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 Sustainable Development Communications Network

Web-based Marketing

Erik Johnson, World Bank Institute (WBI)
May 2001

The World Wide Web itself offers one of the most dynamic and wide-reaching vehicles for marketing your Web product/service. This section will address three main Web-based strategies, as well as a few miscellaneous tools that do not necessarily fit into one of these categories. These strategies include: using your own Web site, cross-linking and banner ads.

Making the most of your own Web site

In order to show site visitors what you have to offer and convince them to use it, you should incorporate some of the following elements into your Web design. Most of these elements should be found on your main page, seeing as that might be the only page your visitors see if they don't like what they find there.

  • Navigation by audience – In order to make it easy for users to find information which is relevant to them, you could create additional navigational buttons or sections such as "for teachers," or "for the media." This will allow you to speak directly to your most important target audiences. However, this should be seen as an additional entry point to content, not as the primary information architecture for the site.
  • Highlights section – To give users an incentive to return to your site, create a section that features new content. This will give them the sense that they do need to come back because the site is frequently changing.
  • About this Web site – While you may want a page or two to describe your organization and its projects, you may also want to explain the purpose of your Web site. This way, users will get a quick idea of site-uses. If they have to figure this out on their own, they might get frustrated and leave, perhaps never to return.
  • Fun, games and prizes – You may not want to distract people from the seriousness of your Web content, but there are a variety of playful incentives that you can use to draw people to your site. Once they are there, they will hopefully look around some more. Examples of this include quizzes, games and giveaways (i.e., books or CDs).

Search engines

As a Webmaster of a CSO, you have to be aware of ways to promote your site that don't require too many resources from your organization. Search Engines are among the most popular tools that people use to search something on the Web, and most of them are free! So, the key is what you do to ensure that search engines are noticing your Web site.

How do search engines work?

Although search engines are really a general class of programs, the term is often used to specifically describe systems like Alta Vista (http://www.altavista.com) and Excite (http://www.excite.com) that enable users to search for documents on the Internet. Typically, a search engine works by sending out a spider to fetch as many documents as possible. Another program, called an indexer, then reads these documents and creates an index based on the words contained in each document. Until the page has been indexed by the search engine, the information that the spider finds is not made available to the public. The indexer reads the documents from top to bottom, so what it looks at first is the primary determination of relevance.

Improving your exposure on the Web

There are a few things that you can do to ensure that search engines will index your site in the best way, so that you can be found easier in the enormous information sea that is the Internet. You can start writing your text using key words where you can, especially in the first paragraphs. Other things to have in mind are:

Titles
Title tags are most important since they are what search engines look at first. Using clear and relevant titles will help your site get a better ranking on search results. Including key words when possible on titles will also contribute to getting found easier (e.g., use "Public Participation Module" instead of "PP Module"). Besides, the title tag is what appears as the name of the link when viewing the results of a search, so be as clear as possible in order to give users an indication of where the link will take them.

Meta-tags
Meta-tags are special HTML tags that provide information about a Web page. Unlike normal HTML tags, meta-tags do not affect how the page is displayed. Instead, they provide information such as who created the page, how often it is updated, what the page is about, and which keywords represent the page's content. The meta-tags that most search engines use to correctly index Web pages are keywords and descriptions. As search engines read from top to bottom, meta-tags should be positioned high up on the page:

<HTML>
<HEAD>
<TITLE>Title of your Web page</TITLE>
<META NAME="Description" CONTENT="description of your Web page, no more than 200 characters">
<META NAME="Keywords" CONTENT="relevant key words for your Web page, separated by commas">
</HEAD>

Using relevant keywords and descriptions that reflects your content will help you to get the "right" people going to your Web page. For example, if your Web page is about international environmental law for sustainable development, using "development" as a key word might bring to your site a user that was looking for "economic development." Following are some tips that will help you to take advantage of key words and descriptions:

  • Use unique and uncommon words (this way, you will have less competition)
  • Place the meta-tags before other tags (like Javascript, etc.)
  • Use multiple-words phrase instead of single words (e.g., "international environmental law" instead of "international, environmental, law")
  • Use different meta-tags in different pages (or at least in the main page of major sections)

Submitting to directories

Submitting your site to directories will increase your presence on the Internet, as well as help you to get better rankings on search results. There are several directories where you can submit your site for free. You should submit it to the most popular and general directories like Yahoo! (http://www.yahoo.com – regional Yahoos also exist), Google (http://www.google.com), Altavista (http://www.altavista.com), Excite (http://www.excite.com), among others, but also to portals specialized in your area, like the Global Development Network (http://www.gdnet.org), ELDIS (http://www.eldis.org), AmbienteOnline (http://www.ambienteonline.pt), etc.

