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Website Promotion for Absolute Beginners
Before you read this article: I'm not an expert - this is just a short (and hopefully amusing) account of my own experiences with starting up a website! I WILL however give you some very useful links to the real experts at the end of this article BUT DON'T SKIP TO THE END JUST YET! I still have a lot of funny, insightful and useful information to give you : D
About 8 months ago I got a great idea! I'M GONNA MAKE A WEBSITE WITH FLASH GREETING CARDS THAT PEOPLE CAN SEND TO ALL THEIR FRIENDS!!! No, I did not think that I was the first person to get this idea. I'm not THAT naïve. However I was naïve in a lot of other ways about what it takes to build a website – but I will get to that later.
Anywho, I thought this was a great idea for ME; I love making little animations in Flash, I love thinking up little stories, I love working for myself (as opposed to working for a boss - but you can read about that on my website!), and I thought it would be really cool to have a website that people from all over the world would visit and use. WOW! Sort of my 15 minutes of fame, I guess. AND if somewhere down the line I could make just a liiiiiiiittle money on it; GREAT! And I'm not talking millionaire money, just enough to cover my expenses. Okay okay, and maybe a liiiiiiittle bit more than that : ) Being able to afford red wine in bottles instead of cartons would be nice.
I started working on ideas (had lots of those) for ecards and then I started making the very first card (that I intended to send to my parents on their 50th wedding anniversary as a "test" to see if other people would think my cards were as funny as I did). Then a funny thing happened (no, not on the way to the Forum); my mother (who has absolutely no knowledge of the Internet or ecard websites or anything of an electronic nature and who knew NOTHING of my idea of starting my own ecard website) had cut out an article from their newspaper for me. It was the (success) story of a British artist, Jacquie Lawson, who at the tender age of 57 created an interactive flash Christmas ecard and emailed it to her friends and yada yada yada now has a VERY profitable subscription-based ecard website. And we're talking MILLIONS OF DOLLARS here, folks!
I thought: "MY GOD! THIS IS A SIGN! This must be what I'm put on this planet to do! It's my CALLING!" You see, my mom has NEVER EVER given me any newspaper clippings about ANYTHING before, so why now, why about this? MUST be a sign. I'm not a religious or superstitious person, but this was just a little too much to be coincidental, I decided! So I kept working my lower-part-of-my-body (no, not my legs!) off. I finished the first card JUST in time for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary and emailed it to them on the morning of their big day. It was a big success : ) It was a card with two bored, cats picking their noses (I know! It doesn't really sound like the kind of card you would send to your parents on their 50th wedding anniversary, but - what can I say? It worked great!) - check it out here: http://www.carlsencards.com/ecard-01-happy-birthday-bored-cats.htm. I have later changed the message to Happy Birthday.
So wanting to be serious about the whole thing, I needed a domain and I decided on the name carlsencards(.com) and purchased the domain. All the great keyword stuffed URLs were of course taken (always good to have your most important keywords in your URL!). So I thought I might as well promote my name a little. If that was a wise decision I still don't know - jury's still out on that one. Then again, who would have ever thought that "yahoo" or "google" were great names for websites?! I rest my case. But here is the first lesson to be learned; CHOOSE A LESS COMPETITIVE MARKET IF YOU CAN! Not something like... say; ECARDS! Search for "ecards" and you'll get 34,500,000 results in google! Good luck getting to the top of THAT list! I don't want to state the obvious, but... I do anyway; it's also a good idea to choose a product, a service or a theme you are interested in yourself and LIKE working with.
For the next 6 months I worked on my site. Every weekend, holiday and vacation I got up around 6am so that I could get to work on my BIG IMPORTANT PROJECT! I had decided that 20 cards would be enough to launch the site. This ecards site is all about QUALITY not quantity, you see. I put a lot of work into each card; first the story, then drawing and animating, then composing and recording the music and sound effects, and finally putting the card on my site. A card takes 2-4 days to make, so it took me about 6 months to complete the 20 cards I thought would be enough for starters.
I intended to keep making cards after the big, GRAND opening, so the site would continue to grow and my users ("my users" - Oh, I like saying that: MY USERS! I have USERS!) would have new cards to send every time they visited my site. And - for your information - I still make cards. Every free minute I have is spent working on my ecard website. But I like it.
And here's another lesson to be learned (but I already knew that); people expect websites to change, be updated and grow ALL THE TIME. It's like children! You can't just have a baby and then expect it to grow up all by itself. Or so I've heard. I don't have children myself. Not the human kind, anyway! Only the furry, four legged kind with whiskers. But they need caring and looking after, too!
Then the big day arrived; I WAS READY TO LAUNCH MY SITE. And here's where I was REALLY naïve. I thought that all I had to do was send ecards to all my friends, and they would love the cards and find them utterly cute and funny and they would send cards to all THEIR friends who again would love my cards and send cards to... I think you get the picture.
Lesson to be learned: That happens like once in a blue moon. Or once in 10 blue moons. Okay it happened for Jacquie Lawson. It happens SOMETIMES in real life. But it certainly didn't happen in my real life. Only in my dreams!
Hmmmm, what to do, what to do... I definitely wasn't ready to give up just yet (another useful lesson: DON'T GIVE UP!). So I searched the Internet and found a site that listed free stuff of all kinds. Hey, I have free stuff on my site, maybe I can get them to link to my site. Wow, they were way ahead of me on that one; they actually had a button that said "Submit site". Great! I submitted my site, but - oh - what's that? "Reciprocal link" - what is that? Oh, so I have to link to you, and you'll link to me. Hmmmm, sort of I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours. Oh, but that'll ruin my great design. There must be other ways.
