Is Your Web Site Lost Among the Waves?

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With more than 62 million Internet Web surfers in the United States alone and an ever-proliferating number of Web sites to choose from, it's easy for a Web site to get lost in cyberspace. What can Internet marketers do to draw traffic to their sites and have Web surfers wash up on their shores on a regular basis?


Begin by thinking of your Web site as your storefront -- because that's what it is. To attract consumer attention in the virtual world, you can deploy many of the same techniques and devices used by real-world product marketing specialists. One of the best ways to be heard above the pounding surf is to break through the noise with a sweepstakes. Marketers have been using sweepstakes for years as a means of getting noticed.


<B>Why use sweepstakes?<B> Everyone loves them. It's a chance to get something for nothing, an opportunity to be a winner. Whether it's a chance to walk away with a cool million or a cool T-shirt, people want to test their luck. For marketers, a major plus in using this type of promotion is that it's a fixed-cost event. Heading into the program, you already know what you will spend on prizes, advertising and administration, with little or no variables.


The rules for sweepstakes success are largely the same for the Internet as it is for traditional goods and services with a few important differences: You need to protect yourself against individuals who may try to beat the system by setting their computers on automatic pilot to create hundreds of repetitive entries. Unauthorized site break-ins also can be a problem. The language of your sweepstakes rules can cover these contingencies -- but be careful.


It's always a good idea to consult a specialist in sweepstakes legalities and administration. Sweepstakes rules, eligibility and prizes must be spelled out clearly, thoroughly and without deception. The primary goal of a sweepstakes, whether on or off the Internet, is usually the same: Attract consumer attention. Banner ads that flag your sweepstakes are a great way to direct surfers to your site. But, how well do online sweepstakes actually work?


<B>Ask AT&T WorldNet Service.<B> For Internet provider AT&T WorldNet Service, its "Come to Your Senses" sweepstakes became a valuable acquisition tool. Not only has it helped attract new customers, it has served as a means of rewarding and securing customers who might otherwise have had a tendency to be fickle in their loyalty. The sweepstakes promotion resulted in nearly 70,000 new subscribers. The sweepstakes site (www.worldnetnow.net) received more than 4.2 million sweepstakes entries. Moreover, retention was greatly improved.


"Come to Your Senses" used a treasure hunt game board concept that was challenging, fun and, for many, rewarding. As players found treasures, they earned entries into the year-long sweepstakes, qualifying them for sensational quarterly and grand prizes that appealed to the senses. Imagine winning a complete home theater system, fine dining in Paris, a week of luxury at a spa in Bali or a chance to see the world from behind the wheel of your own BMW.


In addition to becoming a leading acquisition tool, the sweepstakes opened up a number of opportunities to gain strategic partners. One of the features of the sweepstakes was an instant winner game where players were literally spun off via hyperlink to sponsor sites. At the sponsor site, players would search for the WorldNet sweepstakes logo and click on it to return to the instant winner game where they would learn if they were one of the lucky winners. Sponsors enjoyed increased traffic to their sites, and in return provided a number of their products as prizes. It was an all-around, win-win situation.


Online sweepstakes can use complex, interactive game boards and cutting-edge graphics, or they can be simple, scratch-and-win or match-and-win games -- or, as in the case of AT&T WorldNet's "Lucky E-mail" sweepstakes, they can be as easy as reading your e-mail.


The objective of the "Lucky E-mail" sweepstakes was simply to get customers into the habit of using their e-mail. Each day, customers checked to see if they had received a "lucky e-mail" message saying that they had won a prize. Claiming a prize was easy, too -- just e-mail a response within 72 hours. The result was an immediate bump in e-mail usage among AT&T WorldNet Service customers. The promotion worked so well that the sweepstakes was repeated.


<B>Playing by the rules.<B> If you decide that an online sweepstakes may be the right promotional device to draw consumers to your site, be careful to avoid the pitfalls. Remember you have to comply with all state and federal statutes with regard to sweepstakes -- some states require registration and some require surety bonds in addition to registrations. Furthermore, you cannot require any form of compensation or consideration to enter -- therefore, be sure to provide an alternate means of entry. Write the rules carefully. This is critical. The rules are the cornerstone of a problem-free sweepstakes, contest or game.


While you'll want to gain attention to advertise your sweepstakes using banner ads, also be sure to post news about your site and your sweepstakes at select news groups. There are thousands from which to choose. However, be careful to avoid spamming or blatant unsolicited advertising. Instead, listen to the topics being discussed at the site and share pertinent information, tips and topical news.


Some more tips about sweepstakes: Keep the mechanics of entering simple and straightforward. Don't use misleading hyperbole, exaggerate or deceive participants. Tailor the theme so that it reinforces the main selling points of your product or service, and choose prizes that will appeal to your target audience. Make sure to award prizes promptly -- that keeps the winners talking up the promotion and avoids any negative press.


While you're at it, why not capitalize on the ability of a sweepstakes to gather data? After all, online entrants are your actual, virtual or prospective customers. Here's your chance to find out who they are, how valuable they are to you, what their buying patterns are, what they buy and how to reach them. A simple survey, part of an entry qualification, can be designed to help you collect information that can increase your business.


The sweepstakes, a proven technique for achieving very specific goals, is truly coming into its own on the Internet. Used properly, it's a fantastic, flexible, fixed-cost promotion that can attract Web surfers to your site and stimulate product/service awareness.


<I>Don Jagoda is the president of Don Jagoda Associates Inc., Melville, NY. He can be contacted at djagoda@netprofits.dja.com. <I>
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