is the process of handling all the public relations issues of a web. These include making the existence of a web known to online communities through publicity as well as forming business or other information relationships with other webs. Promotion may involve using specific marketing strategies or creating business models.
Key Promotion Practices
- Follow online community norms and practices.
- Innovatively connect with users to meet their needs.
- Target publicity releases for general Web audiences, potential users, and current users.
Key Promotion Resources
- General Marketing Resources: links to a variety of online professional marketing organizations and resources.
- Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine, June 1996: a special issue on Web business models.
- Addme, for free submission to major sites.
- Submit It!, for help in publicizing your site.
Once your web is built, will they come? Will your web server's statistics rise long after its availability is announced? Will users' bookmarks include your web's URL? Will the target audience find increasing levels of satisfaction with the web? The answers to these questions depend a great deal on a combination of the excellence of your content plus how you perform the promotion, public relations, and marketing for your web. The constantly changing needs of users and the flood of new web sites make launching a new web and keeping it in the attention of Web users a challenging task. But with the right knowledge, attitude, and techniques, you can promote your web well.
As a guide to promoting and marketing a web, this article includes techniques for publicity-release strategies, ongoing methods to integrate your web into other contexts, and a discussion of models for business.
Web Promotion Principles
A web's media characteristics and qualities offer communicators some unique opportunities as well as challenges. Like television, a web might reach a global audience; unlike television, Web audiences for single webs are small in comparison to prime-time network television programming. Instead, Web audiences tend to be specialized, drawn to quirkiness, and are quite ready to click their mouse to another web if one hypertext doesn't suit them. Based on the characteristics and qualities of the web as a medium, and on users' needs and experiences of the Web.
The Web's unbound space/time characteristic implies a global, 24-hour-a-day audience. Although the present users of the web are not representative at all of world population, Web promoters can't assume that their audience shares a single cultural perspective, time zone, national allegiance, language, or outlook to serve as a reference point. Web users are, by implication, technically literate enough to use a networked computer system for communication, but the Web's audience is truly global and extends to people at many levels of abilities who access the Internet in a variety of ways.
The Web's characteristic as an associatively linked system of information places Web information in the context of other information, so that bringing users' attention to a new web often requires contextualizing that new web into existing information. The resulting enmeshment brings users' attention to a web by association, searching, or "surfing."
The Web's organization as a distributed client/server information system means that a web's audience may have a wide range of browser types and Internet connections. The technical organization of global hypermedia means that a Web user may begin a journey on the Web anywhere; there is no "top" to the Web. Instead, users may turn to branded content (webs provided by a known publisher) or index or resource collections as starting points, reference resources, or navigation landmarks on the Web.
The Web's multirole quality makes it possible for users to be not just consumers and channel switchers, but information producers, organizers, commentators, repackagers, and promoters themselves.
The Web's porous quality means that users can sift through a single page or only a few pages, without ever encountering the whole "work" or even necessarily being aware of the transitions among web works. Although design techniques can work to alleviate this audience sifting (through context, navigation, and information cues as well as repeated design elements and graphical backgrounds), this porous quality is a hallmark of well-designed hypertext. Thus, the audience's attention often can focus on its needs rather than the information source. Promoters therefore can't necessarily depend on holding the audience's attention for an entire work, but only for Web pages or sections on those pages.
The Web's dynamic quality implies that promoting the web is an ongoing process. A new web has to be announced and then periodically brought to the attention of its potential users (working within social and cultural norms).
The Web's interactive quality means that promoters have the opportunity to receive information from willing users in addition to send out information.
The Web's competitive quality means that promoters need to negotiate the value of their web within the context of their audience's needs. Consistency of service may be the key to offering more service than a competitor's web. Although glitz may reign in the short term, long-term, user-oriented quality may win the race. Lack of quality in a web (and issues such as large graphics) costs users time and money. Competitive webs seek to offer the maximum benefit to users at the lowest possible cost.
The Web is not just a neutral collection of technology (technology itself is not neutral in politics or social consequences). Therefore, promoters on the Web should pay close attention to cultural and social norms for behavior. The fundamentals of these norms follow:
Appropriate use/forum. One of the most basic rules for participating in online interaction is to seek the appropriate forum for a behavior or communication. The Net offers a wide range of communication, and interaction forums focus on just about every human pursuit imaginable. Because of this intense specialization, users want only topic-related communication in a forum, in order to increase their own efficiency in taking part in their various online interests. Therefore, posting, sending information, or otherwise impeding the attention of anyone on the Net generally is accepted only in forums appropriate to the topic. The participants in the Usenet newsgroup rec.bicycles.racing don't want to read about new kinds of lawyers or immigration services from lawyers, for example. They'd be interested in many topics and details about racing bikes, but they'd look at any communication off that topic as "noise" in the group, stealing time (and money) from their pursuits. Commercial announcements and product information should be introduced only after consulting the FAQ for a Usenet newsgroup, mailing list, or other communication or interaction forum. The costs in terms of bad publicity far outweigh a web promoter's perceived benefit of spamming the Net.
