Give Reasons to Visit Your Web Site

I was driving down Main Street USA recently when I glanced at a Papa John’s pizza shop sign. Below the deals on pizzas was a common sight these days – the company’s corporate Web address.

The Web address stood alone; passers-by were given no reason to visit the site. Instead, the black letters adorned the bottom of the white sign as though they possessed some mystical power simply by being there.

This highlights a myth widely held among companies ranging from Fortune 500s to the corner dry cleaner: “If you publish it, they will come.” Just slap your address everywhere and you’ll get visitors, conventional wisdom seems to hold. But if you do not give consumers a reason to visit your site, they will not come.

Web traffic 101. The tactic for pulling in site visitors is simple: Traditional media and advertising must promote sites effectively, and by effectively I mean providing a hook. Companies should continue to mention their Web addresses every chance they get, using every communication vehicle at their disposal. But instead of simply mentioning these addresses, companies need only pop their addresses in the middle of this simple formula: “visit our site at to” – and then provide a reason.

You do not have to offer free diamonds or weekend stays in the Lincoln Bedroom; just give consumers a reason to take three minutes to boot up their computers, listen to that weird connecting noise and type in your address. Three minutes is, after all, a lot to ask for in our world of instant gratification.

The package of an organic juice drink I bought recently prominently displayed a Web address but offered no reason why consumers should visit the site. If the package prompted consumers to log on and learn more about the vegetarian lifestyle or access free, healthy recipes or even just learn more about a unique company, the juice outfit would be converting one-time buyers into regular users. (What did the site offer? Don’t know – the address was invalid!)

A popular local radio station runs a commercial with this message: “Going on the Internet today? Visit our Web site while you’re online.” What, no offer for free tickets or T-shirts or a chance to learn more about on-air personalities and thus form a tighter bond with the station? It’s sad to see all that valuable air time wasted.

Political races aren’t immune to poor advertising. Political signs dotted the landscape once again this past election season, and one Ohio candidate invested in hundreds of signs listing only his name and a Web address. There was no mention of party affiliation, no hint as to the office for which he was running. That’s either pure arrogance or ignorance; his campaign apparently bought into the myth that simply posting a Web address is effective and even hip.

Or take the rum giant Bacardi, which recently launched a TV commercial touting its new light rum. The ad depicts twentysomethings out for a good time, and the bottom of the screen flashes a Web address. Of course, consumers are given no reason to visit the site. This is a particularly confusing marketing tactic. How many club hoppers first stop to research liquor online before hitting the state store? The site, by the way, offered a great-sounding trip to Mardi Gras. Unfortunately, a host of drunk party people will never know this.

Many companies are using traditional media effectively to draw traffic to their sites. Nike is particularly adept at this marketing art form; the tennis shoes giant recently ran ads featuring famous athletes involved in bizarre adventures. The commercials built suspense before ending abruptly, and viewers were encouraged to visit Nike’s site for the rest of the story.

Diet company Nutri/System airs TV commercials inviting customers to visit for product discounts and free menu plans. Ameritrade is running clever TV ads depicting two businessmen in an airport. One fellow leans over and, with a few simple clicks, calls up Ameritrade’s site. Viewers actually see the site, enforcing a message of ease-of-use and convenience at the same time. And Sprite is airing radio commercials touting a contest and urging consumers to log on and sign up. (Unfortunately, the site is confusing, as is the contest.)

Consumers are becoming much more discerning about the products they use, and the Web is the perfect place to supply consumers with the answers they demand. Web sites offer a perfect opportunity for one-on-one marketing. All of these are great tools for building and maintaining strong relationships with customers; thus the importance of generating site traffic.

By the way, guess what Papa John’s has to offer on its site? Online ordering, for one thing. Plus career and franchise opportunities, nutritional information, discounts and community relations information. But the pizza fans in my neighborhood will never know.

A good hook will get traffic to your site – once. Here are tips to keep consumers coming back for more:

• Don’t bring traffic to your site until it is perfect.

• Whatever your site does, do it better than your competition.

• Tell the visitor what you do on your home page in clear, simple language.

• Don’t punish visitors with a lot of banner ads or long forms to fill out.

• Make your address easy to remember – don’t mix numbers and letters if you can help it.

• Provide solid content and links to related sites.

• Consider an employment center. Software allows for custom centers at no charge.

• Never bury contact information, and when contacted by a customer, reply quickly.

• Speak in the vernacular of the people, not stuffy corporate speak.

• Foster a sense of community through discussion groups and e-mail newsletters.

• If using rich media and heavy graphics, use software to keep download times fast.

• Encourage bookmarking.

• Provide volumes of information, and guide visitors easily through it.

• Vince Bank is director of Internet branding and public relations at Top Echelon, Canton, OH.

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