If you've decided to jump into online publishing -- putting out an online newsletter, magazine, or othercontent that will interest your customers -- you may think that designing your Web site is yourbiggest challenge. But that's the easy part. Much trickier is gathering an audience that will sustain thepublication. Here are some tips on building a loyal audience for your site.

Start Where You Are

The Internet is a surprisingly personal place. A thousand people, each with unique personal interests, canspend the same 60 minutes online together and never come close to crossing paths. It follows that the keyto Web publishing success is forging a lasting personal connection with people based on your own skills,interests, and contacts. In other words, the best place to start is with the connections you already haveonline. Then use those connections to build a community of like-minded people and keep expanding fromthere.

Your own interests and expertise are your strengths as a publisher. Study the information that is alreadyavailable in your niche, looking for gaps you can fill. Then fill the gaps with valuable information that nobodyelse provides.

Your goal should be to create unique, valuable information that meets the needs of your targeted audience.On the Internet, there are many ways to provide that information that aren't available to print publishers --for example, you can offer searchable, interactive databases and encyclopedias.

One online publisher, for example, is creating an online publication about his passion, electric vehicles(EVs). In his spare time (he's a magazine editor), he's been using his skills as a journalist to study the EVmarket, scoping out who the players are, what they have to say, and how the industry is developing. Healso travels to auto shows to test-drive new cars, combs the Internet for information about EVs, andstudies the technical literature about EV engineering and design. Now, using all of the connections he hasdeveloped and the information he has gathered, he is ready to launch EV World online(www.evworld.com).

Work Your Niche

Get to know the online habits of your prospective audience. What other sites are they likely to visit? Makea list and try to develop a relationship with each one. There are a variety of ways to do this. Your bestoptions include offering to write articles (informative and not self-serving) for other sites, or postingmessages with your Web address on their bulletin boards. Trade links and ads with other sites in yourfield, and if you can afford it, buy classified ads at related sites.

One Web publisher doubled her traffic by spending two months (and a small amount of advertising money)working through all the sites in her niche in this way. Another got similar results by hiring and supervisinga Net-savvy high school student.

Don't neglect offline ways to publicize your Web site. Send press releases and e-mails about interestingfeatures on your site to print as well as online media in your niche. List your Web address wherever youalso list yourself -- business directories, professional associations, and chambers of commerce. Speak attrade shows or conventions.

For example, Gail Egbert publishes a quarterly magazine called TheNeedleWorker and also has a Web site (www.needleworker.com). Egbert travels to half a dozen regionalcraft fairs every year and has become quite a celebrity at them. Most of her print subscriptions have comefrom these fairs, which also generate lots of Web traffic for her. Her Web visitors buy subscriptions andback issues, generating enough money to cover all of her online expenses. The small advertisingrevenue from her site is pure profit.

Work the Search Engines

Lots of people will find -- or not find -- your site by using online search engines, where they type in thewords they're searching for. You need to do a little work to make sure your site will turn up when apotential reader conducts a search. Here are three good places to go for tips on making your site stand outto search engines:

  1. Search Engine Watch is an online newsletter that offers comprehensive, practical tips about making a site that search engines can find. There are also some good links for Webmasters here.
  2. The Web Marketing & Information Commerce Center has several articles including one called "A Web Marketing Checklist: 23 Ways to Promote Your Site," by Ralph Wilson.
  3. SubmitIt is a newsletter covering the search engines and how to make a hit with them.

Use Banner Exchanges

An organized program of exchanging banner ads is a way for sites with modest traffic to break into an adrevenue business. Banner exchange programs work like this: You join an advertisers' group, called anexchange, and trade banners on your site with other exchange members. You can specify where you wantto run your banners, and the exchange takes care of all the bookkeeping. Members get detailed reportsabout when and where their ads were run so that they can measure their effectiveness. Each member makesavailable slightly more ad space than they use themselves, with the exchange selling the excess inventoryfor a small fee to other advertisers. That's how the exchanges make enough money to cover their operatingexpenses.

Search Yahoo! for the keywords "banner exchange," and you'll find more than 50 of them. Exchanges are free to join and use, making them a risk-free and sensible way to go.

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