The Significant Website Question: If You Build It, Will They Come?

I just launched a website for my sporting goods company. Do I require special measures to attract customers to my website? I am ignorant of search engines and marketing in general. Please indicate the starting point.

A: This is a question that every businessperson who has ever launched a website has posed. If I construct it, will people come? Obviously, if you’ve created a website that appeals to deceased baseball players.

No, Sean, they will not come if you build it, at least not without your effort.

The single biggest mistake that business owners make is assuming that a website will automatically attract customers. This error ultimately causes them to deem their website a failure and abandon their online sales efforts.

I cannot count the number of times a client has said, “Well, I created a website, but nobody ever visited it, and I didn’t sell anything! If you ask me, the debacle was a waste of time…”

Excuse me, but “vomited” is the relevant term here. These naive business owners (God bless them) erroneously believe that by simply creating a website, their business will automatically double overnight. And when nothing occurs, they attribute it to the infallibility of the Internet, El Nino, the Bossa Nova, and their customers — anything but their lack of marketing efforts.

If you construct it, will people come? That, Sean, is entirely up to you.

Regarding customer attraction, opening an online business (or an online branch of an existing business) is identical to opening a traditional brick-and-mortar store. Without a little fanfare and a well-thought-out marketing strategy, your website is likely to become another victim of the Information Superhighway.

The first step in developing a marketing strategy is to determine who your customer is. Who am I hoping to entice to my website? Believe it or not, many entrepreneurs fail to ask this question. How can you market to someone you don’t know?

The next question concerns the customer’s location. Do you wish to attract local or international customers to your website? If the answer is local, you will focus your marketing efforts on customers in your immediate area, which includes integrating the launch of your website with your offline marketing efforts.

Include the website’s URL in all print materials and advertising campaigns if it is an online extension of a brick-and-mortar business. Consider running ads in the local newspaper, on the radio, or on television to announce the launch of your website. Use direct mail or in-store posters to inform your existing customers of the site’s launch.

Keep doing what you’re doing to attract customers to your physical store; simply include your website address.

Remember that your website is an extension of your brick-and-mortar business, because that is precisely what it is. A good business website will assist you in selling more products, expanding your client base, and increasing your revenue without incurring additional expenses. Don’t undervalue your website. Make it serve your needs.

If you are aiming for a global audience, your marketing strategies will differ significantly. Attracting customers from across the globe is a more difficult task than attracting local customers. Thankfully, the task is not insurmountable. In numerous ways, the Internet has leveled the playing field. Now, every business, regardless of size, has the ability to conduct international trade.

A basic online marketing campaign to attract international customers should consist of the following steps.

Register With Search Engines There is insufficient space in this newspaper for a comprehensive discussion of search engines and their effectiveness (or lack thereof) in driving website traffic. Google and Yahoo account for 95 percent of all search engine traffic, so focus your efforts there. It is also essential to understand that registering with search engines alone does not guarantee traffic, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Several years ago, when search engines realized that people would actually pay for listings and higher placement, the free search engine lunch ended. Since then, the only way to ensure a high ranking (or at least a higher ranking than others) is to pay for it. The two most popular pay-for-placement programs are “Yahoo Express” and “Adwords” from Yahoo and Google, respectively. Visit their respective websites for more information. Be prepared to spend at least several hundred dollars to get your website listed.

Exchange Links With Similar Sites Link exchanges with sites of similar interest can be a free and potentially effective means of attracting customers to your website. Identify websites that are a good match for yours and contact the site’s owner to request a link exchange. Set up a link exchange with a website that sells golf clubs if your website sells golf balls. You post a link to their website and they post a link to your website. It’s called digital back scratching, and if done correctly, it can be an effective method for driving traffic to your site.

Go To The Customer’s Location If the mountain will not travel to Mohammed, Mohammed must travel to the mountain. Marketing your products on a megasite like eBay is a lesser-known method of attracting customers to your website. At any given time, eBay is frequented by tens of thousands of individuals, each of whom could be a potential customer; therefore, it is an excellent venue for generating sales.

Your objective is to use eBay as a marketing tool to drive traffic to your website, not to make a living selling on eBay. Go to where the customers are and bring them with you.

Let’s use our golf ball example. Post a few eBay auctions selling your golf balls at absurdly low prices to attract a large number of bidders. When a customer makes a purchase, add them to your client list and send them an email inviting them to check out your website for additional products. Additionally, eBay allows you to create a “About Me” page that you can use to promote your business.

We have merely scratched the surface, but this should be sufficient to get you started. I wish I could say that attracting visitors to your website is simple, but the reality is that it is anything but. It requires effort, originality, and most importantly, persistence.

Best wishes on your success!

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