by Gisele Glosser
Having a site on the World Wide Web does not guarantee that people will find it, even if it is filled with great content. You want people to be able to find your site or your client's site amongst the millions of sites that are out there.
There are many ways to promote a web site over the web. The good news is that most of them do not require any money. Here are some things you can do to get the word out about your site for free, that I have found to be effective.
Before promoting your site, I suggest that you design it carefully and test it thoroughly. Every page will layout differently depending on your visitors' browser, platform, resolution, screen size, and window size, and you want to be sure that your viewers are seeing problem-free and easy to navigate pages. It is not possible to have a uniform page layout given these dynamic dimensions, but in any case, visit these pages for steps you can take to ensure a quality presentation for the majority of your audience:
Math Goodies Design Tips
Math Goodies Web Marketing Tips
I also recommend that you make sure your HTML markup is correct. While HTML validation is not the subject of this article, here are some sites that let you validate or test your HTML code:
Web Site Garage
Barring a huge advertising budget, the majority of traffic to most sites comes from search engines, directories and indexes. The typical web user uses search engines such as Yahoo, Infoseek, and AltaVista to find information online. The idea is to have your site come up when a search is made for content that is relevant to your site. It usually costs nothing to register with such sites.
Each search engine, directory and index has different submission criteria, so it is important to customize your submission to each one. I suggest that you create a list of keywords and a site description in a text editor or desktop publishing application. This makes it easy to copy and paste the information into the online form that you complete. You can modify this information in a text editor to suit the many search engines you submit to. I recommend that you always copy and paste the URL of your site or page to ensure accuracy.
Many search engines use robots to spider (catalog) your site. These robots (programs) typically look for META tags. META tags can contain keywords and descriptions of your site content. There are other uses for META tags, but making pages more searchable by search engines is the most common use for them on the web. Here is an example of the keywords and description META tags from my site, Math Goodies:
<meta name="description" content="Math Goodies offers free worksheets that you can print for use with your students! We have the answer keys, too.">
<meta name="keywords" content="math, worksheets, free, curriculum, drill, practice, geometry, exponents, percent, integers, expressions, equations">
There are many "mass submission" sites on the web. They submit the same information to each search engine. I do not recommend this approach. It may save you time but it is ineffective. Instead, I use Selfpromotion.com to submit my site to hundreds of search engines, directories and indexes. Selfpromotion.com is a site that screens all submissions, and then submits the appropriate information to each search engine, directory and index. This site allows me to tailor my information to satisfy the different submission criteria of each search engine. But before I submit
to Selfpromotion.com, I first check my META tags with Submitnow.com.This site also submits to search engines around the world, and has a great META tag checker.
Here are these and other resources for search engine submission:
Search Engine Watch by Danny Sullivan. One of the best sources of search engine information on the Web.
If your site has good content, then people will be inclined to tell their friends about it. There are programs that can facilitate this. A "Tell A Friend" program allows a visitor to enter a friend's e-mail address into a form. When the visitor clicks the submit button, a message about your site is automatically sent to that friend. This is really a great way to attract more visitors to your site. The following sites have good Tell-A-Friend CGI scripts that you can customize for your site.
Resources for Tell-A-Friend CGI scripts:
Birdcast "Tell-a-friend" script from Bignosebird.com is easy to configure and install.
Recommend-it has a remotely-hosted "Tell-a-friend" program you can use even if you cannot install custom CGI scripts on your server.
CGI Resource Index - a source for many kinds of CGI scripts.
E-mail newsletters have become very popular on the web. They are a great way to keep your visitors informed of new content or products on your site. An opt-in e-mail newsletter is a powerful tool for increasing customer retention. Some articles I have read point out that e-mail advertisements are more powerful than banner advertising. Having my own newsletter with more than 6,500 subscribers, I can vouch for this. Every time I send out an issue, traffic to my site spikes.
Newsletter information on MathGoodies.com
Newsletter information from Internetworldnews.com
Mailing lists are a great way to network on the web. I suggest that you join several mailing lists that are directly related to the content on your site. You can become part of a community of people with similar interests. When appropriate, you can mention your site. For example, if someone needs help or information that your site can provide, you can reply to that person's message. However, to avoid any problems, be careful not to SPAM the list and to follow all posting rules. When in doubt, ask the list manager.
