To run a successful business you have to learn how to advertise your website. And because time proved that there are some very effective methods to advertise a website with little or no cost, they are the ones that I'll talk to you about.

The down side is that they usually take time. But if you really don't have money to spend for getting visitors and you're not in a big hurry to get them, the methods presented here are exactly what you need!

1. An affiliate (or referral) program

Note: This method is suited for websites that sell (a product or more). If you are an affiliate yourself, in most cases your sub-affiliates are tracked anyway.

Now lets get to the subject. There are different methods to reward your affiliates. You can choose to "pay per click", usually well under 0.10$ for every single visitor that an affiliate directs to your website, or to "pay per lead", which means that if the visitor subscribes to your newsletter or registers in a certain way at your website, you'll pay the referrer a fixed amount of money, or to "pay per sale", which means that you will pay the referrer either a percent of the amount of the sale or a fixed amount of money (usually US dollars).

The "pay per click" method is risky and I don't recommend using it, at least until you know exactly how much a visitor is worth for you. To come up with the real value of a visitor, divide the profit that you have to the total number of visitors.

The "pay per lead" is a better choice because you can estimate for example, how much revenue you could have by selling advertising space in your newsletter. Usually you can easily get 5$ to include one ad into your newsletter for every 1000 subscribers that you have. However, you can never be sure of your total revenue, because you don't know how many advertisers will ask for your services. So this is still a risky method.

The "pay per sale" program is the safest program. Because you will pay for actual sales only, the affiliates will know for sure that you have the money to pay them.

There is however a tough question: how much of your revenue should you share with your affiliates?

If your product costs 50$ to make and you sell it for 100$ then you could offer anywhere from 0 to 50% of your sale revenue. 0%? - no one will affiliate with you, of course. 50% - what's in it for you? 15%-25% is usually a good offer.

If you sell informational products you can sweeten the pot even more. Since the marginal cost of the product is near zero, you can offer a lot more money to your affiliates. I don't recommend however more than 40-50% of the sale. After all, it's your product, it seems only fair to get most of the profits.

If you want your affiliates to convince other webmasters to join and advertise your product then you have to use a technique a little bit more advanced. Lets say you decide to offer 20% of the revenue to the affiliate that refers a customer. Then try to divide it like this: offer 15% for direct sells (this is not a bad offer on it's own!) and then sweeten the pot with 5% for the sales that the direct referrals of the affiliate make.

You could also offer to individually negotiate the share or to negotiate the structure of the program (with your top associates).

Used the right way, an referral or affiliate program can be the only method used to promote your site. Your affiliates will bring in more and more customers and affiliates, so your business will keep on growing.

To start an affiliate program of your own, you'll need a CGI program that will allow you to know who referred a particular customer.

There are software programs that you can buy (or even get for free), or you can use a third party that already owns such a program to do the job for you. Most of these companies will even handle the payment of the affiliates. This will increase your affiliate's trust, because most of these third party companies already have a good name. Some of them have thousands of affiliates registered in their database and most of these webmasters are always looking for new opportunities.

Although there are many companies out there, I think these are the best third party affiliate programs to choose from:

CommisionJunction.com - The best in my opinion. Expensive but very powerful in the same time. The setup fee exceeds 1000$ and there is a yearly fee too (about 600$). If you have this kind of money, and if you offer good products with a great referral bonus, you might never need to change the company that handles your affiliate program ever again!

Directleads.com - a good and rather old company. Visit their site and if they sound good to you, use them to manage your affiliate program. 

Clickxchange.com - it is very popular in the area of small to medium businesses.

The other method is to buy a piece of software to do this job for you. There are advantages and disadvantages about this particular method. One advantage is that you'll be on your own. You will be the master of your business. Another one is that you'll pay only once for the software, and that will be it. No recurring bills.

But there are many disadvantages. The first is that the a webmaster has no reason to trust you. And to convince anyone to join your affiliate program you have to really gain his trust, because there is no way to prove that you'll actually pay him. And establishing trust is particularly difficult to achieve if you're just starting your business.

However, if you'd use one of the other options that you have to setup an affiliate program (one that we already spoke about - third party company that handle the affiliate program for you - and another one that we'll take care of later on), the people will have reasons to trust your program a lot more, because of the size and the respectability of the companies that actually handle the program.

Also, if you are on your own, you'll have to pay your partners (affiliates) by yourself. And to take care of numerous bills every month is not an easy task. Writing the checks can take you precious time. Thus, my recommendation is to use a respectable third party company to run your affiliate program.

