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Not So Obvious Ways to Get People to Your Web Site


You know all of the standard things you can do to get people to visit your site. The standard advice is to get listed on Yahoo (good luck - I've been trying for 6 months and I know people who have been trying for years!), add your site to the top search engines and start up a link exchange program. But there are many more, not so obvious ways to get people to take a look at what you've done.

One obvious but often overlooked thing to do is simply to ask people to visit your site. Tell your friends, family and co-workers to stop by.

Signing guestbooks can generate a lot of traffic. Be sure you are not just posting an advertisement (that's tacky). Look at the person's site then give him a few nice comments. Finish up by inviting him to your site! I've found 9 times out of 10 the person will visit and may even leave a guestbook entry of his own.

Another thing to do is post to message boards. Be careful not to SPAM - just post honest comments and such. Most message boards allow you to "register" and create a profile with a home page. I've found that this is more than enough, along with some postings, to get people to my site. It seems that if people like what I have to say they take the time to find out who I am by looking at my profile.

Of course you should always have a newsletter of some kind. This is important to get people back to your site.

Running an awards program can be very fruitful. I believe awards programs are extremely useful as a peer review of web sites, and they also are powerful traffic generators. While reviewing sites that request awards you can also leave guestbook entries, which may lead to further traffic. Be sure to invite each person who signs up for an award to join your newsletter (don't add them automatically).

Getting listed on the thousands of smaller search engines can also generate some traffic. People do use these occasionally. Be sure not to overlook the specialty directories, business listings and so forth. All of these are used by people when they need something more specific than the major search engines can easily provide.

Writing short articles for other websites can also be very fruitful. One way to do this is to leave a guestbook entry for a webmaster asking if he's interested in an article.

Newsgroup posting with an appropriate signature line can be very fruitful also. However, strong caution here: I've heard rumors that some newsgroups are filtering for pay-to-surf and MLM programs and sending spam reports automatically if found. My humble opinion is it's fine to include your own site address in your signature, but it's really tacky to include advertising of any kind. Put that on your web site where it belongs and don't clutter up the newsgroups.

Speaking of signatures, all of your emails should also end with the address of your web site. I would include the same caution here: don't include advertising of any kind. The way I look at this is simple. I don't end off a personal letter to a friend with an ad, so why would I end a newsgroup posting or an email message with one?

Some things I've found that definitely don't work well: banner exchange programs (pitiful return here), paid banner programs (almost totally useless waste of money) and FFA pages (worthless, in my humble opinion).

And a few dangerous things to do: SPAM of any sort and using "tricks" on your web pages to fool search engines into giving you a higher ranking. These may have a short-term payoff, but I've seen many ISP's canceling accounts lately, and quite a few people have lost their pay-to-surf money by a few minutes of carelessly sent out emails.

Using Newsgroups to Your Advantage

Newsgroups are a great way to communicate with dozens or thousands or even millions of other people at a time. They are very popular (as evidenced by over 80,000 newsgroups and more being created all of the time) and are exceptionally easy to use.


The really cool thing about newsgroups is that you can communicate with just about anyone about any subject. Some newsgroups are completely useless because of spam, and others are made useless by hostile users. It's quite common for a very active newsgroup to suddenly become dormant, then start up again.

The key to having a successful newsgroup is having one or more people interested in posting to the newsgroup on a regular basis. Other newsgroups just contain junk and are avoided like the plague.

The thing that can destroy a newsgroup fast is spam. Man, I've watched many newsgroups go straight into the toilets due to some idiots without a clue posting vile spam to newsgroup after newsgroup. It may be cool to post an ad or two when it's on-topic (check the charter and FAQ first, though), but going beyond that is not acceptable.

So how does one begin using newsgroups? Well, each newsgroup has a culture all to its own, and the rules for each newsgroup are different and unique. Sometimes a newsgroup is rancorous and irritable about certain subjects. Others are happy and lighthearted.

The first thing you want to do it just read posts for a few days or weeks (depending upon the size of the newsgroup) to get a feel for it. See if you can find the FAQ or Tips or something like that. Generally, if a newsgroup has an FAQ it will be posted occasionally. If you don't see it after a few weeks you can ask the newsgroup where to find it.

Probably the most important rule is to stay on topic. If the newsgroup is about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, don't post about the World Wrestling Federation, unless, of course, you are trying to set up a match between Buffy and Austin (grin). Don't post in HTML format. This annoys just about everyone. And please don't create HTML signatures either.

