10 ways to boost traffic to your Web site

You can increase the number of visitors to your Web site by following some pretty simple, practical steps. Brien Posey shares some of the strategies that have worked for him.

As the Web continues to grow exponentially, it's becoming increasingly difficult to make your Web site stand out from all of the other sites and attract visitors. Fortunately, you can take various steps to drive traffic to your Web site. Here are 10 strategies that can help.

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1: Word of mouth

Sometimes, there is nothing like good old fashion word of mouth to attract traffic to your site. I have lost count of the number of times I have had friends tell me about a cool new site that I need to check out. Remember, if you give people a reason to talk about your site, they usually will.

2: Search engine optimization

I wasn't even going to mention search engine optimization because it's such an obvious requirement. But I decided to go ahead and talk about it so I could emphasize that even if a site has already been optimized, it may be worth reviewing it from time to time. Occasionally, search engines change their rules --and if that happens, a site that is highly optimized today might not receive favorable rankings tomorrow.

3: Viral marketing

While it isn't a good fit for everyone, one of the surest ways to attract visitors to your site is through viral marketing. For instance, I used to own a company that sold a device that would destroy old hard drives so that data could not be extracted from them. Rather than rely solely on conventional marketing techniques, I created a "Jackass" style viral video (which is no longer on the Internet) that showed all kinds of crazy methods for destroying hard drives. The video showed things like putting a hard drive in the microwave, using explosives, pounding a drive with a sledgehammer, and the list goes on. At the end of all the mayhem and foolishness, I presented my product as a safe alternative for destroying unwanted hard drives. The video made its way around the Internet and helped drive traffic to my Web site.

4. Social networking

Social networking sites can be a great mechanism for driving traffic to your Web site. For example, I have a friend who runs a charitable organization. As you can imagine, the organization's Web site is intended to attract donors, so it is designed to look as professional as possible. But although the Web site itself must be formal, my friend also maintains a Facebook page for the organization. The Facebook page is much more casual than the organization's Web site, and my friend uses it to keep Facebook friends up to date on what the charity is doing. The Facebook page is essentially a way of augmenting the organization's Web content without having to alter its Web site.

5: Attending relevant events

It may seem strange, but simply attending a conference can boost your Web traffic. For example, when I go to Microsoft's TechEd each year, I never do anything to promote my Web site. However, I always notice a spike in my site's traffic during and just after the event. I also tend to get phone calls or email messages from people who have checked out my site after attending TechEd. At least in my case, attending conferences seems to result in free exposure with absolutely no effort required.

6: Providing a reason to visit

The Internet is filled with so many sites, you have to give people a reason to visit yours. One way to do that is to give them something useful that they can't get anywhere else.

About 10 years ago, I was struggling to find work after the dot-com collapse. I knew you could still make money from Web site ads, so I set out to build a Web site that would attract as many visitors as possible. The site was designed to help IT professionals. I wrote about a thousand articles (literally) on every subject I could think of, and I created a chat room to host live discussions with industry experts. Before I eventually retired the site, it was receiving more than 30,000 visitors a day. Keep in mind that I accomplished that with absolutely no advertising budget.

7: Community involvement

One of the best ways to attract attention to your site is through community involvement. For instance, last spring my wife and I volunteered to help clean a historical site ahead of its 150th anniversary celebration. By doing so, we were able to have our Web site listed in the program that was passed out during the festivities and we were featured on the foundation's Web site. On a similar note, I am the half owner of a security consulting firm. A few years ago, we increased our name recognition by sponsoring an ethical hacking conference.

8: Soliciting reviews

If your Web site is set up to sell a product or service, I highly recommend trying to get it in front of someone who writes reviews on whatever it is you're selling. About seven years ago, I owned a software company. Every time one of the major IT sites would review my software, there would be a surge in sales. Best of all, online reviews never really go away. You will continue to get business as the result of a good review long after the review is written.

9: Using link exchanges carefully

Google takes a site's popularity into account when creating page rankings. One of the ways in which a site's popularity is determined is by looking at the number of other Web sites that link to it. As a result, some people try to boost their site's popularity by using link exchanges.

While link exchanges do work, you want to be careful. If Google determines that the sites that are linking to your site are nothing but link exchange sites, or if sites linking to yours have a bad reputation, your site may be penalized with a poor search engine ranking.

10: Subscribing to relevant directory sites

Whatever field you're in, there are probably Web sites that act as a professional directory for it. For example, a friend of mine was recently asked to create a site that would serve as a directory for general contractors who are licensed to work in South Carolina. And directory sites exist for even the strangest professions. I once met someone who maintains an online directory of paranormal researchers. So I recommend seeking out any online directories that match your field and have your site added to the list.