Incite to sell

Written by Dave Collins, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.

Click, click, click. Your index finger is performing that same old, repetitive motion on the mouse, your eyes are wandering restlessly over the screen, searching for anything remotely interesting. We’ve all been there. Taking a few minutes off to check out what’s new on the web, roaming restlessly from CNN to NBC to AOL and back again, hopping from newsgroup to newsgroup. Whether we call it browsing, surfing or wading through our favourite sites, it usually always boils down to the same thing. A harmless recreational activity where anything we see is usually forgotten within a few minutes. And who could blame us? We all have enough things on our mind without worrying about the latest celebrity shocker or the most recent petty disagreement in the political world. But what if we could use our time on the web more effectively?

Although we all work in a way that means that we are fairly intimately involved with the internet, it is easy to forget just how many ways there are to benefit from it. By spending those spare moments on the web in the right places doing the right things, you could make a big difference to your business.

Do you know your competition?
For one thing, the web makes keeping an eye on competition and developments a piece of cake. You probably already know who your competition is, but do you know what they do? Check out their sites, join their mailing lists, and see where they’re linking too. Do a search for their name/s on the search engines, and see where they pop up. As a very basic rule of thumb, if they’re showing up in places where you’re not, you’re doing something wrong. If you don’t mind them taking away your potential customers and sales, then by all means ignore them. But if you want what they’re getting, don’t wait for it to come to you. Seek and ye shall find!

But there’s more to the web than an easy way of spying on your competitors. “What’s New” listings are easy to come by, and well worth the short amount of time required to add your software or site details. Work on the basis that every couple of postings will generate at least one sale. Simple maths. And you know it works. Set aside one hour to find the sites and post your announcements, and sit back and watch your website stats soar. Yes, the benefits are likely to be very short term, but some of the people will bookmark your site and/or buy your product. Get them.

There’s also no shortage of the “Hot Sites” type of listings; a little harder to get a listing with, but well worth the effort. A good rule of thumb is not to blindly submit to these places, but find the ones that look like your sort of thing.

Reciprocal links are also a simple, easy and free way of attracting attention. While your competition (probably) won’t be too keen on a link to your site, there are bound to be enough sites who are. Complementary areas of interest, themes, resources… almost all sites have links to other sites, so why not get yours out there too. As well as sending visitors your way, they’re also good for your search-engine rankings.

Don’t throw your money away
The next step up is the big one – advertising. There are few easier ways to burn money than throwing it into advertising, but if you do a little bit of research, you might just discover a goldmine. Like it or not, the web is all about advertising. Billboards, bus stops, and print combined can’t come close to the web. It is 100% pure advertising.

It is also unique in that it takes very little effort to act on. No phone number to dial, store to visit, coupon to cut out… just one click and voila! It’s also far easier to track what works and what doesn’t; more of that later.

The good news is that web advertising is very cheap, at least in theory. $15 per thousand exposures sounds like very little, but when you realise that a click through rate of 2% is nowadays seen as high, you start doing the maths. $15 might generate 20 visitors. Of these, perhaps 2% of these will consider buying your product. Hmmm.

Don’t dismiss banner advertising
But don’t dismiss banner advertising as a waste of time and money. Let’s instead look at how we can improve the figures. Even my non-mathematical head can understand that we have to either reduce the cost, or increase the click-through rate. Reducing the cost is easy, as there are a massive number of sites that offer far cheaper prices per thousand exposures. But better still is to increase the number of clicks. How? Targeting. If we place our banner on a site whose visitors are almost certain to be interested in what we’re offering, we’ll break the 2% limit in minutes. Advertise your Italian word processor on Finland’s main news site, and you can expect little to show for your effort. But place a banner for your image optimisation software on a webmaster’s site, and you may well be laughing all the way to the bank. Ever noticed how long WinZip’s advertising button has been on CNET’s site? Ever wondered why?

There are enough small, targeted sites out there with far lower visitor numbers than the big guys. But not only do they allow you to tap straight into your target market, they invariably cost far less too.

And the beauty of banner advertising is that you can track the success of every single banner, from each site you advertise on. Some offer live stats for keeping track of how many exposures and clicks you receive. But even when your banner is simply “statically” displayed, you can still refer each one to its own page, thereby allowing you to see what works and what doesn’t.

While we’re on the subject of website stats, these are one of the most important sources of information that you have access to. They allow you to see which promotional activities generates the results, how long for, where your visitors are coming from, where they go once they’re in your site, how long they spend and more. Use this information wisely. Without it you’re effectively blind, stumbling from hole to hole, oblivious to the opportunities that you’re walking past. Information is everything.

Without promotional activities, your site is as susceptible to large hoards of visitors as a shop in the centre of the North Pole. The web has no high-street, but offers a countless number of places to hang your signs. The more you put up, the more you’ll be noticed. Be seen, be sold.

Written by Dave Collins, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.