List Your Site with Overture and appear on the top of search results of leading sites like Yahoo!, Lycos and MSN

The easiest and most trustworthy method to setup an affiliate program for your business (from an affiliate's point of view) is to use a third party payment processing company that offers to run your affiliate program completely. You can find a list of such companies at my "third party credit card processors" page.

An unknown affiliate program will not do you much good. You have to spread the word about it. And you can do that in two ways. One is the 5th method to advertise your website. The other one I'll explain now, in two simple words: Affiliate directories! If you never heard of them by now, then be glad you found out about them now!

Please, let me explain you a little bit about them. They are kind of like a search engine (an index actually) specialized in affiliate programs. Some are Yahoo like: they accept your application only after they review your site and your affiliate program.

There are two methods to submit your affiliate program to these directories. The first is to do it by hand. It may take longer, but the job will be done the way you want it to be done. Where to submit your site? Here are the best affiliate directories that I've found. Please note that they are not listed in the any special order, and the numbers are used so that you can see how many they are, not how good they are.

  1. associateprograms.com
  2. associate-it.com
  3. affiliatesdirectory.com
  4. cashpile.com
  5. refer-it.com
  6. affiliatepromote.com
  7. becomeanaffiliate.com
  8. clickslink.com
  9. wesubmit.com
  10. 2-tier.com
  11. affiliateworld.com
  12. adbility.com
  13. affiliateguide.com
  1. makemoneynow.com
  2. associatecash.com
  3. affiliatefind.com
  4. affiliatefirst.com
  5. associatesearch.com
  6. freecoolcash.com
  7. free-affiliate-programs.com
  8. revenuemakers.com
  9. startearning.com
  10. sponsordirectory.com
  11. webmaster-programs.com
  12. affiliateadvisor.com
  13. clickquick.com

The other method that I was talking about, is to use an auto submission tool. The most popular is Affiliate-announce. Affiliate-announce will get your program listed in such directories. They handle all the work on getting your affiliate program listed in those directories, saving you time to concentrate on other matters. At least that's what they say... :o)

By using their service you will also get your site listed in some special directories that accept only affiliate-announce's submissions.

But, if what they charge is too much for you, you can always use the list from the table above. In a few days you can submit your site to all of them. Do as you wish! However, I would submit manually. It's the only way to be certain that the best job was done. Always read the terms of use (or service) carefully so that your work will not be in vain.

A good thing about having your referral partner program listed in many these affiliate directories is that you'll have links pointing to your website and this will increase your website's popularity from a search engine's point of view. So you'll get more traffic from the search engines too...

That's it about this method to advertise your website!

List Your Site with Overture and appear on the top of search results of leading sites like Yahoo!, Lycos and MSN

2. Search engines

There's a lot to say about this subject, and although I know a few things about it, I'm still far from being an expert in this area, I will recommend you the site called selfpromotion.com. You will find there almost all there is to know about search engines and search engine positioning - and all that for free! If used the right way, the information in that site is surely comprehensive enough to guarantee remarkable results. That is if you want to do the job of ranking well in the search engines all by yourself. The use of the site is free and so is the automatic submission tool.

Another site where you can find great information about search engines is apromotionguide.com. This site is an excellent guide to advertise your website. Take a look and you'll surely be impressed.

Back to search engines... In my opinion, and in Robert Woodshead's (the man behind selfpromotion.com) too, one can never keep up with the never ending changes in the search-engines world. Just create your page with the search engines in mind (focus your page on a keyphrase) and then forget about it. Use your time to create other pages if you want more traffic. This way you will also give your visitors reasons to come back!

But, if you really want to win the search engines war and you are ready to sacrifice something for it, then sacrifice money. Hire a company that will get high rankings in search engines for your website (the top 10 is usually the target, but it isn't always possible). Such a company will tweak your pages and make sure you get what you paid for. Note however that this method is expensive and it usually asks for money every month.

Then again, if you think you can win the search engines war all by yourself, the least you can do is to stay informed. A Search Engine Watch Membership will get you access to invaluable inside information about search engines. If you don't have the money to pay that membership fee, you should still visit the site as it offers for free, lots of information. You can also subscribe to their free newsletters.

OK - OK, I know I didn't help you much with the search engines. What I can tell you though is where you should (in my opinion) get your site listed into. I will tell you this by the number of visitors my site gets from the search engines and directories.

