Your website can be the best creation of code on the web and it will make no difference if you don't market and promote it successfully. There are a lot of techniques and complex strategies for getting the word out about your site, but the basic strategies below are a great starting point.
Marketing and Promotion for the Web
Is there a difference between marketing and promotion? While the two are closely interrelated, there is a key difference: marketing is designed to directly sell access to some exclusive web content such as a business insider blog, whereas promotion is intended simply to increase the public awareness of the site. The days of simply putting up banner ads on websites are long gone. In fact, an article in Business Insider reported that you are more likely to survive a plane crash or win the lottery than to actually click on an ordinary banner ad, no matter how interesting the site looks.
So what is an erstwhile web entrepreneur to do? The answers are not easy, but they are not rocket science, either.
Website Marketing Strategy
One of the most successful strategies to come out of the Web 2.0 revolution is known as permission marketing, coined by Seth Godin. The strategy is deceivingly simple: deliver relevant and personalized information about your site to the people who actually want it. The idea is that by doing this, you increase the odds that your advertising budget and time will actually reach the people who are most likely to buy. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) that used to be filled with meta-tags and keywords has given way to the simple requirement that your site needs relevant content more than anything else to generate traffic.
One of the most powerful tools for this is Really Simple Syndication, or RSS. With an RSS "feed" on your site, viewers are invited to click and have your content delivered to them every time your site changes. It's the perfect permission marketing tool, because they have to click on the little orange square in order for it to work. This means you know that they want to hear what you say, and you can draw them closer to the site by putting only partial entries in your RSS feed. Make the opening interesting, and then they have to click into your site (and drive up traffic) to get the rest of the story.
Google Adwords is a combination of permission marketing and more traditional ads. While the ads are appearing outside the actual body of the web page, they are based around the content and therefore presumably relevant to the interests of the viewer. The best part about the Adwords program is that once you'd selected your keywords, as a seller you don't have to do anything; all of the thousands of websites that use Google's service will automatically start advertising for them. However, as targeted as they are, some industry experts feel that AdWords may be going the same way as the banner ad in terms of effectiveness, and there are many debates on sites such as WebProWorld comparing the effectiveness of Google Adwords vs. Facebook ads.
The Big Dog: Facebook
Facebook had over six hundred million users by 2011, which makes it an irresistible market for advertisers. Products can set up their own pages and entice potential customers there with discounts and special offers for everyone who "likes" them. By clicking the approval button, the user is giving the advertiser permission to continue sharing information about their product. Companies can also create "widgets" that users can place on their own Facebook page, containing games, countdowns, or just clever slogans displaying loyalty to the product. Again, this is a case of permission marketing making the potential customers advertise for you. Companies such as Dr. Pepper have been known for their innovative and unusual Facebook marketing success.
However, when using Facebook to market a website, you run into a problem: the Facebook page itself competes with your site. A Facebook marketing strategy has to be even more carefully planned than an RSS feed, with deliberately useful, interesting, and incomplete content put on the page that draws people onto the website that you control. More importantly, it's the website where the traffic, advertising, and products are the ones that benefit you.
BUZZ: Promoting Your Website
While the marketing gimmicks such as widgets and ad campaigns are born of traditional media, promoting your website comes more from an older art: the art of conversation. The idea behind "buzz" is that users trust friends and family more than anyone. Even if they have no interest in your website, getting people talking about it increases the odds that your message will eventually reach the people who are interested.
However, that means the conversation has to be genuine. Twitter feeds and Tumblr accounts that simply regurgitate blog titles are swiftly "unfollowed", as opposed to a twitter feed that contains actual dialogue. Rather than just saying "Here's a post about cars," a good social media strategy will say something like "Joe just got a new camaro, and has mixed feelings about it. Read more here." It makes the media social, rather than just advertising. Best of all, you might get responses from people who have similar issues.
For some good examples, you can look at PCMag. They compiled the "10 Best Corporate Twitter Accounts" and any website developer can learn a lot from successes like Palm, JetBlue, and WholeFoods. These accounts don't try to sell, they try to help people with relevant information (such as WholeFoods suggesting charities, or JetBlue answering customer questions on the fly).
Leveraging Blog Power
Bloggers are at the front line of website marketing and promotion. Whether it's reviews of products or services, political commentary, celebrity gossip, or just tech news, bloggers have shown the way that any website can increase their visibility. Companies have tried and failed to ignore bloggers, much to their regret. SpringPad recently quoted the CEO of Buzzlogic as saying "blogs are becoming trusted guides", and this is not just for products. One of the best ways you can promote your own site - whether a blog or a service - is to simply participate in the comments and conversations on popular blogs.
Other companies will create their own blogs or "wikis" that can contain knowledgebases and provide a broader background to the industry behind the product. The idea is to have a conversation between people, so that rather than being a producer trying to convince a consumer, it is just two friends talking about ways to help each other out. Sites such as ProBlogger help entrepreneurs set up useful and interesting blog strategies for their business, and also how to make a business out of blogging.
The Struggle to Get Past Tradition
A common problem businesses have with trying to promote and market their websites is holding on to traditional advertising models and use them for new media. Companies such as The Gilbane Group specialize in helping companies get past their old ways and leverage the new technologies to get their message out to the right people, not just more people. If you can keep a flexible and open attitude about the ever-changing web marketing world, you can find even more ways to spread the word about your site and keep the buzz alive.