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Advertise Your Site

Think about New Years Eve, midnight. Think about billions of bits of confetti falling from the sky. Now, write an ad on a few dozen or hundred or thousand pieces of paper and throw them into the air with the rest. That's what it's like to advertise on the internet.

Trying to make your product, service or web site known to the rest of the internet community can be very, very frustrating. Not only making it known, but getting visitors to actually visit the site can be downright annoying.

When advertising on the internet, I have several quick rules of thumb. These are not cast in concrete, but they seem to serve me very well.

Rule number one is "people use search engines, and to get them to your site you MUST show up in the top 50 or so listings for your keywords in a search engine". Period. Nothing else will build traffic faster than getting listed in a search engine.

Rule number two is "concentrate a lot of steady effort on getting other sites to exchange links with you". This is an excellent, although very time consuming, way to build steady, permanent increases in traffic.

My third rule of thumb is "start free and stay free unless you've got a very good reason to pay for advertising". There are many, many ways to get free advertising on the web. I've found very little reason to pay for submission services, email lists, banner exchanges or anything else to advertise my site.

There are many ways to get traffic to your site, and it's more-or-less worthwhile to pursue all of them. You can explore some of the following.

* FFAs - generally not very worthwhile as your links fall off the lists too quickly. Use an automated submission program or service - don't waste a second with manual submissions. It's also critical to remember to never, ever use your primary email account to submit to these. Your email box will be flooded with so many messages you will want to scream.

* Creating FFA pages - This allows you to send confirmation emails to people who add links. A very poor way to build traffic as anyone with a brain sends these messages to an email account which is just ignored.

* exchanging links - very good way to build traffic but takes a lot of time and effort. If you can get a lot of links all over the net you can build as much traffic as the major search engines.

* banner programs - I've found these to be virtually worthless. Sometimes a very well designed or targeted banner can cause some traffic, but be careful spending any money here.

* Webrings - you should join many of these to build decent traffic. They do not create huge amounts of traffic, but once set up they continue to drive visitors to your site day after day. Put the web code on pages all over your site - generally do not put them on your home page or on a webring page.

* Major Search Engines - excellent way to build traffic fast but tend to be fickle. I've had sites appear overnight only to disappear a week later. You must continually monitor your listings in these engines.

* Directories - Get you site listed in as many as possible. Some are difficult to get listed (like Yahoo) and some are easy, but all require little maintenance once your listing appears.

* Minor search engines - Get listed in them all if you can. Use an automated submission technique but DO NOT submit multiple times to the major engines as this may get you removed for spamming. Traffic is minor but steady.

* Email lists - very good for building traffic. You should always have a list for your site so visitors get a constant reminder to come back. Also if you can add articles to other email newsletters in exchange for your link appearing than do so as this can create traffic quickly.

* Newsgroups - Don't explicitly advertise as this is spamming. There are newsgroups for advertising but the return tends to be low. What you can do is make a signature (4 lines or so) and post useful messages and replies. I've found this does create some traffic, although it's not huge and it's limited in duration.

* Email - Careful here as spam is on everyone's mind. Can build some traffic. Your own newsletter is a great way to go, as are email lists.

* Awards - Apply for as many as you can for your site. You will win some. The bigger ones will generate lots of traffic. The smaller ones will cause an occasional hit but are a good ego boost at least.

* All of the "mulit-million hits" and similar pages - generally worthless. Set one up just for the heck of it since it's easy, but don't count on any real traffic. By the way, don't ever pay for one of these things.

My basic operating procedure is (a) examine statistics, (b) try something and then (c) reexamine statistics. For example, let's say you want to add your site to a webring. Record your statistics for a couple of days. Add the site. Then compare. In this case, you'll also want to look at the statistics for referring sites to see if the webring shows up. If it worked, great. If not, that's okay also. You just want to get a feel for what's working and what's not so you know where to put your time, effort and possibly money.

Also remember that your site is more than just a homepage. In actuality, you have dozens, hundreds or even thousands of pages, each of which is a potential entry point. Make sure each one of them advertises your site, links back to the home page and is complete within themselves. You can also run multiple advertising experiments with your site by using the different pages.

One of the really great things about the internet is how automatic it all can be. Many of these advertising techniques are of the "set it up and forget it" variety. Add a site to a webring, then forget about it. Visitors will be drawn to your site from now on. Maybe not many, but you do not need to put in any more effort to get those visitors after your site is added.

