As the popularity of the Internet has grown and the number of users has skyrocketed, like-minded people have sought each other out and formed communities based on shared interests. These communities of practice have spawned websites dedicated to selling, reviewing, and discussing the elements of the group’s shared activity.
Websites, web forums and chat groups thrive, expand, and grow through shared trust and an understanding of the topic at hand. For a web publisher serving this group of people, and participation in discussions on forums and chat groups can drive traffic to their website, but only if they interact with the group in a sincere and community-friendly way.
Using Social Media to Increase Website Traffic
While Search Engine Optimization (SEO), traffic ranking /analysis, tweaking keywords/phrases, and content are fairly direct ways to attract internet browsers to a particular site, social media offers Internet entrepreneurs and publishers much more subtle, long term ways of increasing a website’s credibility, trust, and ultimately income.
Individuals who “bomb” forums, blogs, and chat groups with blatant advertising pitches to check out their website, or “follow this link to learn more about” a particular topic are rarely rewarded with increased traffic over the long tail. The most effective way for website owner/publishers to be welcomed and trusted by the participants in chat groups and forums is to genuinely become a part of that community by posting often on a wide rage of topics, and only rarely (10% of the time or less) link to a particular page on their own site.
By engaging with a community of practice and selflessly contributing to the knowledge base of the group a web publisher not only becomes trusted over time but will also improve the content on their site as their own knowledge increases. This allows them to better serve their intended audience. As a result their site will become known as a trusted part of the community, and others in the community will refer people to the site.
Using Web Forums to Stimulate Website Traffic
Much like the old bulletin board system in the early days of the Internet, web forums are a mostly informal way for anyone interested in a particular topic to post information or ask questions about a topic. Forums generally have a moderator who reviews posts for appropriateness, and also controls the various areas and subcategories of forum sections, chat groups, and posting boards.
There are now a number of companies that offer modular fairly easy to install forum implementation and monitoring software packages for web designers. For web publishers trying to attract and service a given community, forum hosting directly on their website is a great way to begin meeting relevant users and develop of a high level of credibility as the provider of the group’s forum and chat home. However, the installation of a forum is something that should be addressed and considered in the early stages of designing a website.
One low stress, and generally accepted, way for web publishers to promote their website on other forums, and be open about their affiliation, is to list the name of the website in their signature every time they post to a forum. An example of this might be to use “editor & publisher of insert domain name here” as their forum signature.
Weblogs, Bloggers, & Blogging
Similar to forums, blogs are personal websites dedicated to a particular person or activity, and are generally run or moderated by one person (blogger), but commented upon by many. A blogger will typically post to their blog entries on a regular basis (daily or weekly), and over time anyone who is interested in the blog’s subject matter will begin to read or follow the entries of that blogger and will often post comments related to the blog entries, much like a web forum entry.
For a web publisher trying to market a particular site, having a blog or other means of regularly posting information about the site’s content is a great way to attract readers (traffic) and openly promote the site’s content. Or, rather than develop their own blog, web publishers may choose to follow existing weblogs related to their site’s content, posting regular comments and becoming a trusted member of that blog’s community.
Over time, if a blog commentator consistently has something relevant and insightful to offer the community and becomes “trusted”, the blogger may ask that commentator to submit a guest blog entry. This sort of endorsement is a golden opportunity for a site owner or Internet publisher to tactfully direct blog readers towards their own site with a low key attribution that identifies the guest blogger as the publisher of a particular website.
Social Media Websites
For web publishers, forums and blogging are just the tip of the social media marketing iceberg. Personal contact and affiliation sites like Facebook, My Space, and Twitter offer web publishers the chance to create their own pages, or “following”, posting regular updates, news, and tweets to keep friends, followers, and fans up to date on the site.
Because it is intended as a business linking and contact site first, LinkedIn offers web publishers a way to promote their website. Set up as a way to help people in business stay in contact with friends, clients, customers, vendors, and other business contacts and share information between like-minded business contacts, LinkedIn is a hugely popular social media outlet for people in almost every arena of the professional world.
By leveraging existing commonalities, and interests, social media makes it somewhat easier for a site owner or web publisher to reach his or her intended audience without having to resort to a hard-sell approach. Because the members of a particular online community already have things in common and a shared understanding of a topic, a web publisher can develop trust and credibility over time by simply and honestly contributing to and engaging with the community they are trying to reach.