Marketing Your Web Site

(This column first appeared in the September/October 1998 issue of Dive Report)

So, your Web site’s done, and you’ve had it accessible to the public for several weeks now. You’ve been checking the Web site access statistics that your Internet Service Provider has been providing you with (or should be), but you haven’t seen any real traffic at your site… If that’s the case, chances are that you haven’t done enough to publicize your web site to Web surfers!

So how do you promote your Web site so people know about it? The best way to figure this out is to understand how users find the Web sites they want to explore. There are three basic ways that users get to a given Web site:

  1. They find it via a search engine (see my column in the January/February 1998 issue of Dive Report).
  2. They find it through a link on another Web site, from a newsgroup, or via e-mail.
  3. They got the address via an advertisement or printed promotional materials (i.e. not via an on-line link).

Let’s take a look at each one of these.

Search Engines
A search engine is like a phone book for the Internet, except that none of the search engines contains a list of all the pages on the Web. Not even close. According to a recent research project, it turns out that the most any search engine covers is about 40% of the Web. Most search engines work via a “spider” software program which follows links from one Web site to another to another, and so on and so on. As each page is located, its contents are added to the search engine database and the site is “indexed” (each word is cataloged in such a way as to be able to find a reference to the page when a user enters the proper search parameter).

However, this spidering process can be slow to find your site, and won’t find it at all if no other Web pages link to it. The solution is to tell the search engine that your site exists, and to index your site. In Table 1, I’ve provided the names of the top search engines along with the addresses at which the “add a site” pages for the search engines are located. The reason I provided the exact address information (which has to be entered exactly as listed, including upper and lower case characters) is that on a number of the search engines, the pages to add a site are very difficult to find on your own. Note that once you tell a search engine to add your site to its index, it can take as long as three to four weeks for it to actually appear as a result of a search.

Table 1 – List of the top search engines along with the address to use to add a Web site to the search engine.
Yahoo (get to desired topic, click on “Suggest a Site” at bottom of page)

The only search engine in the list which does not use an automated program to add Web sites to its index is Yahoo!, which uses humans to review Web site submissions to determine if the site should be added, and if so, which Yahoo! category it should be added to. I’ve found that on the average, you need to submit your site to Yahoo! about five times in order to get yourself listed.

Another thing that’s important to consider is that each search engine has different criteria for determining how important a given Web page is when a user searches for a given keyword or phrase that appears on the page. The goal is to have your pages appear in the top 10 or 20 matches for the keywords you would like users to use to find your Web site.

The techniques used to get your Web site listed in the top 10 or 20 matches vary from search engine to search engine, ranging from including a series of related key word hidden in your page header via something called a “Meta” tag, to making sure your keywords are liberally used in the visible text of your Web pages. Some engines also use a count of how many other pages link to a page to determine how important it is. Describing all these techniques in detail would be enough to fill several columns, so instead I’ll refer you to the most comprehensive coverage of this information on the Web, namely the Search Engine Watch Web site (

Another great way to get traffic on your Web site is to get other people to link to you from their Web sites. Of course, this only works if the Web sites you’re linked from are ones related to the field or industry your Web site promotes. For example, if your site promotes your dive shop, then links that make sense are ones from your customers on their pages dealing with local diving or dive trips they’ve taken with you, dive magazines with regional listings, city guides that list local recreation and sports, and sites which have all sorts of links to scuba diving. Additionally, it’s a great idea to try and get links from sites which do appear in the top 10 for the keywords you expect users to use to find your site. This way, even if they don’t get to your site at first, Web surfers have a good chance of getting there through the other sites.

Actually getting people to add links to your site is a whole different matter, unfortunately, since everyone seems to have a different idea of what a link is worth. As such, you’ll find that there are three types of links: free, reciprocal, and paid.

Free links come in all forms, and frequently occur simply by asking the owner of a relevant Web site for a link to your site. However, I’ve only found free links to come from people who have personal sites. Businesses on the Web are usually as interested as you are in getting good link exposure, so they will tend to at least want a link back to their site from yours. This is called a reciprocal link.

Web sites that get a lot of traffic will be far less likely to provide a free or even reciprocal link to your site, since they benefit little from any links you might add to their Web site, but you would benefit a lot from links from their site to yours. In this case, if links is available (some Web sites don’t want surfers to leave their site), you will have to pay the owners of the larger, more popular Web site for a link. There’s no set pricing for how much such a link should or will cost, but if someone does offer to charge you for a link you should ask them for information on how much traffic there is at their site, and in particular what sort of metering system they have to track the number of people who see the page with your link on it, and perhaps even if they can track how many people have clicked on your link. Ultimately, you need to figure out if the price you’re being asked to pay is worth the potential results.

The same applies for the most common form of paid linking, namely on-line advertising. Unless you’re a Web recluse, you’ve seen banner advertising on the more popular Web sites (like those of search engines). You too can buy banner ads, and the prices vary enormously depending on the popularity of the site they are on. As an example, a banner on one of the search engines which would appear when someone enters particular keywords starts at $2,000 per month, but on a small site dealing with a more limited topic might only be $50-100 per month.

The final kind of linking is including a link to your Web site in your own e-mail and newsgroup messages as part of your signature – the signature is one or more lines of text that your e-mail or news reader software will automatically append to every message you send or post. This way, if people like what you have to say they can click on the link to see what your company is all about.

Other Media
On-line promotion of your Web site isn’t the only way to get your Web address in front of someone’s face. Traditional media, such as business cards, brochures, and even advertising in the form of print, radio, and television. You may have noticed that many TV advertisements now include Web addresses because companies have discovered that their Web sites are an excellent way to supplement the small amount of time they have in traditional media to sell their product or service.

Of course, in addition to spending money to promote your Web address via traditional media, you should consider promoting the launch or face-lift of your Web site by issuing press releases to all the newspapers and magazines that pertain to your field (and location) of business. See my article in the previous issue of Dive Report on how your press release should be written and to whom it should be sent. Editorial coverage is the least expensive and most expansive means of marketing your business and its latest efforts, including your Web site, to the public.

The above recommendations for promoting your Web site are not an all or nothing proposition. You can pretty much use any of these Web promotion tools at any time, with the exception of the
press releases, which should be sent out as soon as possible after you open your Web site to the public, since editors only write about new news, not old news.

So, go forth and promote!