Marketing your website

So, you've got a website, and you've made it look nice so that it's not an embarrassment when someone visits.

Now you need to lure people into its electronic arms.

Option 1: If you have a few million pounds.
Put enormous adverts in newspapers and on TV.
Pay some consultants to do all your marketing for you. No need to read this page, really. Or...

Option 2: Do it for no money at all.
As explained below.

If you have an old web browser and can't see the even-numbered points below, read this footnote.

Get it listed in Yahoo!, which is the directory of sites hand-picked by humans. Don't worry, they're not unbelievably fussy, but they do like sites to have some content that people are going to want to look at. So make sure you've got some of that. Then just click 'How to Suggest a Site' on the Yahoo! home page and it tells you how to submit your site online.

In addition, get your site listed by the other key search engines, which are usually computer programs that harvest the content of sites. If you don't know which the major search engines are already, see Search Engine Watch.

To get it listed properly by these automatic searchers, you'll need to add descriptive tags into the HTML of each webpage that you want to be catalogued.

Just after the <title> tags (i.e. in the <head> section) of each webpage, add the following, except replace the red parts with your own words (obviously):
<meta name="description" content="description of page">
<meta name="keywords" content="keyword1, keyword2, keyword3">

The search engines will root out this stuff and use it to catalogue your pages. When choosing keywords, pick specific terms that you would use if you were looking for a site like yours.

Get other people to link to your site.

This is really valuable for obvious reasons. If you have a page about cheeses of the world, then you want other cheese sites to link to yours, because then you will hopefully get some of their visitors to wander over to your site on their quest for top-notch cheese info.

Just send an e-mail to the owners of sites which are similar or related to yours, asking them if they will check out your site and maybe add a link. Usually you should add a link to them in return. Even better, put a link on your site to the other site first, and then write and tell them. They will be so delighted at your kindness that they will add a link back to you.

Unless, of course, your site really sucks.

Send e-mails to anybody else who might be interested. Do not send a million e-mails to people who probably won't be interested -- even if you think they should be. Web types call this 'spamming' and it is seen as very poor practice. It may even get you kicked off your internet service provider.

However, send e-mails to those e-mail mailing list things for people who have a shared interest in a particular topic, and put messages on newsgroups, and ask everybody who's interested in your thing to e-mail everyone they know who might be interested in your thing.

Put the URL of your website in the signature file that appears at the end of all your e-mails. (See the help section of your e-mail program for instructions).

This isn't the most powerful tip, but at least your site will be advertised to everyone you e-mail.

You can always use more conventional marketing techniques, though they usually cost money.

When first started I had these little stickers made -- it was only about six pounds (nine dollars) for 1,000 from a mail order company. I gave them away to people and stuck them on letters and envelopes and things. Whether this actually prompted anybody to visit the site, though, I don't know.

When I received a book from the other day, they had included a free pad of post-it notes (with their URL printed at the bottom). Because I am easily taken in by such things, I thought this was terribly nice of them. Aha, you say, but will this marketing wheeze actually prompt me to buy more books from them? Tragically, the answer is probably yes.

Basically, mention your web address as often as you can to as many people as you can. Having a good URL obviously helps here -- promoting a site called main.htm is never going to be easy.

Do what you can to keep it simple.

Get journalists to mention your site in their listings of 'cool web sites of the day / week / month'. Many newspapers and magazines have a column like that these days, and they are inevitably always on the lookout for interesting new material.

You might even add things to your site specifically because they might amuse people who will then recommend your site to others.

(This was part of the motivation for adding the random module generator to the site -- journos like that kind of thing. And indeed it did get some newspaper coverage, and one would hope that people visiting because of that would wander around the rest of the site too).

So, your website becomes unbelievably successful and, despite the fact that there is no conceivable way in which it could ever make any money for anybody, it is snapped up by a computer giant for five billion dollars. Hurray.

If you want to give me some of your new-found wealth, or if you have any other tips which you think should be on this page, email me.

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Footnote about old browser displaying this page wrongly:

I have been told by a couple of people who are still using Netscape 3 that it has a bug in it which means that this page won't display properly. This was particularly frustrating since I've deliberately kept the page simple anyway, using invisible tables for layout. I tried to make an alternative, even simpler page, just for those visitors, but it became too much trouble, especially for making amendments. Instead I have decided to advise people who are still using Netscape 3 to get a newer browser. They're free! And you must be missing out on loads of stuff on the web, if you haven't got a newer browser than that. I don't want to be prescriptive about which browser you use, but download any type of newer browser from Netscape (free) or Microsoft (free) or Opera (free for 30 days) and we'll all be happier.

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