By Joe Dysart
January/February 2001 - Although establishing an Internet presence has become a priority for many Hispanic companies, consultants warn that without proper marketing and promotion, Web sites can quickly become cyber-elephants.
"The now cliche Web maxim 'If you build it, they will come' has led many online marketers into a false sense of opportunity. The truth is that Web-site traffic building has its own set of PR needs and requires its own system of aggressive, attention-getting tactics," says Charles Sayers, an Internet marketing consultant based in Acworth, Georgia.
Specifically, Mr. Sayers says, Hispanic enterprises looking to maximize the Web's potential should first attempt to determine how many of their customers or clients are actually online -- and how feasible it will be to reach this market.
"Don't rationalize the number. Don't inflate your projections," Mr. Sayers says. "Be conservative. And determine whether it's a number you can live with."
He says it makes no sense to invest resources in a Web page if only a minute percentage of your potential customer base actually uses an Internet connection. But if you decide to take the Internet plunge, consultants advise that you use as many of the following Web-site marketing and promotion strategies as possible:
* Rent or buy a consumer e-mail list. This is probably one of the easiest -- although maybe one of the most expensive -- ways to promote a Web site and company services on the Web. Essentially, firms using this technique rent exposure in the e-mail customer distribution list of a firm that is already established on the Web. Often, the firm owning the list recommends via e-mail that its customers visit the site of the list renter, sometimes including a discount coupon for goods or services at the list-renter's site.
* Consider a professional search engine listing firm. Seasoned Web users turn to search engines such as Yahoo (www.yahoo.com) and Excite (www.excite.com) to help them find specific information on the Net quickly. Given the great power these search engines have to steer Net cruisers to specific sites, it should come as no surprise that a number of Web-savvy firms have cropped up to help firms be among the first links the search engines return to information seekers.
The Web Hitman (www.webthemes.com) is one such firm. For $795, it will guarantee that any site it lists will appear in the top 10 links from one of the Net's larger search engines, including Yahoo, Excite, Alta Vista, Web Crawler, Hot Bot, and Northern Light Search.
* List your site with hundreds of search engines free of charge. Those unwilling to lay out hard cash right now can still get a site listed in hundreds of search engines by visiting Virtual Promote, which is devoted to Web-site promotion. Set your browser to www.virtualpromote.com/promot1.html and you'll find links to nearly 500 sites offering links to thousands of search engines.
Software programs such as Web Site Traffic Builder, by Intelliquis International (www.intelliquis.com), based in Draper, Utah, offer another option. Traffic Builder registers your site with more than 900 Internet search engines and will automatically put your business in the appropriate category for each search engine. You also can use the software to check your site's position on the Net's most popular search engines. A similar program, WebPosition Gold, by FirstPlace Software (www.firstplace.com), focuses on returning high site placements during searches with the Web's top engines.
* Create links. Probably the easiest, least expensive, and most effective way to promote a site is to link your page with every other noncompetitive page on the Internet that shares some interest. For instance, Kfoury Construction Group (www.kfoury.com), based in Reston, Virginia, exchanges links with selected businesses and trading partners at its site to enhance its exposure on the Web. "Link until you drop," says Craig Settles, author of Cybermarketing: Essentials for Success, published by Ziff-Davis.
* Enter as many Web-site contests as you can. Webmasters should attempt to get the site judged by some of the "cool site of the day" evaluation services. Sites that are judged worthy of an award are given the equivalent of a graphic blue ribbon they can post on their site. And the awarding service also provides a free link to the winning page from its own home page -- a perk that can generate literally thousands of visits to a new Web site, according to Mr. Sayers.
Burt Automotive Network (www.burt.com), based in Englewood, Colorado, displays a banner certifying the site as winner of the Year 2000 Best Auto Dealer Web Site Contest, for instance. For the seasoned Web cruiser, it signifies that Burt has gone out of its way to accommodate both technophiles and average Internet users.
Adds Jim Wilson, the Webmaster behind Virtual Promote (www.virtualpromote.com) and a Web marketer: "Keep in mind that most people who will be surfing to your Web site don't know the relative difficulty of earning different awards. All they see is that some people thought your site was good enough to win an award. So it's wise to apply for everything."
* Establish a virtual press center. This is probably one of the most overlooked opportunities on the Web. With journalists increasingly turning to the Internet to search for stories and develop new ideas, there is no reason why any company with a Web site should pass up an opportunity for free media exposure, says Mr. Settles.
McBride and Associates (www.mcbride.com), a computer retailer and consultancy based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, offers press releases online, as does Pharmed Group (www.pharmed.com), a pharmaceutical and medical wholesaler based in Miami. Meanwhile, Hamilton Bancorp (www.hamiltonbank.com), also based in Miami, offers a link to a Yahoo-maintained press center on the company.
* Offer a branded news ticker. This is probably one of the more innovative of Web-site promotion strategies in use today. Essentially, companies contract with online news providers to design news tickers with their own logos -- which can then be offered for download from the company Web site. Many companies offer news tickers featuring breaking sports news, for example.
* Get posted in Web directories. In an effort to make Web cruising a little easier, a number of businesses have packaged themselves in easy-to-use directories that help Net cruisers get to their sites more quickly. Hispanic mega-directories -- Sepuede.com (www.sepuede.com), based in South San Francisco, California, for example -- offer an easy way for Hispanic businesses to get noticed quickly on the Web.
* Offer coupons. Time-tested and effective, coupons have naturally migrated to the Web. Gus Machado Ford (www.gusmachadoford.com), based in Hialeah, Florida, gives Web cruisers a reason to make repeated visits to its site with an offering of online coupons that can be printed directly from the Web.
* Consider banner ads. Many Web sites are promoted by brief flourishes of color and text banner ads that float across the screen while Net cruisers are visiting related Web sites. "During the past year, many services have sprung up to help Webmasters find other sites to exchange banner advertising," says Mr. Wilson of Virtual Promote. Find a list of these services, as well as how to buy banner ads on highly trafficked sites, at www.virtualpromote.com/promote9.html.
* Start a newsletter. Newsletters are one of the most effective ways to establish an ongoing relationship with current and prospective customers. A good industry model can be found at Miami-based Latingrocer.com (www.latingrocer.com), where Web visitors can sign up for an e-mail-delivered newsletter featuring weekly specials and discounts. The Plaza Group (www.theplazagroup.com), based in Houston, also offers an online newsletter. And Paul Young Automall (www.paulyoungautomall.com), based in Laredo, Texas, puts its own spin on relationship-building via e-mail with a free quote-by-e-mail service.
* Add a "recommend this site to a friend" button. The old maxim that nothing is more valuable than word-of-mouth promotion is even more applicable in cyberspace. Get your Web designer to add a "recommend this site" button, which enables visitors to dash off a quick heads-up about the site and automatically forward it to a friend's e-mail address.
Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Thousand Oaks, California. Phone (805) 379-3673, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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