chat sessions, distance learning, Webcasts, streaming video, collaborative work tools, user profiles, industry newsletters, and expert advice.

The principal function of an online community is to provide information through interaction. This keeps visitors returning to the Web site and creates a relationship with them. Over time visitors become more comfortable with the site and how to conduct business there. In some cases successful online communities turn individuals into evangelists who spread the word to others about the site and its products and services.

Viral marketing is simply word-of-mouth. Community-building is one way to generate positive word-of-mouth comments and draw visitors to a Web site, but there are many other viral marketing techniques being used to promote Web sites. These include interactive online advertising games, specialized e-mail campaigns, and product samples. The key to a successful viral marketing program is to identify and target opinion leaders among an identified group of users. Once the opinion leaders have been identified, a compelling message must be delivered. In order for them to tell others about your Web site, they must have had a positive experience with it. Then when they do tell others about a Web site, people are likely to trust them because their opinion is respected.

Through viral marketing, companies can build personalization and loyalty programs around their Web sites. Viral marketing is especially effective when marketing to passionate consumers, such as Harley-Davidson motorcycle owners. Web sites that have built a community of users with common needs often gain visitors when friends and relatives recommend it to one another.

Online interactive games are used in some viral marketing programs. The idea is to get Web users to challenge their friends to play the game, thereby gaining more traffic for the site where the game is played. Major companies including IBM, Nike, Ford Motor Co., and General Motors have begun to include games in their online advertising as a way to draw traffic to their Web sites. People are typically notified of the games through e-mail marketing programs. According to E-Commerce Times, Ford Motor reported that 40 percent of those who received an e-mail clicked through to play an online game, and those people forwarded the game to an average of three friends each. Other fields for which viral marketing has been recommended include entertainment industry products, such as movies, records, books, and television shows.

IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE EXPENSIVE

There are many ways to promote Web sites for free, such as posting to newsgroups and mailing lists, soliciting links from other sites, banner exchanges, newsletter ad swaps, free classified ads, and free-forall link pages. According to Paul Lang of "Sell it on the Web" (www.sellitontheweb.com), the most effective ways to promote an e-commerce Web site are to publish a weekly e-mail newsletter, submit to major search engines and directories, post to discussion lists, and buy keywords at GoTo.com. Moderately effective ways to promote an e-commerce Web site include writing articles for other Web sites and newsletters and exchanging links with other Web sites. Lang has obtained poor results from promoting Web sites through classified ads, free-for-all links pages, submitting to minor search engines, and banner ad exchanges.

The key to successfully promoting a Web site is to provide reasons to visit the Web site. Simply listing the Web site in an ad, without including a reason to visit the site, is a missed opportunity. It is important not only to mention the site across all media, but also to include at least one reason to visit the site. Special promotions, such as the opportunity to win a free trip, a contest, or a sweepstakes, are good options that draw visitors. Special editorial content that provides in-depth information about topics potential customers are interested in is another draw. Such content not only brings in visitors, it establishes a relationship with them and keeps them coming back.

FURTHER READING:

Abel, Amee. "It's All in the Positioning." [email protected] Reseller. July 26, 1999.

"Affiliate Information Center." 2001. Available from www.linkshare.com.

Bank, Vince. "Give Reasons to Visit Your Web Site," DM News. December 4, 2000.

Berkowitz, David. "A Rewarding Conversation with BountySystems," eMarketer. September 10, 2001. Available from www.emarketer.com.

Ceolin, David. "Quality Content Helps Drive Sales," DM News. February 19, 2001.

Chiem, Phat X. "Net Marketplaces Weigh the Value of Community Programs in E-Commerce," B to B. April 2, 2001.

Daniels, Jim. "Step-by-Step to Your Own Profitable Web Business." Sell it on the Web. December 20, 2000. Available from sellitontheweb.com/ezine.

Hirsh, Lou. "Tell a Friend: Viral Marketing Packs Clout Online." E-Commerce Times. October 31, 2001. Available from www.ecommercetimes.com

Lang, Paul. "Top Tips for a Successful E-Commerce Web Site." Sell It on the Web. April 24, 1999. Available from sellitontheweb.com

Macaluso, Nora. "Report: Executives Give the Web a lsquo;Thumbs Down."' E-Commerce Times. September 5, 2001. Available from www.ecommercetimes.com

Robson, Kathleen Look. "Incentives and Promotions." B to B Hands-On Newsletter. June 21, 2001. Available from www.btobonline.com

Saliba, Clare. "Report: Online Ads Drive New Site Growth." E-Commerce Times. February 9, 2001. Available from www.ecommercetimes.com

Sernovitz, Andy. "Internet Marketing on a Budget." DM News. January 29, 2001.

Shapiro, Yelena, and Etelka Lehoczky. "Search Engine Optimization." November 9, 2001. Available from www.searchengines.com

Shaw, Russell. "Enhanced Site Encourages Collaboration." B to B. April 2, 2001.

Thomases, Hollis. "Growing Online Loyalty Organically." DM News. February 5, 2001.

SEE ALSO: Advertising, Online; Brand Building; E-Mail Marketing; Marketing, Internet