Directing traffic

While it's easy enough to throw money at the Internet to create a “bleeding edge” web site, getting people to actually stop by is the real challenge. Without proper promotion, green-industry web sites will most likely languish in cyberspace as little more than technological homages to their web designers.

The easiest way to avoid this fate is to put together an arsenal of web-site promotion tools that should be implemented the moment your site goes “live.”

Rent-a-list

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One of the easiest ways to steer web surfers to your site is to rent or buy a consumer e-mail list. This is probably one of the easiest — although maybe one of the most expensive — ways to promote a web site and company services on the Internet. Essentially, firms using this technique rent exposure by paying for an e-mail customer-distribution list of a firm that is already established on the Web. Often, the firm owning the list recommends via e-mail that its customers visit the site of the list renter, and sometimes includes a discount coupon for goods or services at the list renter's site.

Entering your web site in judging contests also helps garner more exposure. If you think your site can pass muster, you should submit it to be judged by a judging service. If the judges deem that your site is worthy of an award, they will give you the equivalent of a graphic “blue ribbon” that you can post on your site. And the awarding service also provides a free link to the winning page from its own home page — a perk that can generate literally thousands of visits to a new web site, according to Charles Sayers, an Internet marketing consultant based in Acworth, Ga.

Press forward

Moreover, don't forget the press. Probably one of the most overlooked opportunities on the Web is the opportunity to establish a virtual press center on a site. Increasingly, journalists are turning to the Internet and the Web to search for stories and develop new ideas, and there is no reason why any company with a web site should pass up an opportunity for free media exposure. Simply posting a few press releases about your practice in a “press center” domain is a good start.

Traigh Golf Course (www.traighgolf.co.uk), based in West Highlands, Scotland, regularly posts company press releases on its site, as does Winding River Golf Course (www.windingriver.gc.com), based in Indianapolis, Ind.

Cutting coupons

Regularly posting online coupons, as is the practice at GroundsKeepers (www.groundskeepers.com), based in Stone Mountain, Ga., also helps. This is another old economy bricks-and-mortar solution that works just as well — if not better — on the Web. You can easily offer online coupons that your site visitors can simply print out, or you can even periodically deliver them directly to visitors' e-mail boxes. The advantage of e-mail delivery is that it allows you to easily build a relationship with customers over time, because they do not have to make any effort to search for your coupons.

In the news

While you have potential customers at your site, also get them to sign up for an e-mail-delivered newsletter. The beauty of these promotional tools is that they're much less expensive to produce and distribute online than in the “real” world. Indeed, you can even experiment with the medium for free at sites like Topica (www.topica.com) and Egroups (www.egroups.com). And for a more in-depth appreciation of just how popular the medium is on the Web, visit Liszt (www.liszt.com). It tracks more than 90,000 newsletters and mailing lists currently circulating the Net.

Ginger Valley Incorporated (www.gingervalley.com) has a sign-up online for a free e-mail-delivered newsletter, as does Michael Callan (www.michaelcallan.com), based in Alameda, Calif.

Be direct

Make sure that your site is posted in the industry-related web directories that have sprung up all over the Web. Directories help Net cruisers get to the sites they're seeking more quickly. Landscapers in the United Kingdom have pulled together to form GardenDesign U.K. (www.gardesign-uk.com), while mostly U.S.-based landscaping firms are a part of Landscape Web (www.landscapeweb.com).

It's also a good idea to exchange links with as many non-competitive web sites as you possibly can. Leighton T. Allenby Tree and Landscape (www.allenbytree.com), based in Hatchville, Mass., sports a healthy links domain.

Recommend to a friend

It also never hurts to add a “recommend-this-site-to-a-friend” button to your web site. As in the real world, no promotion is more valuable than word-of-mouth advertising. By clicking on a “recommend-this-site” button or link, a visitor to your site can dash off a quick “heads-up” about the site to a friend — which is automatically forwarded to the friend's e-mail address. Ingenious.

Keep it ticking

Industry firms with the deepest promotional pockets also might want to offer a branded news ticker. This is probably one of the more innovative and sophisticated web-site promotion strategies being used on the Web today. Essentially, companies contract with professional news organizations to create a “news ticker” that stays resident on a user's computer, and pops up on the screen from time to time when news breaks. With every pop-up message, the logo of the company sponsoring the news ticker is displayed. You can find out more about news tickers and free news feeds at sites such as Individual (www.individual.com/network/headlines).

Rev your engines

No promotional strategy would be complete without search-engine positioning — or listing your site with popular search engines so that it is among the first links returned in a keyword search. Such positioning is considered an art form on the Web, so you may want to consider seeking out the services of a web-positioning firm if you want to seriously enter the search-engine listing wars. Search EngineWatch.com (www.searchenginewatch.com) is an excellent information clearinghouse on how to work the search engines.

Marcia Bablas Landscape Design (www.bablasdesign.com), based in Los Angeles, Calif., is apparently no stranger to this listing strategy. When the keywords “landscape design Los Angeles” are entered into Yahoo!, its site was the first link to be listed. That kind of visibility does not happen accidentally.

Meanwhile, HM White Site Architects (www.hmwhitesa.com), based in New York, N.Y., is another winner in the listing wars. Its site was the first relevant link returned when the keywords “landscape design New York” were entered into Yahoo!.

You can also list your site with hundreds of search engines for free at Virtual Promote (www.virtualpromote.com). Specializing in web-site promotion, Virtual Promote offers links to more than 500 sites that will help you with search-engine listing.

Hook pages, or informational pages that offer free insight and instruction on a specific topic, also help put web sites higher up on the radar of the search engines. The reason: If you have a page offering insight or a tutorial, many search engines will list your site twice in its database (i.e., once under the business you're in and again under the specific topic of information offered on your site's hook page).

Jess Stryker & Associates (www.jessstryker.com), based in Ventura, California, has a number of hook pages at its site, which offer industry related tutorials.

Even if you implemented only one of the tools outlined here, you could boost the traffic on your web site exponentially. The key is to find the tools — or mix of tools — that will drive the most people to your site and supply your business with maximum exposure.

Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Voice: (805) 379-3673. Email: joedysart@digitalubiquity.com Web: www.digitalubiquity.com

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