How to Build Traffic to Your Web Site: Basic Approaches
by Brian Schraff
Thereís little doubt that, as the Internet matures, itís opening up new selling and buying models. Customers are smarter, better informed and more "brand indifferent" than in traditional markets.
Web visitors access a site to purchase something, be entertained or to gain information. From the standpoint of the advertiser, then, the message is not so much about "getting" attention as it is about "giving" attention. Perhaps for this reason alone, the Net is a better medium for targeting specific niches than for building name recognition through the traditional mass media tactics alone.
To some, the Web appears to be a mass medium, but itís really one of the most one-to-one media in the world. The message to the online consumer isnít about being a better solutionómany times itís about being the most immediate solution. Although this is true for all advertising, it takes on even more importance when the user can access your competition through the click of a mouse.
What basic steps can you take to bring traffic to your Web site rather than to the competition?
One of the first forms of online advertising, strategically placed banner ads helped catapult such mega-brands as America Online, Yahoo!, Netscape, Amazon.com, Priceline.com, Infoseek and Excite to recognition by more than 50 million U.S. adults, according to a study by Opinion Research. This same study noted that more than 50 percent of Internet traffic goes to fewer than 50 Web sites. Thereís more of interest, especially to niche businesses.
"Click-through rates" for banner ads are typically very lowóa scant 1 percent. And although overall cost per impression (CPI) is inexpensive, the cost per 1,000 targeted impressions is a fairly steep $30-40.
With this kind of return and at these prices, you probably should refrain from putting all of your marketing resources hereóat least not as a tool to increase site traffic. Banner advertising historically claims its greatest successes among large, top e-commerce sites that use banners as one of several marketing tools.
By joining either a merchant-based or network-based affiliate referral and management program, you can build site traffic by paying only for established relationships or sales. Affiliate programs make it easy for your customer to find you through high-traffic, niche Web sites. In exchange for sending you customers, the affiliate receives a commission for each purchase it generates. Be selective in selecting the affiliate program(s) best for your company. As with banner ads, affiliate buying options extend to cost-per-click (CPC) buys, bounty buys (offered by site producers for lead- or data-gathering activities), or prearranged percent-of-sale arrangements.
Affiliates typically make available to subscribers a host of referral tools such as newsletter participation, the use of affiliate graphics such as logos, banners and bugs, as well as other contextual support.
Search Engine Optimization
Make sure those who want to find you can. Itís been said that the best online advertising is "word of mouth"óthat means getting "linked." Search engines designed to help the Net surfer do so are numerous. Major players include AltaVista, HotBot, Excite, Infoseek, Lycos, Webcrawler, GO Network, Snap, and many others. Unfortunately, there are almost as many different posting procedures as there are search engines. This means your business must dedicate resources to being ever vigilant with Web site links, etc., fine-tuning your posting wherever and whenever necessary.
Directories such as Yahoo! are similar to search engines, but differentiate themselves by who is in control. By submitting a short description to a directory listing, you have better control and flexibility in establishing key words. In addition, changes to your companyís Web site do not affect your listing or the key words youíve established.
Opt-in Email Lists
Capturing the names of site visitors is a great way to build relationships, but to do so you must add value to the site. Here is where your company can begin to build the one-to-one relationships unique to successful online marketing. Itís also your opportunity to be fun and conversational, setting the tone of regular communication (and mind share) via e-zines. Anything your site can offer to deliver quality information sets the stage for e-commerce and supports the perception that your company/brand provides the best solution.
Donít overlook point-of-purchase display opportunities to promote your Web site traffic, as well as branding. Allow retailers to benefit from the content and service opportunities youíve included on your Web site. It might also be to your advantage to set up a referral link or co-branded site with a retailer. Wherever the Web site can facilitate "bundling" purchases from several vendors, cross-selling opportunities exist.
Banner advertising on the Internet, traditionally the most widespread branding tool, is currently under scrutiny. Depending on your markets and which study you subscribe to, the practice enjoys varying degrees of success. Most studies concur, however, that you should not rely solely on banner advertising to promote your Web site. In fact, the industry is seeing a fairly strong wave of offline ads for online brands, as the field of e-commerce matures.