Some things, however, require constant vigilance. Search engines top this list. You can easily fall off a search engine, so you must constantly (weekly perhaps) check your ranking in each of the major engines.

In a nutshell, use statistics. Monitor your progress. Set up as much automated advertising as you can. Initially concentrate at least half of your efforts on search engines, then once you are listed concentrate on setting up link exchanges with other similar sites. Don't forget the other avenues for advertising, though, as all of them have some kind of payoff.

The Internet Brings People Together

One of the great things about the internet is how it is bringing together people. The internet is the greatest communication media in the history of mankind, and as such it is allowing people to communicate who in the past would never even have dreamed of talking.

internet connection

The philosophy that I follow is to use the internet to find new friends, build up relationships and enjoy talking with others all over the world. It's amazing that such barriers as race, religion and sex just seem to fall apart the more people talk. And the internet is definitely blurring those lines.

Currently I am a member of a number of email groups. What these do is allow me to create a single message and send it to everyone on the list. This is not spam, as everyone on the list has agreed to receive messages from everyone else. It is important, as always with this kind of communications, to stay on topic. If you do you can find yourself in some fascinating conversations with hundreds or even thousands of people at a time.

For example, I sent out an email to one of my lists (a social club kind of group) asking what would be a good present for my kid. I got back dozens of responses and it helped me get a great present.

Newsgroups are another good way to communicate, although they are not as good as email lists. I've found that newsgroups tend to get clogged with spam and off-topic junk very quickly, sometimes to the point where they are useless. However, if you can find a group with some strong contributors, you can really begin to understand what an internet community is all about.

Another good way to use the internet for communication is message boards. These do tend to fill up with spam sometimes, but they are great places to have a discussion. I believe that all webrings should include a message board so that webring members can communicate. After all, everyone who has joined presumably has a common interest already, so why not add a little community spirit?

By adding email groups, message boards, webrings and similar things to your web site, you can increase your traffic greatly. This is because people have a new reason to visit your site - to get involved in your community. By creating or joining web communities, you can also gain customers and a few friends.

One of the great things about the Internet is it brings people together. People who would normally never even come close to communicating are now chatting, emailing and talking every day. My wife is a member of numerous discussion groups in which she's helping others solve family crisises, trading recipes, signing guestbooks and sending e-cards.

If you really want to be part of a group of great people, I suggest you check out Random Acts Of Kindness. This is a great group of people who enjoy talking with and helping each other. The concept is simple: just perform one act of kindess each day, randomly. This could be as simple as singing a guestbook or two, or sending an ecard or whatever else you can think of. RAOK also has half a dozen webrings you can join, and numerous other activities going on all of the time.

Another great group is Misker's Den-izens. These people are great! Nice, down-to-earth people who just want to share friendship.

brings people together

These are just two examples of the many, many social groups on the web. Others include Inner Dreams, Netdudes, Phenomenal Women of the web, Sisters of the Golden Moon and many, many others. Be assured that there will be one or more groups on the Internet for you.

If you want to start your own group, you can add many different things to your own web site. People who sign up for your list will be able to send messages to everyone else on the list. It's a great way to have a group discussion, although it can create a heck of a lot of email traffic.

You will almost certainly want to add a message board to your web site. You can visit http://www.insidetheweb.com/ for some excellent services. Both services are highly customizable, easy-to-use and fast.

Another site you absolutely must check out is http://www.bravenet.com/, which includes an incredible number of services and things to plug into your web sites. You can create message boards, forums, chat rooms, guestbooks or mail lists, among other things.

You can, of course, start lurking in your favorite newsgroups, then start posting information. Be careful here about SPAM, as many newsgroups will report you to your ISP at the merest hint of advertising. A simple one or two line signature on your newsgroup posts directing people to your web site is all the advertising you should do.

Look through the resources that I've mentioned in this article and make your own decision. It takes some work to be a member of a group, and it takes even more work to create your own. But the rewards in terms of satisfaction and traffic to your site can be huge.

Essential Websites

Here are some of the most essential web sites that I've found on the internet so far.

essential websites

http://updates.zdnet.com/ is a great place to visit once a month or so. The site scans your system for all of the software that you have installed. It compares this against a list of the most recent versions available and let's you know which programs need upgrades. This is very useful if you believe you need to keep your products up to date.

http://britannica.com/ has the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica online. This is easily one of the most awesome and useful sites on the internet.