Your e-mail signature is another great form of free advertising, since it appears in your posts to the lists. Make sure it is only 4 or 5 lines long, and that it doesn't line-wrap when viewed in most e-mail programs.
Mailing list resources:
Much like the mailing lists, message boards and chat rooms are a great way to network with people. Most message boards allow you to include a link to your site. I suggest that you visit sites related to yours, and answer questions on their message boards. Being helpful can go a long way on the web.
Message board resources:
If you have important news to share, then a press release is a great way to get the word out. The news should really be newsworthy, such as the launch of a new site, a partnership, a new product, etc. There are rules to follow for writing a good press release. For example, it must include contact information, have the right length and be written as if by a third person. I learned how to write a press release at digitalwork.com. They had a lot of good information about how to write an effective press release. There are a number of web sites that allow you to submit your press release for free. Here are a few:
Web Rings are just what they sound like--rings of sites on the web. Each site links to the next or previous member site in the ring. According to webring.org: "In each of its tens of thousands of Rings, Member web sites have banded together to form their sites into linked circles. Their purpose: to allow more visitors to reach them quickly and easily." This is another way to increase traffic to your site. You normally have to add some HTML code to a page before the ringmaster approves your site. Most people place the web ring code on their main page, but I did not. Web rings were initially handled by Webring.org. However, Yahoo seems to be involved now, too.
The Web is one of the few places where competitors can work together. Reciprocal links are a perfect example of this. There are many sites that I link to that also link to mine. Some of them are real competitors. But I do it anyway.
It is a common practice to send an e-mail to another site letting them know that you have linked to them, and would appreciate one in return. There is no guarantee that the other site will do it. But you can always remove the link to their site at a later time. Try to avoid links within framesets, as this may cause uneasiness on the part of the other webmaster. And remember, framing someone else's pages within your own frameset is tantamount to stealing!
The best way to see the results of your efforts is to monitor your site's access logs. Most web hosts provide top-level domain sites with access logs containing raw data about your site traffic. This data usually includes information about hits, page views, sessions, and unique visitors. It may also indicate which browsers, operating systems and platforms your visitors use to access your site. The referring URL may also be included, indicating which site your visitor came from to get to yours.
The raw data in these access logs can be difficult to sort through, since there is usually one long record (called a "combined log") for each access. Some hosts provide detailed reports on site access using an online tool such as Web Trends or Statistics Server LiveStats, and there are also offline analysis tools you can use on your own computer such as FastStats and Analog. All of these tools will generate detailed reports from the log files in a human-readable and more meaningful format.
A word of caution: Web traffic stats are not always accurate. It depends on what they are measuring and how they measure it. Every good web host has raw data logs or access logs--the server software creates them. (If your host doesn't give you access to your own logs or stats in some form, I recommend talking to them about it. If that fails, move to a hosting provider that does provide this crucial information.) But the question is, what metrics are used to analyze it. While log analysis is not the topic of this article, from my experience, the best thing is to use 2 different tools, and interpolate based on your judgement.
Regardless of how you view the data, it is important to monitor the data so that you will know where your visitors are coming from. I found about awards I have won and media reviews of my site by looking at my access logs. Stay on top of things, and you will see results.
Editor's note: for more about the web site statistics, see this Wise-Women article.
Gisele Glosser is a web designer, programmer and teacher, and is the owner of a small business called Mrs. Glosser's Math Goodies, Inc. She runs an award-winning 400-page web site called Math Goodies from her home office in Westchester County, New York. Math Goodies has been cited by the New York Times, LA Times, Washington Times and other media outlets as a top-class educational site. Gisele has a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science and a Masters degree in Secondary Education/Mathematics. With her background in math teaching and web design & programming, Math Goodies is the perfect way to combine all of her skills and experience into one business. Gisele gets a lot of support and business advice from her husband Dave, who introduced her to the web in 1995. She enjoys the outdoors when she is away from her computer.