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Promote It! Advertising and Marketing

Advertising Your Site

Just because you've built a wonderful new website doesn't mean visitors will automatically find it. Even before you launch, you need to start thinking about how you're going to attract visitors - first-time users and repeat customers, content consumers and content creators, sponsors and advertisers. The bulk of your site's popularity will depend on how well you promote it and how well you let people know when it's refilled with fresh content.

Community Outreach

Few home-grown website will have the luxury of an advertising budget to trumpet their existence. But several community website have found ways to spread the word. It often entails some old-fashioned legwork. Here are some ideas.

Creating an e-mail newsletter

An e-mail newsletter shouldn't just tell people what's new on your site; it should encourage them to visit your site and see for themselves. Use bold headlines to catch readers' eyes. Keep news summaries very short. Drive readers to more detailed information with links to pages on your site. Use HTML-formatted e-mails instead of plain text to send out eye-catching messages that include graphics. Realize there can be downsides, however. No two e-mail programs receive HTML messages the same way; what looks terrific in one person's inbox may appear jumbled or misaligned in another. The same problem applies to sending HTML-formatted e-mails. Some programs, such as Microsoft Entourage, don't allow users to create or send these messages. When in doubt, use plain text for your e-mail newsletters. It may not be as eye-catching, but it's much more likely to arrive exactly as you intended it.

Under federal law, every mass e-mail must include several items to avoid being considered illegal spam. It must always state your organization's full mailing address and contact information and include simple instructions for how users can unsubscribe from the mailing list. Most e-mail newsletters permit people to reply with the words "unsubscribe" or "remove" in the subject line. Honor those requests as quickly and thoroughly as possible, and keep a copy of every e-mail.


  • E-mail Newsletters. Start collecting e-mail addresses of people in your network and your community and consider sending electronic newsletters, alerting people to your site and telling them about updates. Give them the option to unsubscribe or to subscribe others. Ask each addressee explicitly for permission before you sign them up for your newsletter - you don't want to be a spammer.
  • Giveaways. Order some fun refrigerator magnets, balloons, pens, mouse pads or other freebies with your logo and mission statement. Hand them out at events and meetings to help create a buzz about your site.
  • Business Cards. Advertise your site and solicit contributors by handing out business cards at community meetings. You can create your own using online templates or with a kit from an office supply store.
  • Free cameras. Hand out disposable cameras and encourage people to send them back with photos you can post on the site.
  • Pamphlets. Create some handouts that you can leave at churches, schools or libraries.

Advertising Your Site

If you do have an advertising budget, consider buying some ads to tout your site. Ads placed in traditional media are expensive; they may generate a significant return, but there is no guarantee that they will attract attention. Online, however, a well-monitored advertising campaign can not only attract visitors but also help relay what parts of your site most appeal to users.

There are now some online advertising options that can keep costs very low.

One popular program for advertising your website is Google's AdWords ( AdWords lets you purchase ads that will appear whenever someone searches Google for certain key words that apply to your site. You get to choose the relevant words. Google then permits you to offer an amount - up to a cap you set - that you will pay to have your ad appear every time someone searches for those words or phrases. You only pay Google, though, when someone actually clicks on your ad.

You can designate as your cap anywhere from five cents up to $100 per click. You also set the maximum amount you're willing to spend per day for all clicks. After your daily ad budget is spent, your ad disappears until the next day. If no one else is willing to pay more than you, you'll appear as the top advertiser on the Google search page for your terms, followed by lower-priced ads.

Of course, if someone else is running ads associated with the same key words, you'll need to pay more than they do either to ensure top placement or any placement at all. Under the AdWords system, Google doesn't necessarily bill you at your top rate. It only charges you a small increment more per click than the next highest bidder to ensure the placement you want.

There is a catch, though. Google watches your click rate, and if no one is clicking on your ad, it stops appearing. This ensures that only relevant ads are appearing for certain key words. If Google pulls your ad, you may need to select a more appropriate key word.

You can sign up and appear on Google within minutes, and you can tweak or improve your ad whenever you want. You can also run multiple ads at once and see which one gets the best results.

A similar program is called , now called Yahoo Search Marketing Solutions. It also allows you to place text advertisements targeted to keywords, and those ads will appear next to search results on major search engines such as Yahoo and MSN.

There are some differences between the two. Yahoo ads show up on a different network of sites. People review all Yahoo ads before they appear in the network. At Google, no one reviews the ads until after they've started in rotation. Its tools for monitoring and comparing keywords are structured differently.

In general, both are good ways to start advertising online, especially if you keep a close eye on the costs of your clicks and track what people are doing once they get to your site.

J-Learning is an initiative of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism. J-LabTM is an incubator for innovative, participatory news experiments and is a center of American University's School of Communication in Washington, D.C.
J-Learning was funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

American University School of Communication

Knight Foundation

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