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Get your visitors to voluntarily give you their contact information

by Keith Thirgood

If you listen to a group of website designers and developers you will notice a sound coming from them that sounds suspiciously like a Mantra. "Content is king. Content is king."

If you believe what they pitch, all you need to do to succeed is to find a way to make your website "sticky". The idea is that your visitors will not be able to resist coming back, over and over, until they buy.

It's a great theory. But a little observation combined with a little knowledge of human behaviour puts the lie to their nice little theory. Look at your own behaviour. How many websites have you bookmarked in your browser? I have over 500.

Of these, how many do you remember why you bookmarked them? I know with my own, I'm lucky if I can remember 50% of them. And of the sites I do remember, I only regularly visit 5 or 10 sites. That's 5 or 10 sites out of 500. Those other sites were all "sticky" too. What happened to them?

Real life is what happened. Your target market doesn't have the time to revisit all of the sites that interest them. So what happens to the "sticky" site you've invested so much time making so? It gets forgotten by all those people who should be your clients.

There's a simple way to remedy the situation. Capture your visitors' e-mail address so that you can keep up a regular dialogue with them.

Now you have two questions: How do I capture my visitors' addresses, and what do I send them?

The answer to the first is found via the answer to the second. Offer them something they'll value, on a continual basis. This newsletter you are reading is an example of one of the most common items you can offer. People are on the Web searching for valuable information. If you offer to deliver it to them on a regular basis, many of your visitors will volunteer their contact information.

Newsletters work well for products and services that have depth and dimension to them. I could write on marketing issues for years and not risk running out of things to say. Nor do I put my business at risk by "giving away the store."

The drawback to producing a newsletter is that you must commit time to writing it on a regular basis. This proves to be difficult for many people. Some go to sites that offer free content for newsletters. Others hire professional writers to write or edit their material for them.

The advantage of the content sites is that their product is generally either free or very low cost. The disadvantage is that the content may not fit your market's needs.

The advantage of hiring professionals (Like Capstone: shameless plug) is that their material can be sharply focused on your target's needs. The disadvantage is they cost more.

Newsletters are not the only tool. Some businesses might find contests appropriate. Every month a contest form is e-mailed out to participants with a link back to the server for prospects to register their entry. This sort of contact tool can grow a database rapidly, depending upon the prizes and the target audience.

Periodic "special reports" can be offered. Contact is less frequent than with a newsletter, but the need to keep a regular schedule is diminished.

Another tool may be periodic "industry alert" or "industry news" bulletins. These don't demand the writing skills of newsletter producers, however they do require you to be up-to-date with the latest developments in your industry. (Or your target market's industry.) An e-mail alert can be simply formatted and consist of mostly bullet points, interspersed with comments.

Or for certain industries and businesses, people will sign up simply to receive notice of your latest special. I receive e-mail announcements from about 15 different companies whom I've given permission to send me their sale announcements. (But don't abuse your prospects using this privilege. You'd better send them *real* sales announcements, not just sales material.)

One of the beauties of regular e-mail contact is that it all can be automated! Through the appropriate use of autoresponders and listservers, your effort is reduced to just creating the e-mail that's to be sent. Maintenance is handled by the software.

You can set these systems up yourself, although it's often easier and more successful to have professionals (shameless plug #2) do this. There are some services out there, offering free listservers and autoresponders, but you pay for them by allowing other peoples' advertisements on your e-mail. For a professional business, this is not a very good option.

Some ISPs provide listservers and autoresponders as part of their basic business service. (Our own ISP provides these for free.) Most other ISPs charge extra for these items, or don't carry them at all and expect you to buy your own.

Keeping in regular touch with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of your prospects is good marketing in my books. If you want to make your web presence more effective, there are few things you can do that will return so much on such a small investment.

Article by Keith Thirgood, Creative Director Capstone Communications Group

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