Popularity isn't easy. Oh, you'll get spam that tells you it is- “We'll submit your site to thousands of search engines and your web counter will go BALLISTIC!!" and so on. Or you may be advised that you need to pay Yahoo a whole bunch of money to get your site “indexed". Under some circumstances, you might consider paying Yahoo or Google for context based advertising, but most of us don't need to. The only folks who should even consider paying for site promotion are those who need to come up to speed extremely quickly. Even if you do pay, don't ignore the techniques discussed here- paying is only going to give you a jump start; it won't keep you in the game.
What you want is links to your site. Links equal traffic. Links come from two places: other pages, and search engines. The more links from other pages, the more the search engines like you. The more the search engines like you, the more people will click through (choose the link the search engine presented). Some of those people have their own sites, and if they like your site, they may add links pointing to you. That, of course, generates more search engine attention- it's a closed loop that feeds on itself and continues to grow. The art of getting more links is known as Site Promotion.
You don't believe it? You think you have to pay money to get noticed? I started my http://aplawrence.com site in 1997 and never paid a dime to anyone.
Well, actually recently I did, just to see whether there was any point in it. I did two things: one, I bought 15,000 “hits" from one of those redirection services that take over abandoned domains and redirect any traffic to you. The 15,000 extra hits increased my visitors for one month, but did not increase my income one dime, and the increase disappeared the following months, which means none of the 15,000 became regular visitors. Secondly, I paid an web site promotion and optimization expert $100.00 for a half hour evaluation and advice session. The advice he had was good and accurate, but again, nothing you could not learn on-line for free by yourself.
Current site stats are 170,000 to 200,000 unique visitors per month, and this was done entirely by self-promotion as described here. Even more importantly, if you search for “SCO Unix" or similar searches at Google and other search engines, you'll often find my pages listed near the top- which is the place you want to be.
("Unique visitors" means individual visitors. That is, you might visit my site two times this month and look at 5 pages each time. That counts as 10 page views, but only one unique visitor. It's not a completely accurate figure; the actual number could be more or less (there might be more than one person behind one ip address, for example), but it's still a statistic that people use to measure popularity. )
Many people tell you that you need to submit new pages as you add them. I've found that not to be true for my sites: Google's Spiders usually pick up new pages here within a few days. That may be because I constantly add new material and the Spiders know to return more often than they would otherwise. Also, Google has recently added its Sitemap protocol which lets you tell Google when you have updated content.
To get links and visitors, there are a number of things to do. Most of these apply no matter what the purpose of your web site is, though some work better for some types of sites.
Suggest a link
Go to Google and search for “suggest". You'll get about about 85,900,000 matches (yes, I'm serious) , most of which are search engines or other web sites that will let you suggest a link to you from them. Fill out as many of these as you can. Ignore any suggestion (like Yahoo will give) that asks you to part with money in exchange for quicker placement (unless, of course, you are able to just throw around money freely- in that case, have you visited my Contributions page?).
Next, search for “site promotion". These are less valuable, but some of them are free promotional thingies that will submit your site to some other sites. What they do is a small number for free, and then try to get you to buy a larger submission. Don't. Just take the free stuff. Most of it is useless, but it will at least get a few search engines to visit.
Nowadays you'll also find blogs and web sites that offer tips on web site promotion. Some of them are just thinly veiled fronts trying to sell you expensive courses or books. Pay no attention: everything they would charge you for is available on line for free. It may take a little more effort to find it all, so if you are in a big hurry, some of the courses or books could be useful, but don't spend a lot of money - it's not worth it.
Now we get to more valuable actions. If there are any newsgroups that at ALL relate to your site, make it a habit to read and post therein (see http://groups. google.com/googlegroups/posting_faq.html if you don't have direct Newsgroup access ). ALWAYS have your web site mentioned in your signature. If you can possibly work in a mention of a specific page on your site that would be helpful to someone posting, do so. But don't just post blatant advertising; people get annoyed by that.
There may also be mailing lists related to your business. Read them, and contribute when you can. Take a look at http://www.webcom.com/impulse/list.html#Search for mail lists. If your site is technical, see OpenITx (http://www.openitx.com) for listings of technical mailing lists etc.
Try to post intelligently. While the search engines that index the articles don't care if you say stupid things, the people who really read the newsgroups do. If you are helpful, polite, and all the rest (brave, loyal, trustworthy and true), folks will visit your site as a result of your posting. If they find something they like, they'll tell other people- maybe they'll even put a link to you on their own site.