Lesson number... I have lost count! Anyway, lesson to be learned; reciprocal linking is hard to avoid. I have later learned that one-way links are better, but to get things started and to get people to visit your wonderful site, it's a good idea to find sites that will link to you and generate some traffic. And so what if you have to put a couple of little buttons and text links on your site. So I exchanged links with a free stuff site, and - WOW - people OTHER than my 20 or so friends visited my site!
We're not talking several thousands a day. Actually not even hundreds. But around 60-80 a day, which is way better than 3-4. Now we're cooking. Yes, but the cooking started to slow down after a week or so. Okay, now what? I guess I just have to find a couple more sites to exchange links with.
So again I searched the Internet. Lo and behold, there are lots of sites that list free stuff out there! And to make a long, boring story a little shorter; I exchanged links with about a dozen free stuff sites and I did get a little traffic. But there must be other ways....
DIRECTORIES! There are (probably) hundreds of thousands of directories where you can get listed and most do not require a reciprocal link. Or a yearly fee to list your site. Again I spent hours researching and googling (I know google don't like us to use that word - to "google", but it's such a GOOD word) the words "free directory submit site". And if there was one thing I learned, it was that I STILL HAD A LOT TO LEARN ABOUT PROMOTING A WEBSITE!
SEO! What the hell is see-oh? Oh, it's S-E-O! Search Engine Optimization - still have no idea what that is. So I researched - isn't the Internet a wonderful invention? Oh my; keywords, href title tags, alt tags, text content, file names, keyword density... I thought I had done everything I needed to do in that department by just placing some nice keywords in the meta tags (you know; title, description and keywords)! But, noooooooooo, search engines don't care about that anymore. Now you have to put your keywords into all those other tags AND the content. And you have to choose your keywords VERY carefully (google has some nice tools that can help you research and find the right keywords - link at the end of the article). Aha! Wish I had known that BEFORE I started building my website. Another very useful lesson! I won't explain exactly how to do all this, but I'll give you some links to great sites, that explain this much better that I ever could. I just want you to know that this is something you have to do.
Okay, so that's it! NOW I'm all set to attract millions of visitors. Well, what's your pagerank, Martine? My what? My "pagerank"? Where can I get that? Can I buy it on ebay? Oh no, pagerank is something you EARN so to speak. But how? Get lots and lots of QUALITY inbound links - preferably one-way links (meaning that THEY show you theirs, but YOU don't have to show them yours! Well, actually THEY show everybody YOURS, but you don't have to... You know what I mean). Google likes that! And you do what google likes. Because most people find sites by searching google. And they seldom get past page 1 or 2 in the google results. So how DO you get to the top of google's search results?
Good question. Very good question. Very few people know a lot about that and a lot of people (like me) know very little about it. But people like me (who know just a little) have a good excuse, because IT'S A SECRET! Only the people who work for google - actually only SOME of those people REALLY know what google likes the most and thereby goes to the top of the list. And you know what? Doesn't pay to try to find out, because they CHANGE IT all the time!
Google uses something called algorithms to determine which sites to put on the top of the list (if you're interested you can find tons of information on that on the Internet). And they keep changing these algorithms. Yes, I think that's really sneaky, too. But it does serve a purpose. Otherwise clever - even more sneaky - webmasters would find out and take advantage of this knowledge and get THEIR websites to the top of the lists even though their sites are not the most relevant. See the point? So I guess that's okay. But it certainly doesn't make my life easier. I have to guess and try out different keywords and keyword placements and keyword density until I just give up and say "That'll do little piggy. That'll do!" That was a quote from "Babe", and if you're not familiar with that movie; RENT IT, BUY IT, SEE IT!
Another thing google likes, is a nice, simple sitemap. It makes google's job a lot easier. But that's no biggie, this site will do it for you: http://www.xml-sitemaps.com - and let's all give a big hand to xml-sitemaps.com for helping us out with that one.
So, to sum it all up:
- optimize you site (this is the SEO part) - doing this from the very beginning is a lot easier than after you have created 167 pages! I know from experience. And this includes making a sitemap.
- get lots of inbound (one-way) QUALITY links (that'll give you pagerank and a higher position on google's search results). Directories are good. But don't get them all at once; getting too many links too fast will seem like spam to google, and you don't want that to happen!
- get some links to your site that can generate some traffic (it's okay to reciprocate some links - I think!). And it'll be good for you self esteem to see that your site gets visitors that are NOT closely related to you : )
- and do what I'm doing right now; write funny/informative/useful articles and submit them to sites all over the Internet. And remember to include your name and URL : ) That's sort of the whole purpose of doing this. Not that I didn't write this article to amuse you. I did. Of course I did!
And finally - and this just might be the best and most important advice of all; STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM THE "Guaranteed 100,000 Visitors ! Very Cheap Traffic" SITES! 100.000 unique visitors - YEAH, RIGHT! Don't do it! It's a scam, it's a waste of money and google doesn't like it! You may even get your site banned from google by doing that. I know it's tempting, but so is robbing a bank and getting million in 4 minutes. But it doesn't pay in the long run.
So, I guess that's it. I hope you had fun reading about my experiences promoting my website. And I hope you learned a little as well. Good luck with your website!
And here' s the list of REALLY useful sites with REALLY useful information that I used (and still use) promoting MY website:
Lists of directories:
... so has my website become a great success with thousands of visitors every day? Well, my site is still very new, so it's too early to say. But I hope and I believe and most of all I still work hard on promoting my site and adding new cards every week! So who knows? Beware, Jacquie Lawson, there's a new kid in town!
About the Author: Martine Carlsen, that's me, is the creator and owner of http://www.carlsencards.com - a free animated eCards website.
She - me again - works full-time as a web designer and began working on carlsencards.com due to an overwhelming need to work in a boss-free zone with total control of design, ideas and lunch hours.