Oh yes, and if you post binary files, please, please, please run your virus checking program before you post. Nothing will annoy people faster than someone who posts (accidentally or otherwise) viruses to a newsgroup.

When you post a follow up message, you should quote enough of the original message to orient your readers. You generally do not need to include the entire original message - it's perfectly okay to delete large parts of it.

Some people prefer putting your follow up remarks at the bottom of the message. I prefer putting them at the top - it's really up to you.

Don't flame. I know it's incredibly tempting to call that guy a moron and a few other choice words, but please refrain. You will only start some useless posts which benefit no one. And, again, don't spam. Believe me, everyone who frequents newsgroups has seen more pornographic spam then they want, and your pay-to-surf program, while exciting to you, is definitely old, unwelcome news. Remember, people who spam to the wrong places tend to get their internet accounts canceled, their pay-to-surf dollars confiscated and their web pages deleted.

Links to You

I found another great resource a few months back. It's called Links 2 You and it does exactly that. By adding your site to the list, you get lots and lots of links back to your site.

So what, you ask? Well, some search engines improve your ranking depending upon how many links there are back to your site. This is good because it means you are more likely to show up close to the top of a search, which means your site may be visited more often.

What Links To You does is create a series of pages which contain links to all of the sites who have signed up for the service. You download these pages to your site and include a link to them. Now when your site is spidered by the search engines the links to all of the other sites get recorded.

Since every other site in the list is doing the same thing, what happens is you wind up getting a whole lot of links back to your site very quickly.

It's easy and I think it's pretty cool.

Create Ribbons and Other Cool Graphics in Seconds

If you've been surfing for any length of time, you've seen ribbons all over the web. Many sites seem to support causes of all kinds, and they often show their support with a ribbon. You know what I mean, a POW ribbon or a Support your Friend ribbon or whatever.
create ribbons graphics

Now if you've ever tried to create one of these by hand in your favorite graphics editor you know the simple ribbon can take hours to get right. You want the twists just so, and the shadows perfect. After all, it's for a good cause, right, so it's got to be perfect.

Well, now there is a better way to get those ribbons. You can visit the Matic Central site (http://www.webgurus.com/matic/index.html) and create beautiful ribbons in seconds! This is one of those applications that is so cool, so neat, that you can easily go wild. And why not? Create lots and lots of ribbons supporting every cause you can think of!

If you don't like or are fed up with ribbons, how about taking your pick of dozens of other icons? You can create balloons (like the one's in cartoons with the words in them), religious symbols, astrological signs, smiley's, and many other shapes with your own custom text.

Here are your various options.

Ribbon-O-Matic (http://www.webgurus.com/ribbon-o-matic.html) - You like all those ribbons that you've seen on web sites all over the net? Here is a really cool on-line utility which lets you create them fast and easily.

Icon-O-Matic (http://www.webgurus.com/iconomatic/index.html) - Tired of ribbons? Try Icon-o-matic and create your own icons with your own text!

Gallery (http://www.webgurus.com/gallery/index.html) - Look at and use tens of thousands of icons and ribbons created by others!

Get Certified

In the newsgroups, in lunchrooms, on the web and in discussion lists - when you get a bunch of computer people together the topic often turns to education. Some people (those with the appropriately named BS's) will tell you it is all important. Others will say it's not. Someone will eventually pipe up and say, well, why not get certified? Sometimes he will get a blank stare, sometimes he will be shouted down, and usually he will just be ignored.
Our's is a strange field, because you can have some seventeen year old kid still in high school making 80 thousand a year as a consultant because he's just that good at assembly language progamming. And yet the guy with the bachelor's degree is only making 50 thousand. Go figure.

However, in our careers in the computer field, most of us are faced at one time or another with a tough decision. Do we further our education? And if so, what's the best way to do that? One difficulty is that most competent computer people are so damn busy that they don't even have time to sleep right, much less go back to school. Actually, many of us got into computers in the first place because we hated school. Working on a computer program or designing a web site was an escape from that hated hell hole called college (at least that's the way it was with me).