Put your web address on EVERYTHING
Mention your web site on EVERYTHING you do: mail, invoices, pens, coffee cups, business cards- anything you do should mention your web site. I have a rubber stamp and I even stamp bills I'm paying- it never hurts.
I'm fortunate in having a short enough site to get a PCUNIX license plate (that redirects to aplawrence.com) - that's probably not an option for you, unfortunately, but if you have signage on vehicles, make sure it mentions the site.
ALWAYS USE “http://yoursite.com", not just “yoursite.com" in email or newsgroup postings- that makes it CERTAIN that it will be a clickable link for the person reading it- otherwise it may not be.
The site itself
WRITE as much as you possibly can and post the articles on your site. The articles don't have to be great, but the more informative they are the better. If you are an accountant, you can write about accounting and business issues. Your artist mother-in-law can write about brush techniques, color sense- whatever- just write, write, write. The more you write, the more traffic you get. Cross-reference everything as much as possible- with links to your other pages. Your own links make search engines happy, too. Not quite as happy as links from other sites, but still happier than no links at all.
Think about what the people you want to attract to your site are interested in and write about those things. If you are a head-hunter, anything HR related is valuable: legal issues, salary surveys, hiring tips etc. If you sell dog food, pet health and grroming, training techniques, reviews of related books, notice of upcoming shows and so on. Whatever your field is, there are dozens and dozens of things you can and should write about.
LEARN about using meta-tags to help search engines properly index your site. Metatags have been abused so much that many search engines ignore them now, but it can't hurt. Make sure that whatever your article is about gets repeated whenever appropriate in the text. For example, this article is about “web site promotion", so you'll see that I use that and similar phrases throughout this article. Take a look at the meta tags I used here (do “view source"). The more the search engine thinks that the article is about site promotion, the more weight it will get when it is indexed. An excellent place to learn about how search engines work and site promotion in general is Search Engine Watch ( http://www.searchenginewatch.com ).
DON"T do stupid things like repeating “web site promotion" a zillion times in a teeny font or with a background color the same as the text. Search engines are much smarter than they used to be: such tactics will not help and may even be held against you.
Consider allowing other people to use what you have written. If you look at the bottom of any article I've written (including this one), you'll notice that I give free permission to copy it for any purpose- as long as you give credit for where it came from. Quite a few web sites do the same thing, which means that you can “steal" from other people to flesh out your own site and make it more attractive to search engines. It is of course better to have your own material, but when you are getting started, you can have a much more comprehensive site. PLEASE pay attention to copyright notices: for example, not ALL the material on my site allows free copying- other sites may have similar restrictions on certain material.
The advantage to me and the other people you borrow from should be obvious: more links back to us, more publicity, more site promotion and popularity.
Do book reviews- and provide links to Amazon or Barnes and Noble so you even get a little income from people who buy as a result of reading your reviews- I get about $50.00 a month from that- not much, but it pays for buying more books to review (actually I've done so many now a number of publishers just send them along free) and every review brings more people to my site.
I keep rough track of sites linking to mine. You can check that on Google using their “site:" tag. You want the number of sites to keep growing.
These are the ways I built my traffic. You can get some relative idea of site ranking by visiting http://www.alexa.com/data/ds/traffic_rankings?p=DestRank_W_b_40_T1 and typing a domain name into the search box. It's not accurate (for one thing it only counts Alexa users) but it will at least give a relative idea- if you rank somewhere in the millions, or not at all, you have work to do. Go ahead and put “aplawrence.com" in there- last I looked it was somewhere in the 70,000's (lower is better with Alexa).
If you download Google's toolbar, that will show their Page Rank for the page you are looking at. My aplawrence.com site's home page has a rank of 6.
Speaking of Google: Adwords is a great way to advertise if you have something to sell, or just to drive traffic to your site. You can set a daily limit, and you pay for actual clicks.
Netcraft also has a nice toolbar (works in Firefox too) that shows their ranking of sites.
Why all the attention to rank? Because part of how you improve YOUR sites rank is to see the rankings of your competitors and then try to figure out what they are doing that you are not.
Web site promotion isn't easy, but it is just basic common sense. If you build it, and promote it, your visitors will come.
Anthony Lawrence is a self employed consultant and webmaster for http://foo-web.com and several other sites.