Amazon.com. Napster. Ebay. Blue Mountain Arts. Hotmail. These companies made it big on the web, most with surprisingly low marketing budgets, reaching unexpected heights in short time spans. Why? Was it branding? Sure, they are all strong brands today, but that is not what made them what they are. To be fair, a variety of factors contributed to their success. But by far the most important ones were tools and strategies that were sticky and viral in nature. Nothing markets a site better, spreading it like a wild fire, than having a viral product, tools or processes. And nothing makes it more capable of generating revenues than being sticky, for people only part with their money after they are comfortable with a product, after they have seen it a few times and interacted with it somehow.
The great news is that your site can start becoming sticky and viral right away by employing a few simple tools. Before we start looking at these tools that you may add to your site, it is important to remember that this works best if you add them into all your pages, emails, and products, as much as is possible to do so. Here we go:
Email To A Friend
On every page on your site, you should make it easy for people to send that page to their friends. Did you know that most people would look at something their friends send them? The number one rule of making something viral is making it easy to spread. Make sure that each page has a clear link or icon that invites the user to send the page to their friend. When they click on it, they should be able to send simply by entering their name and their friend’s email address – keep it simple. The only other bit of information you may want to ask them for is their friend’s name for personalization purposes. To add such functionality to your site, you will need to download a free script. There are plenty to choose from. You can find one in the Webmasters Specials CGI Scripts category at www.aboutwebmasters.com.
Free tools and products that pass on
Offer a free version of your product, or something else free. Make sure that it is useful; otherwise no one will really care about it. Ensure also that it is very easy for users to pass on these free products to their friends. If you can integrate this passing on as part of product use, then you have it made because by using the product, the person will have to tell their friends about it. Something you can quickly make is a screensaver and wallpaper. Download a good product for making these (see www.download.com), get some good images and create a quality screensaver and wallpaper. You can add your site URL and description to some screens on the screensaver. Then submit the screensaver and wallpaper to popular download sites such as ZDNet.com and Download.com. Every time someone downloads and uses the screensaver, they get to know about your site.
Forums, Chat, Community and Office Tools
Provide ways through which your site visitors can add content to your site and communicate with each other. Have forums, chat, and possibly instant messaging. One way to easily add this to your site is using www.everyone.net. Offer free office tools, too, such as calendars, file sharing, to-do lists, group tools, and more. You can do so easily and for free my signing up with www.myevents.com.
People love sending postcards. Blue Mountain Arts made history when it was acquired for over 800 million dollars, yet all it did was allow people to send electronic postcards to each other. The magic here is that if someone sends a friend a card from your site, that friend will almost always want to pick it up, and to do so they would have to pic it up at your site! That is a great way to get new users. To start a free postcards service on your site, all you need is to buy a CGI script that will do all the work for you. It is very easy. You can find one in the Webmasters Specials CGI Scripts category at www.aboutwebmasters.com.
Amazon.com’s success is in a large proportion due to the amount of choice they give their users. You can buy millions of products right there. Choice is convenience, hence sticky. So how do you add a store with millions of related products to your site without taking on the expense and hassle of running such a huge undertaking? Add a free Vstore. Its easy and free and you get brand name products in a wide variety of categories all set up for you in a few minutes.
It is very important that you have a newsletter (or mailing list). Newsletters work wonders for sites that use them well. Give an incentive and a reason for someone to join your newsletter. People are not willing to just hand you over their email address with no idea what they will be getting for it. The newsletter should always carry relevant, useful content, nut just advertising. As long as it is useful, people will love it and pass it on to several friends. Again, remember to actively ask them to pass it on – you get what you ask for. If you don’t ask them to pass it on, even if they are willing to, they may just forget or not even thing about it. To start one, all you need is a mailing list server. You can get a free one from www.listbot.com or www.egroups.com or use a commercial one you pay for such as www.sparklist.com.
Be another Hotmail. Give away free email accounts. Every time someone sends email from them, a small signature goes out to their recipient with your URL and short description in it, just like Hotmail does. And whenever they check their email they have to visit your site. You can quickly set up for free as a free email provider at www.everyone.net.
News And Articles
Your site should always have relevant and ever-new content. One way of achieving this instantly is to sign up free for iSyndicate’s or Moreover’s services that push related news and articles to your site. Give your visitors a reason to keep coming back to your site by providing fresh relevant content.
Provide easy ways for other sites to link to you. Have a page that showcases a variety of different banners and other links that webmasters can place to your site. Give the ready-to-paste HTML for each of those links to make it easy for webmasters to copy and paste it to your site. Get an affiliate program so you can pay for performance. Do all you can do to make it easy, profitable and interesting for people to tell others about you.
Recommend This Site
Other than an email-this-page and an affiliate program, one more thing you can do to get people to tell others about you is to add a recommend-this-site button. Well, most people will never click on it unless there is something in it for them. So offer them something free in exchange or a chance to win a big prize. You can sign up free with Recommend-It and they will give you a neat button that tells your users to recommend your site in exchange for a chance to win $10,000 – and they supply the prize money!
These are some of the tools and principles that created and continue to create businesses that thrive in the new economy. you can implement all of them on your site in a day if you put your mind to it, and for very little if any, money. The benefits will be immense if you do it right. More than anything else, stickiness and a viral nature are the most important elements of marketing online businesses, arguably even more than branding and advertising. For if you spend millions on branding and advertising a site that is not sticky or viral, your eventual average customer acquisition costs will not only be too high to be profitable, but you will be losing all your visitors and hardly making a sale to them during the short period of time when they are on your site. So start now, making a sticky and viral cocktail for your site.
David Gikandi (email@example.com) is CEO at http://www.SearchPositioning.com. AboutWebmasters.com is a large interactive webmasters portal featuring everything an e-commerce professional needs. It also features tools and resources that get you top positions for your web site on AltaVista, Excite, Hotbot, Infoseek, Lycos, Northern Light, Google, iWon, AOLSearch, MSN, FAST/AllTheWeb and other search engines.