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Modern Web Site Design: Getting People To Come Back Pt. 2

By Marc Bissonnette

Last week we covered the importance of using fresh and new content in a web site in order to draw people into returning to your website - thus increasing the likelihood of them using your services or recommending them.

This week we talk about methods of 'free' content for your site that won't break the bank or cost you all your (or your staff's) free time.

Guestbooks

These were cool when they first appeared about two and a half years ago, but are now mostly found on personal pages only. WWWBoards (and their variants) have taken over this function on the commercial sites. Some people were using guest books as a 'poor man's web board', but now that the wwwboards have evolved so fantastically, it's not adviseable.

WWWBoards

These are a personal favourite of mine. They are basically your own newsgroup or discussion board within your website. They can be password-protected, customized, moderated, archived, just about everything to make it an interactive discussion center amongst your visitors. Given the relative simplicity of setting these up, as well as low server-overhead, it is completely feasible to have many sub-groups with their own discussion topics within your website. (Also known as WebBBS's, WebNews, WebBulletinBoards, etc)

Guest Authors

What, you mean, like I'm doing now? Exactly. The guest author does the work of creating the content in exchange for credit and promotion within your site. Given the nature of the internet and the sheer volume of knowledgeable people out there, you should almost never have to actually pay for authors to submit content to your site. (Unless you're going for name-value-attraction, but again, given the volume of information out there on the 'Net, knowledgeable users will value content over name anyday.)

This method is beneficial two ways - You promote the author's site within your own (in his article's header or footer, or "credits" section) and they will usually promote your site within their own (after all, most of us like to brag about the fact that thousands are reading our words :)

Design Contests

Be careful with this one. I have seen many new design companies use this method as a source of cheap/free labour. Make the prize worthwhile, and try not to make the contest about designing something that will be an integral part of your site (unless it's a "This month's winners" section ). Design contests should really be used for the promotion of your company's name and nothing more (or that of a client, if you've sold them on this idea). Again, make the prize worthwhile, or else you may find yourself with the reputation of being cheap...

Q&A Boards / Support Forums

This is really a variation on the WWWBoard. It's also used mostly by firms with product-based sales, instead of service. It's a good method of getting free support, as well as allowing some of your customers to show off their own expertise as well (just make sure you allow the inclusion of their own URL's)

Related Links Pages

This sounds pretty basic, and a lot of sites have them, since they tend to be a good resource for your users, but it's amazing how many site owners dont do the other half of this basic site section: Getting the cross-link. If you have a storefront, would you put a sign in the front window telling your clients about your competition? Didn't think so. BUT, what if your competition were doing the same for you? Suddenly it's a lot more tempting. When you make a "related or Useful Links" page, take the time to email the owners of the site's you're linking to and ask them if they'd mind linking to your site in exchange for the same from yours. You'd be amazed at the positive response from this! The benefit, of course, is traffic sharing.

Even if only 10% of the traffic of the site your linking to visit's your site, that's still 10% of X that probably would never have even heard of your site, much less visit it!

Newsgroups

Many people overlook the incredible power of UseNet. With over 25,000 groups and growing weekly, there is *guaranteed* to be at least a few discussion groups that fall within your expertise/interest. Post regularly to these. Answer questions publically to help out the newbies, and most importantly, use a signature file with your URL in it! (Keep the .sig file to four lines or less, too)

For example, over the last two years, I have posted 504 articles to various usenet groups (a LOT of them weren't anywhere near technical discussions, but they still, for the most part, have a .sig with my URL in them :)

Keeping your content fresh

Ok, so this isn't free content, since this is the work YOU have to do, but it's still vital to the success of a Good Web Site. Gone are the days when you could update the content of your site in general every 3 to 6 months. These days, a monthly update is mandatory, and even that is stretching it.

Ideally, SOMEthing in your site should be evolving or changing in a noticeable manner at least on a weekly basis. If you're really stretched for time, money or content to add to your site, then at least a link pointing out the fact of new content in one of the above mentioned 'free content' methods :)

Marc Bissonnette is the proprietor of CanadianISP, Canadas' largest Internet Service Provider search and comparison site.

InternAlysis - Customized, specialized, dedicated eMarketing specialist
CanadianISP - Canadas' largest Internet Service Provider (ISP) list and comparison web site

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