Think about New Years Eve, midnight. Think about billions of bits of confetti falling from the sky. Now, write an ad on a few dozen or hundred or thousand pieces of paper and throw them into the air with the rest. That’s what it’s like to advertise on the internet.

Trying to make your product, service or web site known to the rest of the internet community can be very, very frustrating. Not only making it known, but getting visitors to actually visit the site can be downright annoying.

When advertising on the internet, I have several quick rules of thumb. These are not cast in concrete, but they seem to serve me very well.

Rule number one is “people use search engines, and to get them to your site you MUST show up in the top 50 or so listings for your keywords in a search engine”. Period. Nothing else will build traffic faster than getting listed in a search engine.

Rule number two is “concentrate a lot of steady effort on getting other sites to exchange links with you”. This is an excellent, although very time consuming, way to build steady, permanent increases in traffic.

My third rule of thumb is “start free and stay free unless you’ve got a very good reason to pay for advertising”. There are many, many ways to get free advertising on the web. I’ve found very little reason to pay for submission services, email lists, banner exchanges or anything else to advertise my site.

There are many ways to get traffic to your site, and it’s more-or-less worthwhile to pursue all of them. You can explore some of the following.

  • FFAs – generally not very worthwhile as your links fall off the lists too quickly. Use an automated submission program or service – don’t waste a second with manual submissions. It’s also critical to remember to never, ever use your primary email account to submit to these. Your email box will be flooded with so many messages you will want to scream.
  • Creating FFA pages – This allows you to send confirmation emails to people who add links. A very poor way to build traffic as anyone with a brain sends these messages to an email account which is just ignored.
  • Exchanging links – very good way to build traffic but takes a lot of time and effort. If you can get a lot of links all over the net you can build as much traffic as the major search engines.
  • Banner programs – I’ve found these to be virtually worthless. Sometimes a very well designed or targeted banner can cause some traffic, but be careful spending any money here.
  • Webrings – you should join many of these to build decent traffic. They do not create huge amounts of hits, but once set up they continue to drive visitors to your site day after day. Put the web code on pages all over your site – generally do not put them on your home page or on a webring page.
  • Major Search Engines – excellent way to build traffic fast but they tend to be fickle. I’ve had sites appear overnight only to disappear a week later. You must continually monitor your listings in these engines.
  • Directories – Get you site listed in as many as possible. Some are difficult to get listed on (like Yahoo) and some are easy, but all require little maintenance once your listing appears.
  • Minor search engines – Get listed in them all if you can. Use an automated submission technique but DO NOT submit multiple times to the major engines as this may get you removed for spamming. Traffic is minor but steady.
  • Email lists – very good for building traffic. You should always have a list for your site so visitors get a constant reminder to come back. Also if you can add articles to other email newsletters in exchange for your link appearing than do so as this can create traffic quickly.
  • Newsgroups – Don’t explicitly advertise as this is spamming. There are newsgroups for advertising but the return tends to be low. What you can do is make a signature (4 lines or so) and post useful messages and replies. I’ve found this does create some traffic, although it’s not huge and it’s limited in duration.
  • Email – Careful here as spam is on everyone’s mind. Can build some traffic. Your own newsletter is a great way to go, as are email lists.
  • Awards – Apply for as many as you can for your site. You will win some. The bigger ones will generate lots of traffic. The smaller ones will cause an occasional hit but are a good ego boost at least.
  • All of the “multi-million hits” and similar pages – generally worthless. Set one up just for the heck of it since it’s easy, but don’t count on any real traffic. By the way, don’t ever pay for one of these things.

My basic operating procedure is (a) examine statistics, (b) try something and then (c) reexamine statistics. For example, let’s say you want to add your site to a webring. Record your statistics for a couple of days. Add the site. Then compare. In this case, you’ll also want to look at the statistics for referring sites to see if the webring shows up. If it worked, great. If not, that’s okay also. You just want to get a feel for what’s working and what’s not so you know where to put your time, effort and possibly money.

Also remember that your site is more than just a homepage. In actuality, you have dozens, hundreds or even thousands of pages, each of which is a potential entry point. Make sure each one of them advertises your site, links back to the home page and is complete within themselves. You can also run multiple advertising experiments with your site by using the different pages.

One of the really great things about the internet is how automatic it all can be. Many of these advertising techniques are of the “set it up and forget it” variety. Add a site to a webring, then forget about it. Visitors will be drawn to your site from now on. Maybe not many, but you do not need to put in any more effort to get those visitors after your site is added.

Some things, however, require constant vigilance. Search engines top this list. You can easily fall off a search engine, so you must constantly (weekly perhaps) check your ranking in each of the major engines.

In a nutshell, use statistics. Monitor your progress. Set up as much automated advertising as you can. Initially concentrate at least half of your efforts on search engines, then once you are listed concentrate on setting up link exchanges with other similar sites. Don’t forget the other avenues for advertising, though, as all of them have some kind of payoff.