Spamming is the act of indiscriminately distributing unsolicited messages to large numbers of inappropriate communications forums. The origin of the verb to spam is from the Monty Python sketch in which the characters chant "spam, spam, spam, spamů" to the point of absurdity. Net promoters who indiscriminately use mass mailings are said to spam the Net. Net users often despise spamming because it costs them time, money, and their attention. Note that the act of offering information to mass audiences through a web is not spamming, because the user voluntarily chooses to encounter the information.
- Giving, not just taking. Cultural traditions on the Net involve giving back free information or services of value or cultural significance to users. Used appropriately, this tradition can bring good will to commercial enterprises, such as commercial funding and support of cultural events, public television broadcasting, museums, or advertising for not-for-profit publications. Providing information on the Net is not free, but the culture of the Net includes traditions of "shared gifts," where users share information or software they created to accomplish useful tasks.
- Learning specialized protocols. Specialized communication, information, or interaction forums on the Net and Web develop their own modes and norms for behavior. Just as human communication protocols such as telephone behavior often involve simple rules, specialized Net communities develop their own protocols or ways of working. Web promoters work best when they take these protocols into consideration.
It is a point of wisdom on the Net that excellence rises to the top. An over-aggressive promotion plan, particularly if it has a strong commercial tone, won't often catch the attention of users who tune out aggressive sales pitches. Instead, you can view promotion as primarily an exercise of "getting the word out" about the existence of your web and then making sure that your web regularly comes to the attention of its target audience members.
Promoting a web is no longer an inexpensive exercise. Back in the old days of the Web (1995), you could list your web in common indexes, send some announcements out to appropriate newsgroups and mailing lists, and then sit back and watch your web take off. Today, the sheer number of webs out there, combined with extreme competition for the Web user's finite attention and time, make more costly strategies necessary.
As a result of the Web's spread to a more general audience, you'll see the uniform resource locator regularly used in advertisements in all media. Wal-Mart (https://www.walmart.com/) places its URL on its advertising circulars that go to homes. Paramount (https://www.paramount.com/) uses URLs and Web sites to promote its movies (https://www.thebradybunch.com/). Cable News Network (https://www.cnn.com/) regularly promotes its own Web site at just about every commercial break. Many radio stations have their own Web site that they promote on the air, and radio and television commercials with URLs in them are not uncommon. Print advertisements with URLs in them are commonplace.
Online, the trend is toward techniques to differentiate your Web site's brand identity from other sites and to develop traffic-building relationships with other sites. Now, many professional advertising agencies will work with you to place your site's logo or banner on other sites for a fee. Taking out an ad in a Web publication may be a cost-effective option for getting the word out about your site. Web advertising is a logical option for Web sites-your audience can just "click" to your site.
Another important online trend is a variety of link exchange programs and techniques that enable you to provide a link or advertisement to another web and receive an advertisement or link from that site to yours. For webs related to the same kind of information or reaching similar audiences, this is a good exchange. Undifferentiated link exchanges often are not beneficial; after all, every link to an outside resource on your Web site is an opportunity for your audience to leave. Be wary of aggressive link-exchange schemes that require you to provide links back to a site in exchange for some favor or service. Be wary of "ratings" sites that provide links to "top rated" Web sites only when those sites place an icon back to the ratings site. These pyramid-like schemes won't do well to differentiate your web from others.
By keeping promotion principles and philosophy in mind-and developing your own-you should be able to get the word out-and keep getting it out-about your web. The rest of this article focuses on specific techniques to promote your web.
Web Promotion Techniques
Your main goal as a web promoter is to keep the general public and the web's users informed about the purpose and offerings of your web. A web promoter should have skills in public relations, interpersonal communications, and mass communication. As described previously, the need for continuous web promotion arises from the dynamic environment in which web information exists; new resources, new information, and new forums for communication come into existence all the time. These changes alter the context in which users experience a web.
