When you're starting a new business or launching a new website, building up traffic is one of the biggest hurdles you'll run into. It's especially difficult if you're on a shoestring budget, but before you spend all of your hard earned money, make sure you've tried the following:
1. Use Your Existing Connections
This tops my list as the quickest and cheapest way to bring at least a little traffic to your site. I have found that getting my friends and family to visit my site and give me feedback on it not only allows me to squash bugs, it also plants the seeds to build traffic (and clients) organically.
When I started freelancing several years ago, I made a website and waited for my inbox to explode with messages from potential clients. After receiving nothing but spam from the contact form, I told my family and classmates (at my university) about my endeavor, and within a couple of weeks I was receiving an e-mail every couple of weeks from a prospective client. Several of my clients started referring me to their friends and colleagues, which led to even more leads. While my actual website had very little traffic, the business was sustainable because of word-of-mouth marketing and real-world networking.
Last year I created a flash gaming website. If you're not familiar with the flash gaming industry, it's completely oversaturated and new sites rarely get enough traffic to become profitable. I felt I had a shot because I based my site around a social network instead of games, so I launched with high anticipation. Again I found it difficult to get traction, so I went to my friends and family. To my surprise, the site quickly spread through my friend circle, with a large number of them becoming users. My little sister spread the word to her friends at school, and within a few days my traffic doubled and continued to do so for the next several months (until my site was banned by the school networks for being too distracting).
If what you've created is truly interesting, you're bound to get a decent amount of traffic from StumbleUpon. The more people like a page, the more it gets seen, so submit a link to the most useful and interesting part of your site. If they have to figure out what they're looking at, chances are they're going to leave immediately and won't recommend the page. If you have a video demonstration or a slideshow of how your product works, try linking to that instead of something verbose.
From my past experience, StumbleUpon can produce an initial burst of traffic followed by a steady, continuous stream of visitors every day for months to come. While the bounce rate was pretty high for my site (around 70%), with larger numbers you can still retain a large volume of users.
If your site just doesn't seem to appeal to the StumbleUpon crowd initially, you can also try advertising with them, which forces more eyes on your content and increases the chance of it becoming popular.
3. Digg, Reddit, HackerNews
Both Digg and Reddit are in the top 400 websites on the net (according to Alexa) and can bring your server to it's knees if you make the front page. HackerNews doesn't have as much traffic but it does have a more intellectual userbase that can provide critical feedback on your site (and a modest bump in traffic). It is, however, getting increasingly difficult to hit the front page of these sites recently (mainly Digg and Reddit), largely due to the sheer volume of submissions at any given time. Really great content will usually manage to find it's way to the front page, however, so don't get discouraged if your initial submissions get buried in down votes.
4. Start Blogging
Find a topic related to your website/product and start blogging about it. Not only will this keep you busy, it will add value to your site in terms of SEO and bring more traffic from search engines. A great example of this can be seen with my friends at NewMediaCampaigns.com, a local web design company that started blogging and saw an incredible increase in traffic (which has undoubtedly led to more sales).
In simple terms, Twitter is like marketing magic. Send out a tweet and your message is instantly visible to all of your followers, who have the capability of retweeting it to their followers, creating a chain reaction of sorts. It's fairly easy to get a decent number of followers, just start following a ton of people and hope they have auto-follow enabled (or are kind enough to follow back). Don't make it your aim to market your product or website, keep the account mainly casual (talk about your life) or useful (link to useful resources) and build trust in your followers. Constantly reply to tweets your followers make and try to really connect with them, so when you do share your product or website, they will have every reason to check it out (and hopefully retweet!).
6. Make Your Site Really Good Looking
Making your site attractive and user-friendly will not only help you retain visitors, it will also allow you to submit your site to CSS and design showcases, sites that are equally as impressive as Digg or Reddit in terms of traffic. Spend quality time on making your design amazing (or hire a great designer) and then submit it to every CSS gallery you can find, including ones that are not as popular yet. Chances are if a couple of them pick up your site, the others will follow, and you will see a drastic increase in day-to-day traffic (usually with a big spike initially).
7. If You Sell Something, Create an Affiliate Service
Creating an attractive affiliate program is like having access to an unlimited number of salesmen who will spread your product like a wildfire. There are many people who make a living off of affiliate marketing and there are a number of sites you can post your offer to. If your product is compelling, an affiliate program (with a competitive commission) can increase your sales exponentially with zero capital investment (you only pay if your product sells).
8. Comment on Popular Blogs
This is somewhat sleazy but can work wonders if you do it correctly. Find blogs that cover the same general topic of your website and leave insightful comments with a link back to your blog. While it will help your page ranking if you place the link in your body (creating a backlink), it is generally frowned upon. Placing your address in the 'Website' field will usually suffice, and leaving enough comments every day can generate a modest amount of traffic. This one is mainly about persistence, the more comments you make the better your chances are that someone will click through to your site.
9. Create Something Unrelated But Interesting
This is not one I typically use or recommend, as it is hard to come up with something interesting, however after seeing the success people like Matthew Inman have had with this tactic, I can't help but recommend it. If you're unfamiliar with his story, he created a dating website in 66.5 hours and eventually sold it to competitor after a few months. One of his tactics to get new users and traffic was to create random quizzes and market those instead of the dating website itself. Visitors would then share the quizzes and their results (via badges) with friends. While the quizzes were completely unrelated to the dating site, they created enough buzz and new users to allow him to sell the site.
If you can come up with something interesting, quirky and fun (even if it's unrelated), this strategy is probably worth a shot!
10. Give Free Samples
If you're selling a product or service, give it away for free to people with influence. If you're a freelance web developer trying to break into the market, make a few websites for free (nonprofits are nice) or for really cheap. Ask for feedback and recommendations, then show them on your website and tell them to let their friends know about it. The key with this tactic is to build organic traffic, creating momentum from the ground up with even a small group of people.
11. Local News
The great thing about local news media is that they're always looking for stories (often desperately), so the news of a local starting an interesting and innovative new online business can often be enough to get you in a newspaper or on TV. If you're a college student, find a way to get into the school newspaper and push the fact that you're a student trying to run a business. I've had a few projects appear in local media and while the effects were only modest in terms of traffic, they helped build a lot of local connections that came in use later on.
12. Partner Up
I've saved this for last mainly because I don't have much experience with it, however I have friends who base their entire marketing plans around strategic partnerships. There are numerous reasons on why a partnership might be a good idea (creating a better product? share userbase?) and multiple ways the partnership is structured, so I won't dive too deep into this tactic here.
Marketing your website doesn't have to cost a fortune, if you're on a budget you can still manage to build a following with a little work. The key to getting any of the above tactics is persistence, stick with it and you're bound for success.
This article is a lot longer than my others - did you guys find it useful or too long? I tried to tie in my personal experiences but I'm not sure if you guys really care to hear them. Please leave some feedback if you can!