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Promotion

You can have the best web site in the world, but it's all for nought if it doesn't get any visitors. Promoting a site is particular important for interactive sites, where users contribute some of the content -- it's necessary to develop a certain critical mass of users until network effects take over. It's a lot harder to promote a web site today than it was in 1996 -- millions of web sites are clamoring for attention, and portals like Yahoo! are getting harder to get into. Unfortunately, there's a lot of snake oil in the field of web site promotion: untargeted bulk email, or spam is as effective at generating enemies and cracker attacks as it is as generating hits. Other "search engine optimization" specialists advertise that they'll submit your web site to "600+" search engines, whereas it's much more to focus on the small subset of search engines that are used the most.

Promoting a web site starts with choosing a good domain name. A good domain name is short and easy to remember, and hard to mispell. (When bookseller Barnes and Nobles opened an online store, many people couldn't remember if it was barnesandnoble.com or barnesandnobles.com -- finally they bought bn.com). A good domain name isn't just easy for people to remember: search engines place special weight on words that appear in the domain name, so ithacacortlandhelpwanted.com come up first when you search for "ithaca help wanted". Hosting a web site on somebody else's domain name might save you around $30 a year, but it makes you look less professional and can put you at a disadvantage in search engine rankings.

Search engines are important because they bring in users that are specifically looking for what you have to offer. The technology of search engines is continuously changing: a few years back, it was important to put relevant keywords in <META> tags. Because people abused that, putting false information to attract search engines, search engines now pay special attention to words in headers (<H1>, <H2>,...) and especially the title. Newer search engines keep track of what sites link to other sites and use this to estimate the quality of your site. It's important to get links to your site from other sites, particularly from high quality sites, to get visitors directly and indirectly by raising your ranking in the search engines. By searching for something like 'link:http://www.tapir.org/" you can get a list of sites that link to a particular site: this is a great way to discover related web sites, to find friends to exchange links with, and to understand how people find your competitors.

With cookies and referrer logs, which aren't offered by many web providers, you can get detailed information about how people visit your site. We can give you an idea of how many people visit the site once, and how many keep coming back and also find out which links many of them followed to get there. It's particularly exciting to be able to see it the next day when your site has been linked from a web log or a message board, and this can reveal new venues in which to promote your site.

Although unsolicited e-mail, our spam, is the #1 one way to make enemies on the internet, e-mail can be intelligently used to attract new users and to keep users coming back. A personal mailing to a small, well-targeted, list is about the only effective way to start a new community site today if you don't have thousands to spend on advertising. E-mail is also an important way to keep in touch with people who visit your site and keep them coming back -- although users hate getting frequent e-mails about subjects they don't care about it, I've been thanked many times for remembering to send someone an update about something they were interested in. Simple changes can greatly increase the effectiveness of an e-mail campaign: few will read a message whose subject is "What's new for 11/7/01", but more will read a message like "58 Greens elected in 2001 elections."

What we can do

Unlike some firms, we don't have extensive experience in offline marketing and advertising. However, we are familiar with the ways that users find web sites, designing web sites that work well with search engines, and the programming end of "viral marketing" schemes such as contests and affiliate programs. We've seen web projects succeed and fail on the basis of being able to attract an audience, so we can provide a perspective on promoting either an existing web site or one that we create for you.