The most effective overall form of marketing is word of mouth. You can’t buy it. You can’t really control it. Sometimes, irritatingly, some minor aspect of something you’re building gets all the buzz while the whole point of your project gets missed. But this is your best indication of what your market is looking for. Or at least, what the market that found you is looking for.
And as web marketers, what more can we ask for?
Before you think about changing your marketing strategy, consider a few points about both paid and unpaid marketing.
Marketing by rocking
You can schmooze and attend conferences and suck up until you’re blue in the face without getting a single inbound link from an A-list site. On the flip side, you can be the ultimate recluse, not even answering your emails, concentrate on building a fabulous site, and find yourself with a fan base that spreads the word for you.
- The shark. A big website can send you quite a few thousand visitors in one day. But the odds are, you won’t pick up many new regular visitors. You’ll get some extra cash if you run CPM ads. You might possibly sell an item or two if you have affiliate links. But by and large, you’re a one-time phenomenon. The traffic recedes, and at the end of the day, all you’ve got is one little inbound link.
- 100 guppies. Lots of little sites can only send you maybe a few dozen visitors a day. But they’re more likely to be dedicated visitors who come back. And tell their friends. These visitors are actually looking for new sites to enjoy, whereas the crowd at Digg and LifeHacker and so on just figures if you write anything else worthwhile, someone will p0st it on Digg or LifeHacker.
You cannot survive without the guppies. Believe me, I’ve had a site his the front page of Digg shortly after launching. Then it hit LifeHacker. Those links did me a world of good, creating a base of about 20k visitors that actually kept coming back (they sent me more like 300k combined, so that gives you an idea of how many will stick around). But the site now gets 70k visitors a month. 50k of them are coming from the guppies – all the little sites that linked in since. There’s no question Digg and LifeHacker are how some of the guppies found the site, so yes, it’s definitely great to get those big links if you can.
But this is passive marketing. All you can do is be awesome, try to get the word out a little, and wait for the buzz. It’s not just webmasters you’re waiting on, either. It’s a journalist writing for a local newspaper or radio station’s website, searching for content. They find you, they post a link, and bam – new devoted followers.
Aside from being awesome, isn’t there anything else you can do to maximize the chance of people linking to you? Sure – that’s where active marketing comes in. This is where you network with people in a position to boost your site, and/or pay to advertise with people who can boost your site. Either way you go (and yes, you can go the free route and become very successful), here are some tips to keep in mind.
- Maintain a varied circle of friends. If you’re an affiliate marketer, it’s good to have other affiliate marketers as pals. But what about bloggers who might use your stuff? What about online journalists who might love a PR piece because it’s quick and easy content? Or, if you’re a blogger, don’t stick to friends in your niche. Find complimentary niches – say, if you write about what’s happening in the business world and another blogger writes about customer gripes with businesses, you guys need to talk. You may be able to win over this blogger, who will have a trusting audience who takes her recommendations seriously.
- Track your pals. Even if you’re too shy or introverted to network a lot, track where your visitors go. Find forums and popular blogs in your niche. Look at the responses in comments or posts. Look at who’s linking to them and what they’re saying. These are the places you might want to advertise, or offer to write a guest post, or start hanging out in the discussion threads, if you’re game. These are also places you should link to, in hopes they will notice you and link back.