This is an excellent resource for learning about health and related issues. I find this is to be one of the best general purpose medical reference sites available.

http://pcwebopaedia.com/ is a dictionary of computer related terms. I use this site virtually every day to ensure that I know exactly what people are talking about. Is one of the better places to find shareware, trialware and freeware. It does not have as many programs available as some of the other sites, but I found it to have more of what I need.

If you want to join webrings, http://www.webring.org/ is an excellent site to visit. By far the larger of the webring hosts, this site has tens of thousands of rings available. If you want to tweak your system, visit this site for some great registry hacks. I love this site and visit it often.

If you have a DSL connection to the internet, then http://www.dslreports.com/ is essential. Visit this site if you are trying to decide between internet access methods.

And finally, for a little fun, visit http://www.zark.com/ for one of the best on-line comics available. My only complaint about this site is the length of time between updates.

Privacy On The Internet

So you think you're pretty safe on the internet? You've got your firewall to protect against hackers, you've got your antivirus software installed and up-to-date, and you are doing backups regularly.

You're safe, right?

Depends upon how you define safe.

Yes, you've done the critical, most important things to protect yourself from the obvious dangers. If you've done the things listed in the first paragraph, you should pat yourself on the back, because you are better protected than 90% of the people on the internet.

internet privacy

However, there is another danger that has been surfacing in the news lately, and it is a much more subtle, insidious monster. This is the danger to your privacy.

All right, why do you care about this? It's actually very important. Let's say you are using one of those grocery programs where you get a card which you use every time you go shopping. You get a discount and the store gets to better understand you're buying habits. Fair exchange, right?

If that's as far as it went, all would be fine. But look at the ugly possibilities. This data could be sold to advertisers (it is actually incredibly valuable). Worse yet, if you were, let's say, being sued, the data could be used in a court of law against you. After all, the store has recorded your transactions. The items purchased, dates, times and so forth. If your wife was divorcing you, she could prove you were an alcoholic if the store's records showed you purchasing lots of beer and liquor.

On the internet it gets even more alarming. If you are anything like me, the web is so convenient that you are doing literally everything from the comfort of your chair. I use the internet yellow pages to find phone numbers, mapping sites to give me directions, shopping sites to make purchases, and hundreds of other sites to make life easier.

On top of that, I use AllAdvantage to make a little extra money and I surf using Yahoo as my start page. I belong to hundreds of webrings. I use the web to sign up for credit cards and to pay my bills.

All of this is recorded. Underneath it all is a system of cookies, web bugs, log files, and databases that, if put all together, could give someone quite a picture of, well, me. Or at least what I've been doing on the web.

Theoretically (at least for now), someone could get the records from DoubleClick and similar advertisers and combine that with the records from the pay-to-surf program and know exactly my surfing habits.

All of this data could be used, in theory at least, in a court of law (although they would have to prove it was actually ME using the computer at the time). It could be used: - by employers before making a hiring decision (we don't like people who surf the Time Magazine site as they are a competitor, for example), - insurance companies before granting insurance (you have been using that very convenient medical site to record all of your prescriptions, haven't you?) - Credit card companies before granting credit (and you thought the credit bureau's were scary - imagine if they had access to literally everything you've done on the web). - by prospective dates (hey, now that's a service you could make a fortune off of - check out your dates surfing habits before meeting him or her. Imagine what you could find out...) - by the police to determine guilt (fairly obvious) - by the courts to prove or disprove a case (your honor, the records show he surfed those sites on the following dates, thus proving he had an interest in ...)

Let your imagination run wild. It could ALL happen.

Okay, now I've got you good and scared. What do you do?

First of all, don't panic. Most of this information is not yet available (and may never be available) in any form that anyone could easily use. In addition, there is some (but not enough) legal protection against quite a bit of this kind of thing.

Second, start getting educated on internet privacy. Just go to your favorite search engine and type in "internet privacy". You'll get a few good articles to read.

Third, read the privacy policies on the various web sites that you visit before you fill out their forms and use their services. How are they going to use this data?

Forth, get a good cookie manager program. Sometimes you do want cookies and sometimes you don't. The options in all of the browsers simply do not give you enough control, so you need a cookie manager to get that control.

You may also want to look at ad blocking software. The product I recommend is Norton Internet Security 2000 (check out the cookie article above for more information).

We are planning on writing several more articles on internet privacy over the next few months. This is an important issue and it is only going to get worse and more complicated as time goes on.