Not every marketer on the Web has a multimillion-dollar budget. But many small sites with very limited budgets manage to attract sizable followings without the benefit of huge sponsorship or portal deals.
In fact, some of the biggest names on the Web spent very little in their first efforts to build traffic and a brand on the Web. Many of them, like eBay, used the viral power of the Internet to get customers to market for them. Other companies, like Amazon, used widely distributed affiliate deals to make sure that they had a link in every nook and cranny of the Internet.
Recently, a friend of mine who works for a local arts show at a public television network called to ask me for some advice. His show was creating a Web site showcasing public art projects in the city, and he wanted to know how he could promote the site on a shoestring budget.
Here’s the advice I gave my friend:
Get a good URL. Because my friend’s site is going to sit on the television network’s server, the address is bound to be a mess of slashes and dots. I told him to find a good URL that related to the topic and set it to redirect to the site housed on the parent company’s servers. That way, people would be able to remember the site and pass it on through word of mouth.
Build relationships with other sites. There are many excellent public art sites on the Web that are part of Web rings or have link pages. A nice email with an offer to swap links is an easy way to get traffic and become part of a larger Web-based community. After all, having a Web site is all about being connected.
Be easy to find. There are two basic ways to increase the chances that people using search engines can find you. First, register with search directories, like Yahoo, which use humans to categorize sites. Second, make sure that the meta tags in your home page include words that people would use when looking for a site like yours. You won’t always end up first on AltaVista, but you might make it to the top of a targeted search. A good site to get started on is Submit It!, and Paul Bruemmer’s articles about search engine optimization are indispensable.
Use promotion resources wisely. I help run a small organization affiliated with the New York New Media Association (NYNMA). Because our group can sometimes piggyback on NYNMA’s email blasts, we have been able to communicate with thousands of people and grow rapidly. Marketers big and small should use all available resources to promote their sites. With a concise URL, my friend’s site will benefit greatly from on-air mentions during his TV show.
Gather names. Sites that offer value to people with focused interests are often very successful building relationships via email. Relationship marketing isn’t just for big corporations; sometimes, small sites do it best. Updates about new public art projects, even if they are only intermittent, might keep visitors to my friend’s site involved.
Ensure site quality. Here’s the truth: If a site is good, people will find it and then come back. You can confirm that with the folks at Blue Mountain Arts. If it isn’t good, it will fail. Confirm that with people who used to work at Boo.com. Ultimately, the success of my friend’s site relies on a good product, not just on canny marketing.
Intrusive ad units, sponsored content, and paid placement all can be effective ways to market big brands. But if you are marketing on a shoestring, don’t despair. There are plenty of options to get people to know about your site.
Jeffrey Graham is on vacation this week.