Image

Quick … describe your Website. If you said something such as, “It’s basically an electronic version of our old paper brochure,” you’re overlooking a valuable resource. The Internet will continue to grow as an information and marketing vehicle, making it increasingly important to generate repeat visits to your site.

To build traffic, you might start by determining what kinds of additions will best attract your target audience. You might first consider in-house extras. If your home page isn’t already linked to your registration system, make sure it is — and consider bonuses such as e-coupons and online contests.

Other simple attention-grabbers include blogs, videos and the host of free Web applications, or “apps,” now available in cyberspace.

Following is a closer look at these tools and how to use them, but first a word of caution: Before making any changes, unless you have complete control over your Website, be sure to understand all your organization’s policies.

Free apps

To access the multitude of free Web apps, simply start Googling. At google.com/gadgets, you’ll find a variety of interesting tools, from weather displays to cartoons.

Another place to start is TheFreeSite.com, a roundup of free applications and Web services such a polls, trackers, counters and forms. Other sites to consider are:

  • StatCounter.com: Curious about your Web traffic? This counter tracks how many page loads, unique visitors and returning visitors come through your site in real time. Users can generate reports for daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly statistics. The counter itself can either be visible on your Web page or hidden from view.
  • Polldaddy.com: Most site visitors are happy to answer an online poll and sneak a peek at the results. With Polldaddy.com, you can customize your own surveys and  the reporting tool gives real-time results.
  • Localendar.com: Users of this customizable calendar feature can merge multiple calendars, share an office calendar, or use the calendar to plan or announce events.
  • Bravenet.com: This site offers free Web tools, including message forums, photo albums and guest books. It also features free tutorials, trials and other downloads.
  • WeatherSquare.com: This decorative box displays local weather. Simply provide your ZIP code and choose background colors, and the site will generate the HTML code you need to add WeatherSquare to your site.

These free gadgets are all great, but remember, not all will be appropriate. Choose professional looking, audience-focused add-ons that match the tone of your site, and be sparing. You don’t want to bury your main message in freebie fluff.

Also, read the terms of use before integrating a free feature. Some sites offset costs by placing non-negotiable banner ads on your Website.

Blogging

Another way to build Web traffic is blogging. Blogs (short for Web logs) are one of the most powerful Web-marketing tools available, says Denise Wakeman, online marketing adviser and co-founder of The Blog Squad, a Los Angeles-based resource offering tips and tools to build businesses online.

Blogs can be a great tool for spreading information about a facility and gauging customer perceptions, says Judith Leblein Josephs, founder and president of Judith Leblein Josephs Enterprises, LLC, in Wayne, N.J.

Another attractive feature of blogs is their ability to leverage search engines, Wakeman says.

Before you get started, note that blogs aren’t an option for all facilities. According to some experts, aquatics operators who run municipal pools may not be permitted to start one, due to the nature of public information laws.

If you’re ready to create a blog, here are some tips.

  • Go professional. In choosing a blogging application, Wakeman recommends platforms geared toward professionals, such as WordPress.com or TypePad.com. She also recommends do-it-yourself training programs on blog setup, and suggests that it’s important to make the blog consistent with the look and feel of your existing Website.
  • Create an editorial calendar. Make time to update your blog two or three times per week and develop a content publishing plan. For example, you may want to choose a different theme for each day, Wakeman suggests.
  • Be brief — but not too brief. When it comes to word count, there are no rules, Wakeman notes. “In general, people look at 200 to 300 words,” she says. “But occasionally, a long post is good if you really need to go into some depth on a subject.”
  • Build relationships with readers. Once it’s up and running, develop a following by promoting your Blog via a link on your Website and a link on all marketing materials. When you post, choose informative topics that will help educate your readers. “It’s about building relationships with your readers; it’s an incremental growth strategy,” Wakeman says.
  • Write what you know and focus on education. You may be surprised by all the material you can get from everyday interactions with patrons. Note frequently asked questions and rare requests, and consider writing up the answers for a future post.
  • Allow comments. Go with the most open comment setting, even if this means that not all comments will be positive. “Sometimes negative feedback is good feedback to get,” Wakeman says. “It allows you to state your position, engage with the person and build a relationship with that person. If you have commenting turned off or moderated, that’s setting up barriers from people participating with you.”
  • Enable readers to subscribe to your blog. Consider subscription services such as FeedBurner.com or FeedBlitz.com, which send e-mail updates whenever you post. “If you give them a way to subscribe, they’re going to come back,” Wakeman says of readers. Additionally, these services also build an e-mail database, which is a valuable marketing tool.

Video

Like blogs, online videos and photo slide shows continue to grow in popularity. They help draw viewer attention, says Jennifer O’Meara, head of content and social networking at the Web Video Marketing Council in Dover, Mass.

Today’s digital technology is more accessible and affordable than ever, meaning anyone can inexpensively create their own professional audio/visual content.

Before you start adding multimedia content, consider the following tips.

  • Aim to entertain. When adding video to your Web site, experts say choose subject matter carefully and complement images with appropriate text. Also, use a “viewer-agnostic” platform so everyone can access your content, regardless of Web browser or operating system.
  • Keep it short and sweet. O’Meara says 30 to 45 seconds of video is ideal; for slide shows, images should change every five to 10 seconds. “You want to keep your audience’s attention span in mind,” she adds.
  • Show off your media mentions. Don’t be shy about showcasing media content that features your operation. Ric Reineke’s Virginia Beach, Va.-based company, The Pool Guyz, has been featured on several popular cable television programs.

“[Visitors] can get a behind-the-scenes look at what we do on national TV,” Reineke says. “That helps our credibility.”

For material already online, establish a simple link or embed it directly on your site.

• Get permission. If you decide to use music (or photos taken by someone other than you or a staff member), make sure you have the rights. If your content includes human subjects, you may want to have them sign a release before posting their images online. If you’re unsure about what you need, speak with your agency’s legal counsel.