Well, if you put the emotion aside and think rationally, it's really not a difficult question to answer. I know that I still blame most of my problems on my high school and college professors, but that's really not relevant, is it? What's important is the fact that the computer industry is moving so fast that the technology changes totally every two or three years. And that's astounding when you think that accounting hasn't changed in concept in thousands of years! Medicine moves at a snails pace compared to the standard release schedule of new processors from Intel. Even though the 40 million lines of code in Windows 2000 seemed to never get finished, that's minor compared with the decades of research and testing that need to go into the release of each and every drug!

It's this speed that makes further education not only important, but absolutely critical. Yeah, you might be the most incredible Fortran programmer in the world today, but in a year Fortran might be totally replaced by something else. I've seen this happen over and over and over. Excellent people making incredible salaries find themselves having difficulty getting jobs because their skills are no longer needed ... or are so outdated that nobody does that anymore.

But wait a minute ... college takes years and years. I mean people spend five or six or even seven years just going through college! And that's full time! How can a professional who has to earn a living fifty hours a week or more find time to go to college???

There's another factor involved in all of this, and that's the employer. Think about it. Let's say you are a manager and you've just put out an ad for a new senior system manager position, Windows NT experience needed, and so on. After you get back the hundred or so resumes, how do you determine who is best qualified? You could try references, but if you've done that you know how hard it is, with lawsuits and all, to get any information out of previous employers. And you could look at the work that the person has done, but you can be sure he's picked his best work, not his normal quality. Anyway, that helps a little with programming and HTML coding jobs, but what about that system manager position? How do you look at his previous work?

You could ask lots of questions about technical stuff, and you could have your technical people interview the person. But still, it's difficult to come up with the right questions during an interview, and it's only an hour long anyway. What do you look at? How is a manager to know?

Ah, there is an answer, and that's called certification! If you are a system manager you could get an MCSE, which basically indicates that you know how to manage a set of Microsoft products and you've proven it by passing some tests. You could go even further and get your MCSE+I, which translates to "you are one of the elite". An active Microsoft Certification like this means you are current in the technology as you must keep testing year after year on new products in order to keep your certification.

If you add to that some broader certifications such as Hycurve, CIW, A+ and Network+, you've got your well-rounded computer or internet education.

But what about those people who say "Any jerk with $500 can get a CNE, with little effort. The only people who have problems with those tests are managers and old Fortran programmers." Well, what can you say? Personally, I wouldn't even bother to debate with these guys, as they have already made up their minds. Perhaps they are so smart that they don't need an education?

But for the rest of us, well, the certifications are difficult. To honestly pass the MCSE or MCSE+I exams is very challenging. I am an employer, and I would have tremendous instant respect for anyone who has passed the MCSE+I. This is a very tough series of exams!

Personally, as both an employee and an employer, I would heartily recommend that every technical person review his career and decide what certifications could be useful. Let's take that system manager example that I mentioned earlier. What would be the perfect mix of certifications for a Windows NT system manager?

Here's what I suggest. Start with A+ and Network+. This will give you a broader understanding of the basics of computers. Proceed to get your MCSE (or the equivilent in your area of exertise) by taking the following (these are the 4.0 exams, Windows 2000 has a different mix).
  • Windows NT Workstation or Windows 95/98
  • Windows NT Server
  • Windows NT Enterprise
  • Network Essentials
  • Microsoft Exchange
  • TCP/IP
Okay, now be sure to maintain your MCSE as current by retesting as they are released. Look at the MCSE+I and decide if that is appropriate for you. If so, then by all means do it.

Next, look at some broader certifications like CIW (Certified Internet Webmaster). These are nowhere near as difficult as the MCSE exams, and they serve to broaden you so you have more than a straight Microsoft bias. It's important to be able to understand how all of the technologies fit together ... there are other solutions that make more sense than Microsoft sometimes (or more than sometimes). You at least need to understand why you chose Microsoft verses another company so you can defend yourself.

Now what? No, you are not done if you want to be complete. You could also become certified on various products such as Adobe Acrobat and Photoshop, IBM servers, HP printers, and so on. But hold on! Wait a minute! How much does all of this cost? Well, guess what? It's not cheap ... it will take time and it will take money. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

The benefits to doing all of this are absolutely phenomenal. First of all, assuming you got through all of this honestly and actually learned the materials, you will become a very hot commodity indeed! Someone with an MCSE alone can easily expect to make 20% more than someone without it for the same position. That's just a fact about this industry. Second, your job will become easier. Believe me, it's so refreshing to ask, say, an Exchange expert about an exchange problem and get a straight answer instead of some bull or "I'll have to look at it". It's a great feeling just to know what needs to be done.

