Business Web sites are no different than businesses in the real world to be successful they need customers. And it's not as simple as "if you build it, they will come." So, here are some ways to maximize your connection with the growing community of Web surfers.
Promoting with HTML
A good way to improve your site's chances of being found is so simple it's often overlooked: Give it a good, descriptive title. A Web page title is whatever you put between the <TITLE> and </TITLE> tags in your HTML code, not what appears on the page. Search engines weigh titles heavily in their search-return lists, and search engines are how most people find the sites they visit.
You can, and should, use up to 15 words in your title to publicize your company's name and areas of expertise and to add keywords that search engines will associate with your site. For example, a bank might use this descriptive, 15-word title: <TITLE>First United Bank: a full-service bank offering high-interest checking and savings accounts, and other financial services</TITLE>.
Get <META> Tagged, Get Found
Often, the only thing separating successful, high-traffic Web sites from obscure ones is the use of <META> tags. Savvy site builders put these HTML codes between the <HEAD> and </HEAD> tags of their pages' source code to add hidden keywords and a short description that search engines will find. Without them, your site can be almost "invisible."
The keywords you choose determine which search terms will find your site. Include all the keywords (most to least important, separated by commas) for your site on the main page, but also use keywords on every page you want searchers to find. Include synonyms, spell out any acronyms, and use a maximum of 1,000 characters.
Your description <META> tag provides a short summary of your page that may accompany your URL in search returns. Keep it short; most search engines show only the first 250 characters.
A Web site for a bank might include these keywords and description tags: <META name="keywords" content="bank, savings, checking accounts, financial services"> <META name="description" content="First United Bank is a friendly, full-service bank providing a wide range of financial services.">
So, someone entering bank checking account in a search engine should find this bank, with the above description appearing next to the URL in the results.
For some search engine attention-grabbing <META> tags, visit the Web Site Garage. After you get your automatically generated tags, just copy and paste them into your pages' source code.
Register with Search Engines
According to Web promotion guide Rank This!, 99% of Internet surfers use at least one of the eight major search engines AltaVista, Excite, HotBot, Infoseek, Lycos, Open Text, WebCrawler, and Yahoo! to find sites. Being listed by these search engines is therefore vital to generate Web site traffic. You can make sure your site is listed by filling out the listing forms provided at each search engine site.
You can save time by using a Web announcement service like !Register-It! (a new EarthLink partner), which submits your site's URL to dozens of top search engines. When you purchase an EarthLink Business Web Site Package, !Register-It! waives its $40 fee to announce your site to 300 engines and gives you free access to its Web Site Garage. The garage fine-tunes your site by running browser compatibility checks, finding HTML and spelling mistakes, spotting bad links, and timing how long your pages take to load. It can also generate essential <META> tags for your Web pages (see "Get <META> Tagged, Get Found" for more on <META> tags at the bottom of the page).
Net Profits from the Real World
Don't forget to put your URL and email address on your business cards, stationery, ads, and press releases. Warwick Stone, who promotes the Hard Rock Hotel's Web site, printed "Shop online at www.hardrockhotel.com" on all Hard Rock shopping bags. "Your URL," he says, "should be on everything that relates: put 'Buy tickets online' on ticket stubs, for instance, or 'Make reservations online' on your brochures."
Get in a Web Directory
Web directories are themed lists of links to other pages. There are numerous directories available, from general lists, like Nerd World, to ones that focus on one or more subjects. There are also a number of online yellow pages and regional guides that offer free links to Web sites in a certain area. Most of these directories will list your site for free; you merely need to ask for a link. Look for appropriate directories with the major search engines.
Announce to Usenet
You can also post a description and link to your site in comp.infosystems.www.announce, a newsgroup dedicated to Web site announcements. Make your description complete but don't be too wordy. A guide to posting in this newsgroup is available online.
Join a Web Ring
Web rings are groups of sites that are linked in a circle. When you are at one site in a ring, you can click on the ring's "next" or "previous" button to jump to the next site in the ring. Eventually, you can follow the links all the way back to the original site. Most of these rings are based on free software available from Webring. Every ring has a theme, and Webring currently hosts more than 20,000 rings. To join a ring, find one that's appropriate to your business and submit your URL. If you are accepted, its owner will send you the HTML needed to add your site to the ring.
Web Marketing Links
The Directory Guide lists popular themed search engines. It's an easy way to find search engines that specialize in your company's market.
Rank This! lets you see where your site appears in searches on AltaVista, Excite, HotBot, Infoseek, Lycos, Open Text, WebCrawler, and Yahoo!. Provides engine-specific tips for improving your ranking.
WebPosition is a Windows 95-only application that checks your site's rankings with AltaVista, Excite, Infoseek, HotBot, LinkStar, Lycos, Open Text, WebCrawler, and Yahoo!. A free trial version is available for download.