A couple of tips:

  • Submit your site in more than one topic or area
    If your site is about an organization that works on environmental public policies for sustainable development, then you might submit it to "Environment," to "Organizations," to "Policy," and so on.
  • Re-submit your site periodically
    Every once in a while you should check if you're still indexed into a directory, and re-submit it if you are not. You should also re-submit your site whenever you make major changes to your Web site.

Cross-linking

One of the cheapest, yet most effective means of attracting visitors to your Web site is to ask other organizations to post a link to your Web site. Of course, the more traffic these organizations draw to their sites, the more attention your link will receive. The downside of this is that sites that attract large numbers of visitors (i.e., commercial portals such as Yahoo) know the value of this marketing tool, so they will often charge for a link. That's why the best place to start is with organizations with which you are affiliated with and others that are working in related fields.

Even though this strategy is cheap and can be quite easy, it will still be most effective if it is implemented through a written strategy. A process for developing and implementing such a strategy would look something like this:

  1. Write down a list of topics in which your organization is interested
  2. Go to the Web to browse portal subdirectories and conduct searches to find sites which would make sensible links
  3. Compile a list of target sites with e-mail addresses and Webmasters (these could be private sector, academic, CSO, multinational, etc.)
  4. Write personal e-mails to Webmasters asking for cross links [tip: compliment their site, suggest where the best place might be for them to link to your site, and tell them where you might place a link to their site]

To increase the chances that a Webmaster will agree to link to your site, you should also be able to offer them a link through your site. To allow for this, you should create at least one section such as:

  • "Relevant Links" page – these can be organizations, databases or anything which is relevant to your organization's work
  • "Research" or "Resources" page – this page could be set up according to themes so as to offer users your own pre-selected list of places to go to find quality content

One thing to keep in mind is that, all links are not necessarily good links. Links from poor Web sites or organizations with bad reputations can do more harm than good to your marketing efforts. You should keep track of who is linking to your site and ask people to remove links if you think that they are a liability to your organization.

Banner advertising

The main vehicle for commercial sector advertising on the Web is called the "banner ad." These advertisements are the same as you might see in a newspaper, only they usually appear in the margin of a Web page, and they can also be far more dynamic than a print ad.

The effectiveness of these ads is still in question. However, given the ease with which statistics can be collected on the number of times ads have been "clicked" by users, there is strong evidence that they are often ignored. Even with this information, it is difficult to determine whether these Web ads are more or less effective than other ads.

The question we should be asking here is: how appropriate is banner advertising for CSOs? To begin with, these ads can be quite expensive to create, depending upon the graphic sophistication you desire (i.e., animation). Secondly, placing ads in high traffic places (i.e., global e-newspapers and e-zines) can be very costly.

If you do decide to try out banner ads, there are many resources that you might explore to prepare yourself. These include:

  • http://www.LinkLeads.com – This site will help match you with an appropriate organization so that you can trade banner ads for free.
  • http://o-a.com (Online Advertising Discussion List) – This site (and list), and a number of others like it are dedicated to facilitating dialogue among advertising professionals can help to give you a better idea of different advertising strategies, results, studies and tools.

Odds and ends

A couple of other ways to utilize the Internet to market your Web site include:

  • contribute content to someone else's site (i.e., an e-zine column, subject content, etc.) – so that people will get a sample of the quality of content on your Web site, and be able to link to it directly
  • spamming – although this technology may be a bit sophisticated for most CSOs, it offers a way of collecting e-mail addresses for potential visitors to your Web site which you could use to send out e-mail promotions
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