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Online Partnerships

If you build a Web site and no one visits, does it still exist?

Much like trees falling in the forest, unvisited Web sites may or may not be making noise — but it doesn’t much matter, because no one’s there to hear them.

Once you recognize this, you’ll see that online marketing is just as important to the success of a Web site as the site’s design, technical features, and server speed.

It’s not enough to bring your store online and then just wait for the customers to come rolling in. You’ve got to take an active — and ongoing — role in acquiring those potential customers, by making sure they know about your site and by encouraging them to visit. One of the best ways to do that is to build partnerships with other, related sites on the Web.

Content Partnerships

Content-sharing partnerships can increase your visibility and get your content in front of more people. And, you may be able to augment the content on your own site, providing a richer experience for your own visitors and customers.

For example, if you’re selling bicycles online, why not form a partnership with an online retailer of bike clothing? You could sell their bike shorts along with your mountain bikes, or vice versa. An online travel agent specializing in bike tours would be another good choice for a content/product partnership, as would a site offering books and magazines on biking. If you want to add interesting, current content on biking to your own site, find an online biking magazine and partner with them: Their content can augment your site, and you can sell bikes through their site, sharing a percentage of the revenue with them.

One advantage of a content partnership, in addition to increased exposure, is that your site will look bigger to visitors. Providing a rich online experience is an important part of Internet retailing, and if you can’t immediately fill up your store with thousands of items and thousands of pages of content, one way to provide that experience is by “borrowing” products and content from your partners.

Done properly, partnerships like this will increase traffic on both sites. It’s sort of like buying banner ads, except that costs are minimal, and content partnerships are generally bi-directional: each site points to the other. Also, you get to share space in the desirable “content” portion of your partner’s site, rather than the oft-ignored banner ad spaces at the tops and bottoms of their pages.

Link exchanges and search engines

Of course, you don’t have to go as far as sharing content and catalog listings with your partner sites. Simple link exchanges and “webrings” have long been used among related sites to mutually boost their Web traffic. Link exchanges between related sites help attract customers who are simply browsing, following one interesting link after another. They also help snag those who are searching for something in particular. A potential customer may find one of your partner sites through a search engine, then follow a link to your own site.

A webring is simply a more organized form of link exchange, where a group of related sites band together and organize the links among themselves so that visitors can click from one to the next, eventually (if they’re patient enough) following an unbroken chain of links that encompasses the whole set of sites.

Of course, registering your site with the big search engines is an essential component of an online marketing strategy. Most savvy Internet users first turn to search engines when they’re looking for something. It’s important that your site show up near the top of the list when someone enters a relevant query.

A more sophisticated kind of partnership is possible with search engines, as well. For instance, if you enter a search for a book or author on Yahoo, you’ll see — in addition to the usual list of search results — a small box promising a list of related books at Amazon.com. Similarly, if you enter a search for a musical group, a box appears offering to sell you albums at CDNow.

Excite has partnerships with various retailers, who get top billing in Excite’s Shopping channel. If you’re a big enough site, similar partnerships are possible with Yahoo, Excite, and other search engines — and it may be well worth your while to pursue these kinds of relationships, given how critical search engines are to Web surfers.

Online marketing opportunities abound, and it’s essential that you take advantage of them with a strategic marketing plan. Otherwise, no matter how beautiful or technically advanced it is, your site will be playing to an empty house.

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