Thursday, September 07, 2006

Driving Traffic

Let's talk about traffic. Not rush hour bumper-to-bumper traffic, but Internet traffic.

If you're an author, the more people who know who you are, the better off you are. Name recognition is essential to building a brand. The road to the bestseller lists isn't paved with people who stumble upon you while browsing in a bookstore. It's paved by people who know who you are and seek you out. There are probably dozens of books published every year. How can you get attention for yours?

One way to increase name recognition is to have a web presence. Everyone is online these days, as evidenced by the amazing success of, which has shown as that no matter your age, sex, race, or location in the world, you can still be stalked by Internet predators.

There are many ways to drive traffic to your website. Let's look at a few.

  1. Search engines. I don't recommend EVER paying to be listed on a search engine, because all of the important ones will list you for free if you have a large enough site with a decent amount of information on it, lots of links going to and from your site, and correct meta tags. There are plenty of sites who offer to list your URL on 40,000 search engines for only $9.99. That seems like a bargain, but when was the last time you used or to look anything up? Save your money.

  2. Links. Remember that old shampoo commercial, where the woman told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on? Wasn't that annoying? Why do I remember that stupid commercial from 20 years ago, but can't remember important things, like math, or the names of my children? Anyway, my point is that links do the same thing for your website. The more people who link to you, the better off you are. The secret to attracting links is to have decent content, or naked pictures of Britney Spears. Trading links also works. Just make sure you're trading links with other websites, not just trading links with yourself, which is pretty stupid.

  3. Blogs. Every week, I hear someone talk about how blogs are on the way out. And I wish that guy would shut up. The fact is, more and more people are communicating through blogs. That may mean a smaller piece of the blog pie for you, so you need to concentrate on two things: links and content. If your blog is about something more important than your favorite food (pizza) and which Simpsons character you'd most like to be (Krusty) then people will seek you out.

  4. Newsgroups and Listservs and Message Boards. Or any public forum where you meet like-minded individuals band together for trolling and occasional flame wars. The key to successfully establishing a presence on these forums is to contribute intelligent points in a polite and logical manner. But nobody does it this way. So stick with trying not to embarrass yourself, and make sure every message you leave has a link to your website.

  5. This is the Internet equivalent to passing notes in class, but with the added benefits of loud music and lots of links to pornography. I don't spend a lot of time at MySpace, by once a week I check my stats. People are visiting my MySpace page, and many of them are inviting me to be their friends. Some of my new friends even want to MIRL (meet in real life) usually near a Cash Station. It looks like this is here to stay, and it's free and only takes a few hours to set up, so you might as well give it a shot. Then invite me to be your friend, and we'll MIRL.

  6. Paper. I'm a firm believer (okay, a flabby believer) that the more pieces of paper your name is on, the better you'll succeed in publishing. Because of this, I write a lot of short stories and articles, do a lot of mass mailings, and pass out a ridiculous number of coasters and business cards. Each of these lists my website URL. It never ceases to amaze me how many authors don't have a website, or have one but don't list it on their books. You should put your URL on everything. Mine is on the bumper of my car, on every ad and flyer, and even on my checks. Every piece of mail I send out gets a rubber stamp on the back. I always mention my URL in newspaper and radio interviews, on panels, and while meeting strangers in public parks.

Remember, you're largely responsible for getting your name out there. And you should be, because after all, it is your name. To direct traffic to your site, make sure you have some interesting content that people want to read, and as many ways as possible to let the world know that your website exists.

Or you could just change your name to Nora Roberts. I'm a fan of both approaches.