Over the past few years, a whole bunch of my friends, family, and acquaintances have started up side businesses to pad their income; offering a myriad of handmade goods and some pretty nifty services. I have advised most of them on the set up of their websites; the URL selection, the type of hosting needed, the amount of space to buy, and of course whether to pay someone to build their actual site or to do it using the free site-building tools most hosting companies provide.
Once the initial build and set up is done and their site is up/public, they start asking questions about getting web traffic. Typically, immediately following the upload of the web pages and content, most people search the web for their shiny new site. Unfortunately, search engines will not “find” new sites the instant they come online. It takes time for those little search engine bots to find the websites with that new website smell. It can be a tad on the frustrating side, I totally understand.
Because of this, I usually get alarmed phone calls and email messages. “I cannot find my site when I search using ____ search engine!!! HELP!!!” I try to explain how the Internet works, about giving the search engines the time they need to find the site. Once they calm down I get a barrage of very valid questions:
- How can one improve the search engine ranking?
- How to increase traffic in a cost-effective manner.
- And the age-old question of: To pay or not to pay for internet advertising?
I have nothing against paying for exposure and subsequently, for higher page rankings, but I do believe there are other cheaper alternatives that one should consider first. After all, unless the website is for a bona fide business, too much exposure can be just as bad as too little. Imagine getting tons of phone calls or Internet orders and no way to answer them or fill them all in a timely fashion.
I tend to err on the side of caution, especially when advising newbie website owners. There are a handful of strategies that can help to increase site traffic without increasing the costs or headaches.
- Behind-the-Scenes Content““ This is typically considered during the development and design phase of a website build but revisiting it again is never a bad idea. The text and graphic’s alt tags (description of the image) should use the keywords that could be used during a search engine search. Graphics should have descriptions or captions, the name of your business should be repeated multiple times on each page, meta tags (behind-the-scenes keywords) should be used and should have the same sorts of words as your content. **Please note** DO NOT do what many unscrupulous sites do, and put the entire dictionary in the meta tags. This is not cool. While doing this may drive viewers to your site, and it may increase exposure, honestly, what good is having traffic land on your site when they searched for “marital aids” and you aren’t selling said products? This does nothing but annoy potential visitors ““ and makes you look bad.
- Visitor Viewable Content ““ Update your website frequently. Fresh content keeps existing visitors coming back for more. Keep it interesting, informative, and most importantly, well-organized. Nothing is more annoying than not being able to figure out how to find things.
- Email communication““ Create a business-only email address, one that will not be used to send out chain letters or jokes. Keep business and personal separated as much as possible. Add a signature to all business communication with the website’s URL in it. The email signature can be as fancy or as simple as you want. One does not need to go overboard to make this effective.
- Social Networking ““ Use social networking sites to your advantage. Create a page for your business. Ask online friends to “Like” the business’s page. Ensure that the website URL is available, along with all pertinent information about the business.
- Cross-Pollination ““ Ask other businesses to add the website address to their links page and do the same for them. The more links to and from the site, the better. Keep the links updated, websites come and go frequently. Make sure to test them out every so often and delete any broken (non-working) links.
- Mix and Match – Update the content of the website frequently and let your followers know by posting it on your social networking site and sending emails.
Above all, give my suggestions some time to work their magic. Results do not happen overnight.
I only suggest paying for exposure if after a reasonable amount of time you aren’t getting the results you want or expect. Remember to only pay for the advertising you need. Make sure you can handle the potential volume of business and the cost. Every situation is different, every business, owner, and hobby has a different set of needs. Choose your game plan carefully, and don’t be afraid to try something new or think outside the box.
4 replies on “Advertising Your Website on a Budget of “Free””
If you’re going to use free website-building tools, simple is better! Minimalism is never a bad thing. Barraging your visitors with colors and boxes and arrows isn’t going to make your content better, it’s just distracting and can easily “date” your site. Whatever images you do have should be of good quality– if you’re selling physical merchandise, photography is key (check out etsy for awesome examples of good and horrible). It’s worth doing some homework on DIY makeshift lighting and backdrops.
And seconded on asking other friends with sites to link to your URL. My personal site isn’t visited much, but I create a “stuff I like” section and link to friends’ businesses or blogs. Getting a blogging friend to post something about your service or product is great free advertising. As a reader, I frequently visit the sites my favorite bloggers recommend, even if it’s a product or service I wasn’t shopping for already. That also guarantees a farily targeted audience of like-minded people .
I totally agree. I try very hard to make sure no one I know creates a website that looks like Rainbow Brite threw up all over it. Or creates something with blinking text and a visit counter.
But everyone has their own vision of what a good website is ~shrugs~ sometimes it is like speaking to a brick wall.
Good advice! I do some of the above for clients during my day job. Other things to keep in mind:
Use the keywords you’re going for in titles on pages and posts
Make sure the links to the pages of the site have those key words, not coded jibberish
Link pages of your website internally, pointing the topic to the proper page.
And paid-per-click or display ads certainly have place, but why use a firehose when a sprinkler will do?
YES YES YES! all valid and good tips Thank you :)