  1. Direct requests - most of my visitors are comeback visitors. I love you guys! If there's anything you're interested in, please send me an e-mail at dan @ a-web-biz.com. I will get back to you if I know the answer. If not (yes, I don't know everything :-) I will tell you that I don't know the answer, but I will keep your question in my mind and try to find that answer in time.
  2. Google
  3. MSN
  4. Yahoo
  5. DMOZ
  6. AOL

Whatever you do, try to get into these search engines and directories. They (and your repeat visitors) will most probably amount to about 90% of the traffic you'll get.

3. Pay per click search engines

I definitely recommend this promotion method as one of the best there is if you have a business to advertise.

The PPCSEs that I can recommend as being the best are:

Yahoo! Sponsored Search. - if you list your site with them, it will appear on the top of search results of leading sites like Yahoo!, Altavista and CNN. It's not a cheap service, but for some it's the best there is.

Google Adwords - not exactly a pay per click search engine, but very similar. Your ad appears on the result pages of the Goggle search engine. You can with only $5.

MIVA - although considerably smaller than the first two it still brings considerable traffic.

You can read about this subject in a more complete manner by reading articles from the following sites:

Selfpromotion.com - The owner of the site loves this advertising method. Read what he has to say about it and you'll love it too.

Payperclicksearchengines.com - A site that aims to list and review all the pay per click search engines that exist on the web.

PayPerClickAnalyst.com - It's a great website. I think it's even better than Payperclicksearchengines.com.

Pay Per Click.info - It's a nice, very informative site where you can learn how to take advantage of powerful 'back doors' into the major search engines by listing your web site with certain pay-per-click search engines.

4. Exchange links (or banners)

Note: There's a lot of work and time involved in this method to advertise your website. There are however many advantages.

The first advantage is that it's cheap. It costs you only a few words and a link on your site or, at most, a banner. The second advantage is that it will bring you visitors from the sites that link to you. The third one is that the more links on the web point to your site, the higher your site will rank in search engines.

The hard part is that you have to find the sites, contact the owner of the site that you want to exchange links with and convince him to do this with you.

You need to search for a content related, valuable site. Link to the site and recommend the site to your visitors. Find the name of the webmaster (or of the owner) of the other website. After you've done that, and only then, approach the webmaster by sending an email.

Use his name in the e-mail. Ask kindly for an exchange of links. Be polite. Tell him the reasons that made you choose his site. Point out his benefits. Give him something for free: recommend a very useful site, or give him a free software or e-book.

There are lots of sites out there that offer free help in finding webmasters that want to exchange links. On of them is LinkLeads.com. This site lets webmasters register and post a short description of their site. The sites are divided in categories which makes it easier to find content related sites. All the webmasters who use this service want to exchange links, so you could be a little more selective about their sites. Try to exchange links only with the sites that make you proud to be related with. Good content and good design are the things that make a site great. So start learning to choose the right ones.

My advice is to ask for link exchanges only from the sites that already have lots of visitors. Otherwise the time spent is usually not worth it - unless it's a great site that could bring real value to your visitors.

Important advice: Though it might be surprising considering what I said earlier, please don't use a service specialized in links or banners exchanges like the one that I talked to you about (LinkLeads.com). (As you can see, I don't even link to their site). Use the most important search engines instead (like google.com) to find content related sites. If a site is listed high in the top search engines, it gets lots of hits for sure! So it is more likely to send you some visitors too. From my own experience I can tell you though, that even with the best search engines and the right keywords it's hard to find sites suited to your need. The ultimate method to find great sites is to use directories like dmoz.org and yahoo.com. The sites listed there are already considered as being very good. Find out some categories related to you site's theme and visit the sites in those categories. This is the safest and fastest method to use for finding valuable sites!

If you just started your site and you ask for a link exchange, to compensate for the lack of visitors, your site should be filled with valuable content or, if you run a business, you should have an affiliate program. Tell the webmaster that he can join your affiliate program and get paid too.

A small tip: create a page to list all (or only the best) websites that are affiliated with your business. Write a short description for each website. Don't be afraid that you'll lose visitors. You'll gain affiliates! Wouldn't you like to affiliate with a business that agrees to send you visitors back? You'll also help your affiliates to rank higher in the search engines, and thus bring you more traffic.

Advertise your Web site with Yahoo! Sponsored Search. Sign up and get a $25 credit into your new account. Learn more.