Third, if you do have to change jobs you will find it easier and you will get a higher quality position. In fact, you will probably find yourself with a choice of interviews and job offers.

And you make it very easy on your future employer. He doesn't have to guess ... he can just look at your certifications and have a pretty good idea what you are capable of.

Uh, but what about those people who just go to one of those "boot camps" or something and get the quick and dirty certification? A good interviewer can usually determine if a person knows his stuff or has just a "paper certification". If the person does get through the interview, well, a really good manager figures it out during the first 90 day breaking in period and takes advantage of it.

But, you say you are a consultant. You don't need a full-time job so why do you need to be certified? Personally, I wouldn't even talk to a consultant who didn't have solid certifications behind him. When I hire Visual Basic programming consultants, I want proof that they know something. I want to see samples of their work and I want to see their certifications. If I need an expert to fix my Exchange server, I want to see that he's at least good enough to pass the Exchange exam. If I need a webmaster, I want to see samples of his product and I want to see his certifications. After all, I'm going to pay these guys anywhere from $75 to $225 an HOUR, so they had better have gone that extra mile.

Oh but, you say, you've never had a problem getting a job, computers are trivially easy to you and besides, certifications are for sissies. The only thing I can say to you is the industry is most definitely heading towards requiring certifications from people they hire in the computer field. It really doesn't matter whether you like it or not. Of course, this does not apply if you have an "in" or "know someone" ... but will that always be true?

I'll just reiterate my advice. I am an old dog at this. I've been in the industry for 21 years now, and I've done it all. I've learned Basic, Fortran, Fortran Plus, Basic Plus, Forth, C, C++, Visual Basic, Java, HTML, Teco, assembler from a dozen machines, Bliss and even dabbled in firmware code. I've worked on the old PDP-11's (which had boot code that had to be hand-toggled into the computer each time you turned the machine on and where the operating system was loaded with paper tape), VAXes, Macintosh's and PCs. I've written device drivers, real-time water pumping systems, applications of all kinds, disk defragmenters, file recovery programs and assembly language debuggers. I've designed and written everything you can think of. I've created intranet, extranet and internet sites and written over 45 manuals of 100 pages or more in length. I've managed teams of up to 15 people and I've crawled on my hands and knees laying cables and replacing burned out boards.

My advice is spend the time, spend the money and get certified. Do it for real and honestly and learn your trade. You will never regret it.

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.

Keep Your Kids Safe

The internet is a wonderful place, but it has it's dark side. There are stalkers, pornographers, thieves and all manner of evil people lurking everywhere, just like in real life. People who want to steal your money, corrupt your morals, bend your ethics or worse, people who want to target your children.
computer using

Your kids are not safe on the internet. Not at all. Don't even think they are safe for a moment. There are dangers lurking everywhere, and if you let your kids run wild they will get hurt.

What can you do? First, get educated. Unfortunately, there are not a whole lot of books available on the subject. You MUST educate yourself for your kid's sake.

You also need to equip your computer with one of the special filters so that your children cannot venture into inappropriate areas. There are several available including Cyber Patrol and Net Nanny.

If your browser includes any built-in filters then turn them on by all means! If you use AOL, be sure to go through all of the parental controls carefully and turn off everything that might cause trouble. Also check the major search engines - many of them have the ability to turn on a "child safe" mode. If so, turn these on also.
aol logo

Most importantly, talk to your children. Explain to them what's happening and what to avoid. Let them know the dangers. Get them to tell you when undesirable things (such as pornographic spam emails) appear.

And watch them. Monitor their activities directly (by being with them and helping them surf the web) and indirectly (by checking their cookie files, browser caches and history lists). You might consider placing the computer in a common room such as the family room, or at least in a place that is visible from where you normally are at. This way you can watch over your children as they work and play on the computers.

Make sure you tell your children some simple rules, always explaining the reasons behind everything. Especially stress that they are not to give out any information about themselves to anyone on-line. This includes their name, age, phone number or anything else. Stress this over and over.

Monitor the time spent on the internet. Beware of excessive time spent on the internet by any children.

Also monitor what you children are looking at when you are not around. You can do this by checking the browser cache, examining the history folder, looking in the recycle bin and so forth.

If you are going to allow your kids to get on the internet, then this is the only responsible thing to do.