Users of the Web experience information overload. Every moment, new services and information become available on the Web, some of which grab the audience's attention, so making a web known to the Web public at large is a difficult task. There's no central What's New page to announce a new web to the world. Moreover, there are few subject-related What's New pages, so someone interested in what a web promoter has to offer might not easily come across a particular special-interest web. A web promoter can use certain strategies to publicize the web, however. This publicity has several goals:
- To inform the general Web public as a whole of the existence of the web and what it has to offer
- To attract the interest of the target audience members and let them know about how the web meets their needs
- To educate the current web users of new developments on the web
The work that other web developers already might have done to compose purpose and objective statements and gather audience information will be key to the success of web promotion. A web promoter draws on the wording of the purpose and objective statements to create publicity statements for the web (Web releases). A web promoter also draws on the audience information to know where to place these Web releases.
Promoters can use many strategies for reaching a variety of Web audiences, starting with the most general audience and then focusing on the narrower audience for a particular web. Other techniques help keep publicity and information flowing to the existing web users.
No one likes to go into a brand-new shopping mall that still has sawdust and equipment spread all over. Similarly, the audience won't have a good experience if a web promoter announces the web's "grand opening" too soon. A web promoter needs to work closely with other web developers, particularly the web implementers and planners, to decide when the web is ready to "go public." Before this time, the web implementers and Web master must make sure that the general public can't access the files that comprise the web on the server. (The web server itself might have to go public for some testing before the web's widespread public release.)
One of the most intense times for the web will be just after Web-wide announcements of its availability. This initial wave of interest will bring Net surfers, the curious, indexers, resource aficionados, and a variety of others to the web for a first look. Don't announce the web publicly until the web is ready to make a good first impression for this crucial first look. When the web is "ready" is a subjective judgment. A web is never "done," so a web developer will have to decide what web objectives must be met before public release and have the web in place and well-tested before this public release. The following sections examine how to create and disseminate general (Web-wide) and targeted (focused on a specific Web audience) publicity. A web promoter's goal is to implement a series of periodic announcements that catch the attention of Web-wide and targeted audiences. The basic techniques for doing this include writing announcements at varying levels of detail and releasing these to appropriate forums.
Reaching a Web-Wide Audience
Timing and content issues are a part of this dissemination process. A web promoter doesn't want to release so much periodic publicity that information about a web saturates the audience's attention. This might happen if the audience sees a release about the web every time some minimal change occurs. Frequent publicity should be used for more specific audiences. For general audiences, the best strategy is to announce only the "big stuff" to have maximum impact. Another technique is to use a resource on the web that has proven to be a popular item as teaser information or as a hook that can help draw attention to the web. One example of this teaser information is important domain information that is valuable to the web's audience (for example, online resource listings about the subject area of interest to the audience). Other examples are cartoons, entertainment, or even celebrity appearances in a web to draw user interest.
Reaching a Web-wide audience to announce the new web, or updates to it, is not easy. Despite the enormous demand for such a service, few services on the Web offer up-to-date, widely recognized, What's New announcements for a Web-wide audience.
There are several reasons for reaching a Web-wide audience. First, a web promoter should announce the web to the whole Web itself to allow the whole Web community to benefit from or use the information that a web provides. Second, reaching a general audience for the announcement might be a key way to reach the target audience or to spark an interest in the subject by a member of the general Web audience. Third, the general announcement serves as a public announcement of the Web's availability so that indexers and other Web information gatherers can evaluate the Web and place it within their web indexes and resource lists.
To craft a general Web release, a promoter should consider:
- Audience: The ultimate audience for the web, of course, is the audience that a web promoter has defined and analyzed in the web-development processes. A general web release, however, explains the web's purpose and offerings from a general point of view and from a context outside of the web.
Commercial or noncommercial. As discussed previously, the principle of an appropriate forum should be considered in all publicity. The Web is a community of people, not a neutral collection of machines and software, so a web promoter is mistaken to consider only the technological aspects of the Web. Part of the Web community tradition is for places to be set aside for commercial activity and acceptable ways to advertise. These usually involve the following:
- Designated marketplaces such as virtual malls and directories that are clearly labeled or intended to be commercial
- Commercial What's New lists and sponsored advertising in other webs
- Commercial asynchronous text discussion or information lists such as commercial newsgroups or company-sponsored mailing lists
- Appropriate forum. Just as commercial advertisements are not acceptable by Web community standards where they don't belong, nonrelated announcements in a subject-specific information or communications forum aren't acceptable either. A variety of subject-specific web indexes exist, for example, as well as subject-specific newsgroups and mailing lists. Choose only the most appropriate forums for announcements. A web should be using subject-specific forums for focused web releases (see the next section). For general web releases, make sure that the forum the web promoter chooses is intended for general Web audiences.