5. Contact webmasters and e-zines owners and ask them to join your affiliate program

Especially if you have an affiliate program that is run by a third party, this method can do wanders because, as you might already know, people love to make money. :o)

The starting point should be, as always, the search for content related sites or newsletters, to target your visitors properly. Before asking for a link, find out the name of the owner of the site. Also visit the site (or join the newsletter). Praise his work in the e-mail, but don't over do it. You must make the webmaster feel good about his site and about himself, but there must be no desperation in your words. Also tell him about your product. You may eventually give him one for free in exchange for his service. This way he will know what to say about you product. Do this only after he joins or agrees to join though, or many will join just to get the product for free. Or do it only when contacting website owners with great potential.

Offer to negotiate the terms of the affiliation (if your third party program allows customized referral partner programs). A custom designed affiliate program will make the webmaster feel special and will boost your chances to close the deal. Some people will ask for a bigger share, some for more or fewer sublevels. If you feel that the person is worth any of those (he has a nice site filled with great content and/or a high number of monthly visitors), you may choose to do as he wants. Make him happy and he'll say yes.  :o)

Point out the benefits to join your referral partner program. Make him aware of the fact that he can only win from this deal. His investment is zero and the earning potential is impressive. All he has to do is to recommend your product to his website's visitors or newsletter subscribers. If you are talking with the owner of a newsletter or e-zine, make him realize that he can get the most out of this affiliation if he sends a special email to his subscribers, to tell them that he's found a great product.

Ask him to put a personal touch to the ad - that is if he really feels that he can do this without putting a stain on his reputation. If he doesn't want to personally recommend your product, he may simply send the ad in an impersonal form. He risks nothing (and neither do you), but he gets the opportunity to earn an easy extra buck (and so do you).

Many newsletter owners sell advertising space in their publications. This is not what you're after in this case, although you can do pay for ads if you can afford it. What you want now is to convince people to run the ad for free (in exchange for a part of the profits).

Teach him how to make those special kind of pages that I'm telling you about in the rules of design chapter. Tell him about this idea in the form of a simple advice - you don't want to offend him by telling him how to run his site.

Again, the search engines and the directories are the best means to find the sites to get links from. Just fill in some keywords related to your product or business area and visit the sites that appear in the top. Check them out - if they have the content that you expected them to have (related to your product), then they are your top choices. Find out if they run a newsletter too. Get the names of the owners fast and start the e-mailing campaign.

To get an idea about the traffic of a website visit alexa.com and type the website's name to to see it's rank. You'll get a pretty good idea about it's traffic.

Search engines - Google.com, Altavista.com; directories dmoz.org, Yahoo.com; pay per click search engines Yahoo! Sponsored Search, MIVA.

A nice tool is the Webferret freeware program from ferretsoft.com. It combines the results from many search engines to give better results.

Wandering how to find e-zine owners? These sites run lists of e-zines: e-zines.com ; topica.com; Ezinestoday.com; Ezine-universe.com; bizpromo.com/ezinetrades.htm; tile.net.

6. Write e-books (you can build one by compiling old articles that you wrote) or articles and give them for free in various places. Ask webmasters to give them as bonuses or to use them to add value to their sites (by giving them for free). One condition must be imposed: the e-book should be in it's original form, and the articles must include your signature (your name and/or a link to you website, newsletter and ezine).

A good idea is to put all your free to publish articles in a directory to make them easy to find. Some will even link to that directory in their own sites. Don't forget to include your name and your website's URL in the articles!

How to make this offer more appealing? "Bribe" webmasters by offering inside the e-book a link (or more) to their own sites. The e-book will spread fast all over the net giving that webmaster free publicity.

A personal note: I think the free article strategy is more valuable because those links to your website will work in two ways: send people to your site and help your site rank higher in the search engines.

7. Participate in forum discussions and establish yourself as an expert in your field. Add your own name and a link to your website in every message posted online. These forum discussions are listed in the search engines too. Thus, as you post more and more links to your site, your own website will rank higher in most search engines. A very powerful method to advertise your website!

Perhaps you're wandering how to find such discussions. It's simple. Search for them with a search engine, or visit egroups.com and topica.com to find some faster.

8. Post banner and text ads in websites, e-zines, newsletters, e-books. You can do so in a Joint Venture or by paying for it.

General Rule: don't mention free stuff within your ads to avoid the army of freebie hunters coming to your site for nothing but that freebie. Also keep in mind that an ad has an average time of only a few seconds to capture the attention of the reader, so make them catchy.

