The web has become a place where anyone with an idea, a plan, and the right resources can create a successful online business. On the whole, that’s great news for mom entrepreneurs.
The caveat to that statement rests with the word “anyone.” Yes, anyone. Anyone can create a website, anyone can sell their goods and services, and you are just one of many “any ones” out there trying to do the same. The chances that a prospect will reach your site by happy circumstance are so low, they’re not even worth quantifying.
Now you’re thinking to yourself that I must have had a tough coach or teacher in my day, considering the uninspiring nature of this pep talk. Nah, I’m not trying to bring you down. The reality of the web is what it is. You can’t expect customers to knock at your virtual door; you’ll need to go out and earn them.
Driving customers to your website is a never-ending journey when you run an online business, one you’ll manage by posting tons of directional signage that strikes a good balance between subtly-persuasive and sales-pitchy. You’ll want to pave the way to your site clearly but avoid irritating your prospects in the process. You need to get noticed – so go ahead and put those signs in the right-of-way so every passer-by knows you’re there, waiting to serve. There’s no local code enforcement officer policing these streets.
But whatever you do, make sure that the destination makes the journey worthwhile. If you don’t reward your travelers with good content once they land on your page, they won’t forgive you – and they won’t be back.
There’s a reason “Google” has become a functional verb. If you want to stand out on the web, you need to show up in a Google search. Google Webmaster Central will help you understand how Google searches work and what you can do to snag a top spot in search results. This doesn’t just involve the content on your site — search rankings consider what other sites link to your website as well. If other sites are linking to you, a certain level of credibility is presumed, and Google wants credible sites rising to the top.
For more on this topic, see 10 Elements of a Perfectly Optimized Page and How to Use HTML Meta Tags. Meta what? That was my reaction the first time someone suggested I create meta tags. They are vital; read the article.
In addition to managing your content in the way that Google recommends, you must get links to your site established on as many relevant external sites as possible. You can search Google for keyword+forum or keyword+community. If your site informs people how to make their own baby food, search baby food forum and baby food group. Look through the forums, chat rooms, and groups that come up in the search, join them, and introduce yourself. Post on a few threads.
After a week of working the sites, you should be able to tell which will pay off for you the most – are conversations and threads active, up-to-date, and pertinent to your specific business? Weed out the less-promising groups and focus on daily postings at those sites that will help drive traffic to your site. Here’s an example of forum search results for the topic of this blog.
Yahoo! You’ve got an Answer!
Go to Yahoo! Answers and enter search terms specific to your product or service. For example, if you are writing about nutrition for babies and small children, you could search for “best baby food” or “toddler nutrition.” Sort the answers to see the newest first, as those will have fewer answers already submitted. Try out different searches, and provide answers for any questions to which you have the background and confidence to respond. Include a link to your website near the end of your response.
I think this is a worthwhile use of your time. When I Google a specific concern or thought I have, a Yahoo question-and-answer almost always comes up in the top of the search results. Even if your answer is not selected as the “top” answer, many users (like myself) will read through many of the answers provided to find one that fits their situation. If I read a thoughtful answer that really addresses my issue, I am very likely to click on any link provided and visit the associated site. If the site does not pertain to my issue, I am very annoyed. But if it does, I’d be happy for a direct link to that content through Yahoo! Answers.
Add an Official Air to Your Offering
Do you have an angle or advice on the subject of your business that isn’t already available in a hundred different variations on the web? You can keep a blog with your thoughts, of course, but reserve a special topic or two to write and offer as a research paper, white paper, or simply free report. Dressing it up a bit as a PDF document that the reader can download and keep gives your contribution to the knowledge base of your industry an official bent.
You can offer it for free, or if it contains tips that will actually help the reader’s business profit, consider selling it for a (very low) price. Make sure your site is linked and mentioned somewhere in the intro or bio pages of the piece, and then your affiliate sites can help you market it and you can let them keep the profits because it directs traffic to your website in the end.
Sample free reports:
A sample paid report ($7):
Write That Report (this serves not only as an example; the author advocates for selling reports instead of giving them away and teaches you how to do just that).
Cast a (Social) Net
This is not an original suggestion. Who doesn’t tell you to cover your bases with Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter? I’m going to assume you’re there – you’ve already taken this step or you’ve committed mentally to doing so. My advice is to touch them every day – don’t just focus on your profile. Continue to grow your network (it’s called networking for a reason) and use your site to offer insider knowledge, links, and special offers. Free shipping, anyone?
A few resources:
Pay for Performance
Now, I know the title of this article alludes to not having to pay anything to drive traffic, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this. Sometimes you pay to “free” up time. Pay for performance is not just an HR term – in the world of online commerce, it can be easier to pay for services than to figure them out for yourself. If you have reserved some resources for advertising and marketing, consider pay per click or advertising management services that will free your time up to focus on content and strategy.
Examples of firms that provide this service:
Also check out a comparison of Google and Facebook ads.
A La Carte Ideas
- Request to do a guest post on a site related to yours and include alink to your website in the content.
- Contact other online businesses in your industry and propose to sell your good or service to their audience at a discount in exchange for a link to your offering.
- Engage in cross-promotion – find friendly businesses that will mention or write about you in exchange for the same service on your end.
- You can drive some local prospects to your online business by offering a QR Code posted at stores, events, magazines, or the local paper that interested parties can scan with their SmartPhone and go directly to an offer on your site.
- Submit content to site aggregators like StumbleUpon and Reddit.
- Sincerely promote other people’s products/services that you believe in.
- Become known as an expert in your industry and get your business in the news by using sites such as HARO. Become a trusted source.
- Continue to build your email subscriber list.
- Offer a giveaway (an e-book, information product, discount, etc.) to the members or audience of a complimentary website or blog.
These are just some ideas that I wanted to share in case it can help you. I know there are tons of other ways to drive traffic to your site and build a loyal audience and following.