- Purpose. The purpose description should be in terms that appeal to a general person on the Web. Nonspecialized terminology and more substance than hype in an ad will help users avoid disappointment with a site.
- Tone, depth, length, and content. General web releases should be very brief. In large forums such as NCSA's What's New page (described later), the guidelines call for a concise paragraph and stipulate the format of the entry. Follow the guidelines of the forum closely.
Adopt a tone and choice for details that will attract the attention of a general audience, as opposed to an exhaustive list of what the web has to offer. Choose only the major links of the web to include in the announcement, instead of including links to many pages. These extra links clutter the announcement, and a web promoter might unintentionally place users too deep in the web, bypassing the introductory pages that web developers carefully designed and built.
Some Web-based outlets follow:
- Moderated Web forums. A historical example was NCSA's What's New page that used to be hosted at https://www.ncsa.uiuc.edu/SDG/Software/Mosaic/Docs/whats-new.html. This page was an outgrowth of the old Mosaic browser development. Today, these kinds of pages simply do not exist in any stable or usable form. The deluge of new Web sites is great and interest by users in a generic "What's New" page is very low.
- Subject-related outlets. You can find audiences interested in particular subjects and topics in subject searching resources.
- Keyword-related outlets. Look for ways to register your web with keyword searching resources.
- Unmoderated Web forums "Free for Alls" (locate these by a keyword search for "free for all"). These are lists of hypertext to which a web promoter can add items at will (usually through forms). Because they essentially are unmoderated and often run by individuals on a very informal basis, the tone of these lists can vary from serious to scatological.
Obviously, a web promoter will need to decide whether the tone of this list is appropriate for the web's announcement. Frequently, a web promoter will be able to add only a short title and a short description.
Focused Web Releases
As part of the publicity for the web, general announcements are great for spreading the word about the existence of the web and possibly catching the attention of the audience a web promoter is targeting. Focused web releases, however, also should be part of the overall strategy to seek out a specific audience.
Instead of wording the announcement for a general audience as you would for a general web release, write a focused web release with the audience's greater knowledge of the subject in mind. Include commonly needed information such as the title of the resource, its URL, and classification and contact information. For example, here is a very short information sheet for this Web Development web:
Title: Web Development URL: https://johndecember.com/web/develop.html Category: Internet/Web Related, Development, Communication Keywords: Web development, World Wide Web, Documentation Contact Name: John December Contact Email: email@example.com Publisher: December Communications, Inc. Description: This web summarizes the complete life cycle of web development: planning, analysis, design, implementation, and promotion. Key practices and online resources are given for each process. The philosophy behind this presentation is that Web development should involve more than just knowledge of HTML implementation or page layout. Instead, developers can use a set of processes to take advantage of--and work with--the unique qualities and characteristics of the World Wide Web using a variety of skills.
This kind of Web release announcement provides specific keywords to grab the readers' attention. This increased detail would be too much for a general audience, but it should engage the attention of an audience interested in the particular offerings of a web. There are many ways to find outlets for focused web releases:
Subject-specific Usenet newsgroups and mailing lists might be another resource for publicity. (see subject searching resources). Within these subject guides, check for professional organizations and societies related to the subject area of your web and individuals or organizations involved in indexing network resources on your topic.
Also, see professional public relations and newswire services (PRnewswire.com) or societies (The Public Relations Society of America and The American Marketing Association) for ideas on marketing and promotion.
Current Web Releases
Not only do web promoters have to keep the general public and the potential audience informed, but they also need to provide information about what is new on the web to the web's users. The best way to do this is to create a What's New page and keep a link to it prominently displayed on the web's home page or in its index. (For example here's what's new.)
A web promoter can craft the wording of web releases to be more specific than the general or focused releases. A promoter can assume that the readers have some familiarity with the web and also very strong interest in the details of a new service or feature. Naturally, a promoter will post current web releases more frequently than general or even focused ones. A current web release, for example, might be placed on the web's What's New page to announce even a minor change in a resource or the addition of a set of new links. A web promoter shouldn't send minor changes to Web-wide What's New services. Minor changes usually are appropriate only for the web's own What's New page.
Continuous Monitoring of Your Web's ReputationUse a keyword searching service to find out what webs link into yours. In AltaVista, the quick way to do this is to issue a search command that searches for documents with a link to your web, but then exclude documents at your own site (after all, you might have many links to your own web at your site). For example, to monitor my Web Development website (https://johndecember.com/web/develop), I go to Altavista.com and enter this in the search box:
You also should monitor subject-oriented indexes of Web information to find out into what resources they link. You can send your focused web release to administrators of sites who can benefit their users by a link to your web.
