Laying to rest popular misconceptions about website promotion
Before you spend a lot of time promoting your website, it's time to drive a stake through the heart of some of the most common promotion "facts" and fallacies!
Visitors will start coming to my site as soon as I put it online - FICTION
This common misconception is often referred to as the "Build it and they will come..." theory; it's something that even larger corporations have had trouble grasping until recently. While it's true that news of the existence of superb content or useful tools may gradually spread via word of mouth from a small "seed" audience if you're lucky, in general if you don't tell people about your website, they won't know it exists. For every website that's become a viral hit overnight, there are tens of thousands languishing in obscurity.
Think of website traffic as a stream of cars driving down a series of busy and quieter roads cutting through a forest. When you first put a website online, it's surrounded by trees and nobody can see it.
The act of telling others about your website (through search engine listings, advertising, link exchanges and other forms of promotion) is like clearing a path through the trees and erecting a sign by the side of the road saying "My site - this way!" At this point, people start noticing your site, and visit it. The more you do a good job promoting your site (the wider the path and the larger the sign), the more people will come to visit it.
The "build it and they will come" philosophy is frequently preached by con artists on eBay and other auction sites, who try to sell unsuspecting victims an overpriced site. They always talk only in terms of possibilities ("Now, imagine if just 1,000 people a day found your site, and 1% of them bought your product... you'd be RICH!") while failing to point out that traffic doesn't just happen - you have to work at it.
Many web design firms shy away from including web promotion in the list of services that they offer. They either gloss over the subject with a bit of hand waving, or avoid it completely. That's because web marketing is hard work, with no guarantee of success within a particular timeframe. On the other hand, they can safely charge by the hour for design work - a much "safer" business proposition!
There are lots of ways to spread the word about your site, and some sites turn out to be much easier to promote than others (a more popular concept, better word of mouth, more news-worthy content and so on...) but no site markets itself. At least some work is required! Fortunately, that's what the rest of this site is all about!
It will never be easier to promote your site than it is today - FACTIn the early days of the Web, new sites could get listed in Yahoo! for free within days (at the beginning, the co-founders would personally add your link), and many website owners were happy to link to other sites for no specific reason or reward - in short, even if it didn't seem so at the time, web promotion was easy.
Those days are long gone.
Every time the main search engines tweak their algorithms, they seem to give more and more prominence to paid advertisers, slowly burying the organic listings further and further down the page. At the same time, most website owners have come to understand the value of the traffic they control.
And that's why the best time to start your web promotion efforts in earnest is RIGHT NOW. You'll find it harder going tomorrow, and next week will be harder still. So don't delay, start promoting today.
The only measure of a site's success is the number of visitors it attracts - FICTION
You can measure the success of your site any way you choose. The important thing is to start measuring! Choose a metric (i.e. a measurable goal) that you are comfortable with, and monitor it on an ongoing basis. Traffic is only one such metric.
For instance, if you are running a hobby site for fun, you may be really pleased to get email from like-minded people who share your interests. If you're running an ecommerce site, then sales and the bottom line are the types of metric you're going to want to watch.
Instead of chasing new visitors, it's often easier and more effective to make your existing visitors "go further", either literally by encouraging them to view more pages, or by increasing the % of visits that result in a sale, or the average per-sale amount.
Once you have fine-tuned your site so that it converts your existing traffic more efficiently, it's then time to consider putting in the time and resources required to drive more traffic to it. After all, until you fix up your site so that it works for the traffic you are already getting, why spend a lot of time, effort and money chasing more wasted visits?
You don't need a lot of money to build a successful site - FACT
While having money certainly helps, you don't need more than a few hundred dollars to get your site off the ground - just so long as you're not afraid of hard work! Money can certainly help you cut some corners, take some shortcuts, but there's very little you can't do if you're willing to dedicate time and effort to it.
The web is going to make me rich - FICTION
The Internet is a fabulous tool. It goes a long way towards levelling the playing field between tiny companies and big conglomerates, as it allows anyone to reach out and talk to a potential audience of a billion people.
But just because the audience is out there, it doesn't mean they care to hear what you have to say (or to buy your products). Don't be fooled by the chain letters and scam sites floating around the darker corners of the Web: nothing happens by magic online. While you can definitely succeed, and even make a bundle, you're going to have to work hard along the way. Hopefully, the journey will be fun, stimulating, challenging... but don't expect it to always be easy. Repeat after me: there is no silver bullet in website promotion.