The best way to capture the attention of the surfers is by using solo ads in newsletters (or e-zines). Especially ads that the owner of the e-zine or newsletter personally recommends. If the owner agrees to make the ad sound like a special offer for his subscribers, then many those subscribers that actually read his e-zine, will seize the opportunity. Although it's pretty expensive (100-1000$) this method works best.

You can easily find e-zine owners at bizpromo.com/ezinetrades.htm.

Track the effectiveness of every ad. If your have access to the server logs, this is rather simple; a link like this one: http://www.yourdomain.com?a7212, where the "a7212" is the code of that specific ad, will give you the ability to know what response rate has each e-zine, website, etc. Stop using those that are under average.

9. Setup a form that makes it easy for your visitors to recommend your site (or product) to their friends.

10. Offer some unique services that other webmasters will find useful. Make them easy to use.

Examples: a thought of the day; free web space; cgi-script hosting - many webmasters who use free web hosting services need someone to host their cgi scripts because their host usually doesn't; if your host gives you the right to use unlimited autoresponders you may give such a thing for free; create or ask someone to create a new and very useful software to give for free. Give any of this in exchange for a link to your website.

11. Many marketing experts claim that the most effective method to get free publicity is the press release. I've never used this, but I know some places where you can learn how to use them properly or from where you can actually send some:

12. Make yourself (your name and your website's name) known. Include your signature file along with everything you write: testimonials, messages, guest books sign-ups, reviews and compliments (to website owners or anyone else).

Signature file: A piece of text (that you can save as a file on your computer) that contains information about yourself and your business: name, a short description of your personal or business website or your company, e-mail addresses etc. Whenever you need to post that information, you can get it from your file without having to type it over and over again. It's a good idea to have more versions for your signature. Track their effectiveness! And keep them short: a headline + your name + your website's name + contact options.

Advertise your Web site with Yahoo! Sponsored Search. Sign up and get a $25 credit into your new account. Learn more.

13. Viral marketing. Even if it's listed way down here, this is the best general idea when it comes to marketing on the web.

It means that whatever you do, you should always keep in mind that the best way to attract more and more traffic to your site is to make people refer your site at no cost to you. They might talk or write about some of your articles, about your free e-books, about your products. Some people might hear about you and after they take the time to know you, your work and your products, start to recommend your business. For free!

So the idea is to make your name travel the web. A free e-book can do this very well. You give it to a friend, he gives it to his friend, the friend to his friends and so on, until everybody knows you and your website.

The same goes for your multilevel affiliate program. Because the webmaster has the opportunity to receive money for what his downline earns, he will advertise your business for his own benefit. His referrals will advertise your site, and so on. You get the idea!

Because of the miss use of multilevel affiliate programs nowadays webmasters avoid them. Two tier programs are the way to go.

14. Create a newsletter.

Give real value to your subscribers and remember them what you have to offer. You can even advertise the newsletter separately from your website by getting it listed in the e-zine directories. Use Joint Ventures to build-up your list. That means to recommend other newsletters in exchange for them recommending yours. A perfect Win-Win situation.

Make sure that you find the right newsletters. Choose those that have the content related to your newsletter's content, and find those that have about as much subscribers as yours does. If your publication has significantly fewer subscribers, most newsletters owners will not agree to trade their thank-you page with you and you'll waste time. If yours has more, then you'll give more than you receive. That's not a Win-Win situation anymore!

There is a solution if your e-zine has fewer subscribers. Let's say that you have 1000, and the other one 2000. You could run the ad three times as much as he does and thus restore the Win-Win situation.

15. Start a members-only area and provide access in exchange for links to your site.

This is it for the moment. If you feel that something is missing or you'd like to share with us a method that you use to advertise your website, please send me an e-mail at the following address:

Related articles:

E-commerce and sales letter guidelines

Using affiliate/associate programs to generate revenue

Develop a product

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Articles

1. A basic business plan
2. Finding website hosts
3. Accepting credit cards
4. Forming an LLC
4. Keyword identification
5. Finding a search engine optimization firm
6. Developing a product
7. How to create an online store
8. E-commerce and sales letter guidelines
9. Using affiliate programs
10. A bonus business idea
11. Why use WYSIWYG HTML editors
12. Web page design tips
13. How to choose a good domain name
14. Web hosting businesses
15. Starting with a hosting reseller program
16. How to advertise your website
17. The philosophy that leads to success
18. Resources
19. Glossary

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