Who is this Article for?
This article is for anyone and everyone. If you just started a new site, this article will help you to gain members and get active. If you have a large site opened for years already, then this article may help you to find new ways to advertise your site and get even bigger. Basically, if you wish to get your site bigger, then this article will help.
Do note that some of the techniques explored below may take time and patience in not only doing them, but also before seeing any type of gain in membership.
How to Get Started
The best websites on the internet may not be the biggest websites. That is because the owner did a bad job of advertising his site to the public and getting the name out. With the right type of advertising, a website could become huge in a matter of a year.
To start, be sure you entire site is finished. This means design, concept, forums, and plenty of articles. You need tons of articles if you want the advertising any good. All the advertising in the world won’t help you if you don’t have something for the people visiting to read or view. Be absolutely sure everything is perfect (in your opinion and in others) before starting your “advertising spree” (as I call it).
Below I will break each type of advertising in different sections to help you decide which parts to read and which to skip. Let’s get started shall we?
Search Engine Advertising and Optimization
This is by far the best thing you could possibly do to gain members. People search. This is a well known fact. Having your site searchable on the biggest search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and MSN will prove to be the best thing you can possibly do.
However, search engine optimization is a huge topic that could take years of work to get its full potential. Rather than providing all of the information here, I will instead point you to various websites and provide small tips to help you get started.
If you run vBulletin and want to optimize it, then the following thread written by T2DMan will help greatly: http://forum.time2dine.co.nz/showthread.php?t=98. Do note that the optimizations made currently only work for vBulletin 3.0.X. I’m sure T2DMan will port over many of the optimizations to vBulletin 3.5 when he is ready.
Unfortunately, I currently don’t have any information on optimizing other boards. If you have information, please contact me and I will update this guide with whatever information I may find.
As far as websites go, optimizing custom sites will probably prove easier than optimizing existing software. If you have a custom built CMS or have nothing but HTML files written by yourself, things will prove to be easier than if you were to use an existing product. Why? Because you know how the code works, where to make adjustments and additions, and how to do them.
A good guide to getting started is available at Google: http://www.google.com/intl/en/webmasters/
Also, another guide exists on TAZ, available here: http://www.theadminzone.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2893
The first thing you can do is submit your site to all of the various search engines. You could save this part for last until of the below is done, but usually is takes a search engine spider a few days/weeks to get started on your site, so an early submission wouldn’t hurt, just be sure to get as much of the below finished before the spiders start rolling in. I’ve found this site through Google that will automatically submit your site to many major search engines. However, I would recommend doing it manually just so you know that it was submitted for sure. Go to each major search engine, find their submission link, and add your site. For example, Google’s is located here.
Next up, choose a keyword for your website. A keyword is basically what a user will type into a search engine before your site comes up. For example, if you are running a Detroit Pistons website, then a wise keyword to use would be Detroit Pistons or Pistons Basketball or even Detroit Basketball. Making a Google search for Detroit Pistons brings up NBA.com’s page for the Pistons as the first result. The second result is the Detroit News’ Pistons page. How did they do it?
First, if you’d look at the URL, they both have Pistons in the URL. That helps to get a higher rating. Next, the title of the site is Detroit Pistons. You can change the title by editing what’s in the <title> tags of your website. Next, they say the words Detroit and Pistons hundreds of times throughout each page of their site. The more you use it, the better. In fact, the more you link to it, the better. If you have links named Detroit Pistons, this helps even more.
Finally, both sites probably have hundreds of backlinks. A backlink is when someone else (another site) links to your site. If they do so with the name Detroit Pistons than that will help even more. For example, if you ran a Detroit Pistons site and I linked to it, that will help you out when Google spiders my website. If I name the link Detroit Pistons (ie: Detroit Pistons), then it will help even more. According to Alex.com, the above site has 2,756 backlinks. That means over 2,700 sites have linked to their site. This has probably helped tremendously in getting it in the number 2 spot.
The next thing you can do is using mod_rewrite to optimize your URL’s. Search engines hate websites that don’t end with .html. They love URL’s that are descriptive and to the point. Using mod_rewite, you can change existing URL’s to something more search engine friendly.
Check out these sites to help you with that:
Apache’s mod_rewite tutorial
Sitepoint’s mod_write tutorial
Finally, another thing you can do is write your meta tags in your header to suit your keyword and what your site is about. This site may help with that.
There are plenty of other things you can do to help make your site more search engine friendly. A quick Google Search for “search engine optimization” yields tons of results, so have a look through and see what you can find.
Links, Signatures, and Affiliations
A great way of getting your name out is to link your site at as many places as possible. If you visit a forum regularly, put a link to your site in your signature. If you post comments on blogs, put a link to your site at the end of every comment. If you submit articles to various websites, link to your website within those articles or at the end of the article. Basically anywhere that you can get your name out, do so.
Once you have a base of users built up and posting, ask your users to link to your site if they go to other forums and sites. This works exceptionally well if some of your users have thousands of posts at other forums. Also ask them to make a thread or two in that forums advertising section to attract more users. Reward them too, so they feel good about doing it. Give them free points if you have a store at your forum, offer them a position on staff, send them a free t-shirt with your sites logo and url (even more free advertising), etc.
You could also do link exchanges and affiliations with other sites with similar content. For example, if you run a gaming site, ask for link exchanges and affiliations with other gaming sites. This not only helps with getting more backlinks (especially if that site has tons of spiders visiting daily), but it also helps in getting your name out there. The bigger the site, the more likely you will see a gain of members. However, don’t overdue it. Don’t link to every gaming site there is as that will just discourage other sites from linking to you. When a user sees 500 links to 500 various gaming sites, what are the changes he/she will click on yours? I would recommend not doing link exchanges with anyone that overdoes it and be sure not to overdue it yourself.
A good way to get your name out locally is by placing your logo and what-not at various places in the neighborhood geared at your audience. I know this article is for free advertising but I’m going to break that rule slightly. If you have the funds, buy small cards with your site name, logo, url, and a bit of information on it. Get as many as you can afford. If you run a movies site, for example, get the cards and go to your nearest blockbusters and video stores. Place the cards near the movies section or inside the dvd/video boxes. So when someone rents a movie and opens the box, he’ll see your card inside and get interested.
You could also go to your nearest mall and put the cards on benches in front of stores dealing with your topic. Like if you run a clothing site, put your cards in front of clothing store on benches where people sit or stand. That way, they’ll see the card and be interested.
Finally, you could have friends spread the cards at various colleges and high schools (if that is your audience). Like, for example, I will be putting cards at the lunchroom where people wait in line to get food. They will see my card, pick it up, and possibly pocket it to check it out in the future. I will also be putting a few on the lunchroom tables, in the various computer labs, and near any computer/programming classes (my site is a gaming site, so most computer geeks play games, making them my audience).
I hope I helped in giving you ideas for advertising and to get you started. Advertising is quite possibly the hardest thing to do for a website. Doing it right or wrong can make or break a site. Do note that all of the above is just the beginning. There are plenty more things you can do, so look out for a possible part 2 to this guide in the future with more ideas and updates to some of the above ideas.