The top 100 e-commerce sites spent an average of $8.6 million in 1998 to build their online brands and drive additional traffic to their sites, according to a report by Intermarket Group. Newspapers and magazines, employed by 55 percent and 54 percent of e-commerce sites, respectively, are the most popular offline advertising media. More than one third (35 percent) of e-commerce sites are investing in radio and television advertising, according to the same Intermarket Group report.
Evan Neufield, an analyst with Jupiter Communications, thinks a mix of online and offline advertising makes sense for most Web companies. He notes, "Itís all about being efficient with your advertising dollar and not blowing your budget in one area." In general, there seems to be a growing sense that niche commerce companies, especially, might be better off with a lower-cost approach, like targeted radio spots combined with online ads.
Radio is an excellent medium for sites with broad market appeal and can be a compelling, cost-effective way in which to draw potential customers to your site. Outdoor/billboard advertising parallels radio in its appeal and effectiveness. Movie theater advertising is a good example of placing information on your site in front of a targeted audience, in a highly contextual way, for the right Web site. Using print media is an excellent strategy to build brand recognition within specific markets, but is an expensive route to go for branding a site in horizontal markets.
For either broad or specific markets, telling your story through public relations vehicles finds its strength both in being cost-effective and content-centric. News about your site content can be disseminated to industry analysts, media, and to customers via newsletters. Additionally, for example, speaking engagements and membership in relevant organizations, etc., cumulatively raise the level of visibility of your site content.
Of all the steps mentioned here to promote traffic and build a Web site brand, the most important is the site content itself. Itís been said that the Web is as level a playing field as youíre going to get. If you have a really nicely designed Web site, itís hard to tell how big a company is or how long itís been around without getting outside information.
First and foremost, the site must be user friendly. In todayís frenetic business climate, no one is willing to wade through a cumbersome, time-consuming site when they can easily seek other solutions.
From this point on, the branding power of the site hinges on its ability to engage a customer in repeated interaction. Bearing in mind that the best customer your business can have is one it already has, nurture this relationship by delivering quality-added value. Make your Web site an easy-to-use, indispensable resource with such features as FAQs, troubleshooting, subscriptions, coupons, billing capability, useful links, demonstrations, diagrams, current updatesóanything to replace lengthy waiting on telephone lines. Once youíve taken steps to keep your customers engaged, youíve addressed Web branding in the best possible way, through the Internetís unique relationship-building capabilities.
How do you know youíre reaching the right people and providing them with the nuggets of information they need? This is where tracking and analyzing traffic to your site becomes critical. By designing measurement capability into your site, youíll be able to assess the efficacy of site features. You should be able to determine, for example, where the site traffic is coming from, how long visitors stay on the site, which sections of the site are more/less popular, as well as any other information which will help you fine-tune its value to customers. Some term this analysis "psychographics," as opposed to "demographics," as it more accurately pinpoints customers' likes and dislikes as they surf the Net.
Planning and Executing Web Site Marketing
Thereís no standard template for increasing traffic to your site. Each business and its market has its own individual history, economics and circumstances at a particular point in time. A customized plan, tailored to these variables, is essential to successfully marketing a Web site. Moreover, that plan should integrate with the overall objectives defined by your business. These objectives, and an analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the objectives should be carefully detailed. The plan must outline an agreed-upon strategy, as well as the necessary tactics to achieve results. Finally, include detailed metrics and a budget to go forward effectively.
The Internet has added a dimension to the planning process, for branding itself is redefined online. Many agencies still think in conventional terms, using traditionally tested methods. The Net has emerged at breakneck speed as a new marketing and commerce medium, and not all agencies have kept abreast of this trend.
Those who have are best positioned to help businesses deliver a consistent brand across all mediaóboth offline and online. By finding a company experienced in offline marketing, as well as in HTML code, database programming, e-commerce, secure transactions, user tracing, order fulfillment and back-end data integration, your companyís marketing and IS departments can work with just one company to expand its marketing and sales promotion in a fully integrated way. If that same agency is equally experienced at helping to develop engaging site content, you have a powerful resource for increasing site traffic, and promoting and retaining your companyís Internet identity.
Brian Schraff is president of Schraff Group. The agency has a 21-year history in Orange County and provides integrated marketing communications to local, Silicon Valley and out-of-state technology clients. The interactive services group handles clients across a broad range of industries.