Audience Dialogue

Publicity for websites

It's a lot of work to build a web site, but if nobody visits it, the work is wasted. So just when you think your web is finished, a lot of work remains to be done.

There are two main ways of encouraging traffic to a web site: on the Internet, and off the Internet.

Encouraging visitors from the Internet

Links from other sites are a major source of visitors on the Web. If a user clicks on something underlined on a web site (and usually in blue letters) they'll be taken to the other end of that link. That can be the same web site, even the same page, but very often the link leads to another web site.

So when you have a new web site, the more links you can organize, the better. And if you can organize links from sites with a very large number of visitors, that's better still.

One of the easiest ways to do this is through the search engines: Google, Yahoo, Alta Vista, Teoma, Alltheweb, Hotbot, Anzwers, etc. With most of these you can let them know your site exists, and they'll send their indexing robot to visit your site and index it, so that people can find if when they use that search engine.

Until a year or two ago it was also important to have a listing with one of the big directories, such as Yahoo, Open Directory, or Looksmart. Directories list sites, not pages, and each site submitted is vetted by an expert. It seemed that the commercial directories simply couldn't keep up, and to be able to offer a comprehensive set of sites, Yahoo began supplementing its results with those from Google. The upshot is that you no longer need to bother with paying for directory listings - though there's no harm in it for a large company that wants to put itself ahead of (or level with) the competition.

To make the most of search engines, and to help ensure that your site really does come up when people search for a seller of your product, you need to know how search engines work, and how they determine which items come up first. There's a site called Search Engine Watch, which gives details of this. You also need to bear in mind that most users of search engines don't know how to make the most of them, and to anticipate the difficulties they have with searching.

There's now a whole industry devoted to '"search engine positioning" - consultancies that tweak websites to make them rank more highly in search engines. The idea is to define keywords that your customers will use in search engines, and try to make sure that your business appears in the top 10 (or the top 1) for these keywords. The commoner the keywords you want, the harder this is to achieve.

Local directories
As well as search engines, there are other Web-based directories. If you are trying to attract local customers, try to find a local directory. For example, the most popular directory in South Australia (where Audience Dialogue is based) is SA Central www.sacentral.sa.gov.au.

Industry directories
Another source of referrals is industry-specific sites. Many industries have a few key sites, which try to maintain comprehensive listings of web sites relating to that industry. This is specially relevant for businesses whose customers are other businesses. If your industry has such sites, you should notify those sites when you set up your own web site.

Link exchange
A further possibility is link exchanges. Two companies, usually related in some business way, but not direct competitors, agree to host links to each other's sites. Other ways of doing this involve not just simple links, but advertising banners. Also there are web rings: a group of related sites which offer random links to each other - there's an active South Australian web ring, as well as some industry-specific web rings.

Usenet
But there's more to the Internet than the Web. There's also the Usenet system, also known as Newsgroups or Forums. There are thousands of these discussion groups- one for every subject you can think of. Though most newsgroups don't welcome commercials, there are many where it's quite acceptable to notify users of your new web site - as long as it's relevant to visitors to the newsgroup. These newsgroups are now easily accessible at Google by clicking on the Groups tab.

Email lists
There's also email. Most email programs can use a "signature file", which is appended to the end of every email message you send. People and organizations with web sites usually include their site's URL (web address) in their signature files.

Another part of the Internet which a surprising number of people aren't aware of is the Listserv system. These are the email equivalent of form letters. As with newsgroups, there are thousands of Listserv mailing lists, one for every possible topic. You can find out about some of these groups at Liszt.com and Yahoo Groups. Most of these mailing lists are open to anybody. People who subscribe to a list can both read the messages, and send their own messages to other members of the group. So here's another opportunity to let the relevant part of the world know about your new web site.

Advertising online
And of course you can advertise on the Internet - though unlike all the other methods mentioned so far, this costs money. For a business whose customers are mostly in the same country, the best value is probably to buy some space on a heavily-used local site, such as the country versions of Yahoo or Google. Keyword advertising in search engines can be very cost-effective, because your ad can be designed to appear only when people type in search terms relevant for your business.

Choosing a good web address

Attracting visitors to your site from people currently using the Internet is worthwhile, but there's a chance you'll be able to attract even more visitors from people who see your site name mentioned in print, and decide to look it up.

The secret here is to have a URL (web address) which is as short as possible, and difficult to misread or mistype. The potential visitor only has to type one character wrong, and they won't find your site.

If your site's home page has a URL which begins with your ISP's web address, that puts an initial burden on users. For example, if your web site is hosted by that excellent ISP Boldnet, and your username is TheAdelaideWidgetCompany your home page would be something like
http://bold.net.au/~TheAdelaideWidgetCompany/index.html
Remember: one letter mistyped, and they don't find your site. A URL can contain only letters, digits, and hyphens - no other punctuation or blank spaces.

For about 20 US dollars per year (in most countries), you can have your own domain name, This will make your address much shorter, for example:
http://www.awc.com.au/index.html

One factor in choosing a name for a website is to make it distinctive internationally. Before the web was widely used, a business name could be specific to one town. It wasn't relevant that another business nearby had the same name, as long as it was in a different industry. But domain names don't have separate industry categories, and now the competition for brand recognition is not just local: it's worldwide. So you need a name that's distinctive, as well as easily spellable. As all the common dictionary words have now been taken for .com names, you may need to make up a new name for your website, and gradually phase it into your offline business, using both names offline for several years.

f your business is international, you could go for an international domain name, such as a .com or .net or .org name (without a country code on the end). The problem with these is that most of the short and easily spellable names have already been taken. For example, we were interested in taking audial.org, but that was already (in 1998) in use by a French organization. Our second choice was audiencedialogue.org. Though this is a distinctive and easily remembered name, it's an easy one to mis-spell, and some North Americans normally spell dialogue as dialog, and are thus likely to get our domain name wrong when typing it in. We considered buying audiencedialog.org as well, but first we used a search engine to check the frequency of dialogue and dialog on US and Canadian websites. When we found that dialogue was by far the most common spelling, we didn't bother to buy audiencedialog.org.

On most servers, you don't need the /index.html (or whatever) that follows the domain name. Anybody who stops typing at that point will be automatically redirected to your home page. For example, to reach our home page, you can type either www.audiencedialogue.org or www.audiencedialogue.org/index.html. Also, most browser software (e.g. Internet Explorer, Netscape, Mozilla) will assume an http:// in front of a web address, even if the user doesn't type it in. So to reach http://www.awc.com.au/index.html most users could just type in www.awc.com.au

Do you have a short version of your business name? Perhaps your logo contains your initials. If so, and if these initials are unique, it's probably a good idea to register that short version, to forestall any other business which wants to use the same short sequence of letters - even if you don't plan to set up your web site just yet. Short and unique business names are going to be very much in demand, in the next few years. With more and more businesses entering the world market, you may need to ensure that your business name is both easily spelled, and unique in every country where you plan to do business.

Promoting your website offline
Having chosen a suitable Internet name for your business, you need to make it widely known off the Internet. Everything you print and distribute to potential customers could include your Internet address: ads, brochures, leaflets, catalogues, business cards - the lot. A good idea we saw recently was to print postcards with a screen shot of the home page as a colour photo, and mail these to everybody on the business's mailing list.

Whenever space allows, it's a good idea to give people a reason for visiting your Internet site. Instead of merely listing its address, you could say "More up to date details may be found on our Web site, www.awc.com.au".