Web Business ModelsThe Web is growing as a place where businesses reach audiences. Ways of reaching and supporting customers on the Web are emerging and evolving.
An initial presence on the Web serves as an organization's base from which to expand and evolve other services.
The act of web promotion is to increase the web's halo, or the links that go into a web, giving potential buyers a way of locating a web. Note that this increase in links is not necessarily in pure numbers. Quality also is a consideration; reaching the target audience, not necessarily everyone on the Web, is the primary goal.
Through service, publishing, sponsorship, or advertising, a web can meet the needs of potential buyers.
The buyers on the web take part in information, communication, and interaction on the Web. As part of this activity, they have a cone of attention, or a region of Web space of which they are routinely aware.
The goal of promoting a web business is to increase the web's halo so that it intersects as much as possible with the target buyers' cone of attention.
Doing business on the Web, then, involves taking part in activities and integrating a web with existing and evolving communities of interest.
A web presence is more than just having a home page; it involves an ongoing commitment to making a web serve its audience. Presence starts with a deployed public web. As part of web promotion, this presence may include listings in indexes, spider databases, and other listings. Another option is to join a virtual mall or another association, where the critical mass of commercial sites attracts interest just as the downtown of a city does: by providing a large collection of places where a consumer can make choices about purchasing. The West 57th Street area in New York city has many restaurants devoted to a particular theme (like the Fashion Cafe, the Motown Cafe, the Hard Rock Cafe, and others), for example, so if you are looking for a "themed" meal, you just head over to 57th Street and decide when you get there.
Customer ServiceBeyond just having a presence, a web also can be a powerful way to support customers in purchasing or using non-Web products and services. Three examples follow:
- FedEx package tracking (https://www.fedex.com/) This service allows users to find out when their Federal Express package arrived and who signed for it.
- Dell computer technical support (https://www.dell.com/) Users of Dell computers can get detailed technical support on the Web or through e-mail.
- Novell documentation (https://www.novell.com/) Users of Novell network products can get up-to-date technical information.
Providing support for a worthy cause or sponsoring an entertainment event has long been a way for advertisers to get their messages out. Web sponsorship follows some of the same models, with the goal of bringing a web to the attention of potential customers through association.
Some sponsorship is for special activities, events, or information. Users gain the benefits of this resource at no cost, and the sponsor gets publicity for its web. Other sponsorship can be for information directly in the domain expertise of the sponsors. For example, a global telecommunications company (https://www.wiltel.com/) maintains and develops a large telecommunications library available for free on the Web.
To build more interest in your products or services, you also might want to use direct promotions at your Web site. If you are selling widgets, for example, you might offer a buy-one-get-one-free offer. You may have special discounts for sales during specific weeks.
Advertising has long been a way for consumers to get information at a fraction of the cost it would take to purchase it directly. A newspaper or magazine, for example, costs much more than its subscription price--advertisers pay the difference in order to reach the publication's audience. Similarly, Web-based advertising also offers businesses a way to get their web in the attention field of potential customers. Customers, as a result, get information and entertainment that could not be provided for free.
On the Web, sponsored advertising is flourishing as a model for providing content.
Publishing is the act of making a work widely known and available. Everyone on the Web therefore might be considered a publisher. Publishing as an institution means more than just printing, however, and includes issues of editorial selectivity and control to ensure quality, accuracy, timeliness, and relevance to user needs.
A Web publishing model involves intensive work by people that is no different (or easier) than the creative and demanding work required in paper-based publishing. What changes in the Web-based model is that web development is a key part of this process; authors as well as publishers create webs to deliver information or content to users. Through processes of interaction among authors, publishers, and users, a work's content and its value can be negotiated within the communities of users. The authors primarily are concerned with creating content; the publishers primarily are concerned with creating a reputation and value for that content among users and making the work widely known. Content is editorially filtered so that the users get what is best and most valuable. This form of filtering may become increasingly important as Web space becomes saturated with more and more information.
Web promotion should pay close attention to the Web's media characteristics and qualities as well as developed social norms, protocols, and customs.
A Web promotion philosophy should recognize that excellence will rise to the top, and that the purpose of promotion is to get the word out and differentiate your web from others.
Web-promotion techniques use publicity releases that are timed and crafted for several levels of audience interest: general, focused, and current audiences.
Web promoters should monitor keyword and subject-based resource collections to find out how their web is listed and used.
Web business models attempt to negotiate a web's value within a community of users by using techniques to meet needs and gain attention in communication, information, and interaction forums.