If you build it, they will come. When it comes to Web sites, many people share this view. But with the millions of Web sites out there, the chances of somebody serendipitously surfing to a particular one are about as great as a supermarket cashier in Des Moines being discovered by a Hollywood talent agent.

Whether you've created your site to promote your business or share your passion for Filipino duck balut, you need to be assertive if you want people to find out about it. You also need to beware of making missteps that can both waste your money and incur the wrath of the very people you're trying to court.

Revving the Search Engines

The first thing most people think of when promoting a Web site is getting listed by the major Web search engines and directories. This is, in fact, a crucial step. But don't think it's a good deal to pay $19.95 to somebody who promises in an e-mail ad to get you listed in 500 search sites, warns Charlie Morris, managing editor of Web Developer's Journal and a freelance Internet consultant.

First, you should focus on the top half-dozen search sites -- they get 95 percent of all hits -- plus any specialty Web directories you can find that deal with the subject matter of your site. Don't expect a cheapo site-promotion service to take the time to find these specialty directories for you. Most of the other so-called search sites are just link mills that hardly anybody visits.

The most popular search sites, in descending order, are Yahoo, Excite, Lycos, Infoseek, AltaVista and HotBot, according to Media Matrix.

Second, if you receive an unsolicited e-mail ad, chances are pretty good it's from a huckster. Unsolicited, untargeted bulk e-mail, commonly known as spam, has long been a violation of Internet etiquette. In fact, legitimate businesses don't do it. For similar reasons, don't give in to the temptation of sending out spam about your Web site. You will only sully your reputation and risk having your Internet account canceled.

Submitting your site to the major search engines so that it's listed prominently takes skill, and for this reason it can make sense to hire someone to do this for you, assuming that the outfit is reputable and can provide references. Check out Web Marketing Today and Web Promote Weekly for more information.

If you do it yourself, keep up with the changing policies of the major search sites through Search Engine Watch and manually craft each submission. Use keywords in your site's meta tags, page titles, headings and body text, but don't overdo them. Some search sites will penalize you for repeating keywords more than seven or eight times, a practice that's also become known as spamming.

Quality Control

Before you even begin to think about getting yourself listed on a top search site, however, make sure your site is up to snuff. The worst mistake you can make here is to think of your site as an online ad or brochure. It's far better to treat it as a newsletter or arcade that provides useful information or compelling entertainment -- content, to use the vernacular.

"You've got to give them substance unique to the Web," said Web wunderkind Chris Worth, a content consultant with Ogilvy Interactive in Paris, in an e-mail interview.

Affiliate Marketing

Placing an ad for your site at another site is another common strategy for attracting eyeballs. The hottest trend today is "affiliate marketing," says Mike Carter, vice president of marketing for US Interactive, an Internet professional services company with offices in Los Angeles and elsewhere.

You find Web sites with similar demographics as your own and trade "contextural links" -- links that includes text and are related to the content on the page. Affiliate sites receive a percentage of whatever revenue they generate for one another. LinkShare and Be Free are two providers of Web affiliate programs.

It's often not worth the bother to merely trade banner ads with sites that include your ad at the bottom of a page unrelated to your site or on a separate links page that nobody visits.

The Old-Fashioned Way

Finally, don't forget about traditional marketing vehicles. Frank Ricciardi, senior vice president of the DEM Group, an advertising agency based in King of Prussia, Penn. specializing in high-tech companies, recommends that you include your Web address on all of your newspaper, magazine, radio and television advertising materials.

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Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. Email | Web

Reid Goldsborough  |  Contributing Writer
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at reidgold@comcast.net or www.reidgoldsborough.com.