One of the biggest mistakes that online businesses make is not to put a marketing website up until after they have they have their product, service, graphics or brand launched and utterly perfected. Well, those things are important but shouldn't stop you from building your website today. It's extremely important to get your website up and running sooner rather than later — even before your product launches. Because if you have no marketing efforts in place then you have no customers and if you have no customers then you have no money — and that is a sad place to be.
If You Build it They Will Come … uh
What a load of crap! I recently had a client show me growth projections for their product after it was to launch — it showed exponential growth on day 1 and they had no marketing site up! These guys obviously didn't hit their sales projections by a long shot but once they started actively marketing they were alright. This just illustrates that there's a big misconception out there among people who haven't ever tried to promote a website that once you put a website on the Internet it is like flipping a switch and your site is immediately flooded with visitors lining up to buy your product — this is simply not true. If you think about it — there are billions of websites on the Internet, most of them clamoring for attention — why is anyone going to care about your little website when it launches?
The reality is that it takes time to build an effective website with a high volume of traffic — sometimes months, sometimes years. You have to give yourself time for the right Audience to find your site and for a community to come together on it. You have to have time to submit articles, get involved on other related sites, build reciprocal linking relationships, test landing pages, etc. You may have the greatest product, service or message in the world but if you don't get any attention then your business will fail — and despite what any so called Marketing expert tells you, it takes a rock solid plan, a lot of hard work and some money to drive traffic to your site.
I attended a seminar a few months ago where a prominent blogger talked about the success he's seen on his site. He started blogging in 2005 and before his blog hit its stride it only had about 30 visitors a day for 2 and a half years! He loved what he was talking about on his blog though and eventually it began building momentum. His blog currently sees hundreds of thousands of visitors a month and he makes his living from the community he's established. Now that is an extreme example but it shows that you need to be patient, continue to improve your site daily and find ways to promote your site on the Internet.
Don't Build a Website … Build a Community
Really, when you think about it — building a website doesn't matter nearly as much as building a community of people around you that love what your doing — or at least have strong opinions about what you're doing. This is why you want to launch a site that enables you to start the discussion with your audience.
Don't worry so much about what people will say on your site … If you launch your site using WordPress or any other CMS worth its salt you should be able to moderate any comments coming in. Trust me, I've launched sites dealing with very sensitive topics and it always amazes me how being sincere and helpful on your site can lead to some great comments when you're targeting the right audience. It has been my experience that visitors to your site won't comment on a post unless they are interested in it or are angered by it (you may have to moderate some of those) — so you won't typically get as many negative comments as you think you will starting off.
Once you have a people who are interested in your message coming to your site and interacting with each other you'll naturally see links and pingbacks coming back to your site from people talking about your site on Twitter, Digg, Forums or other websites. This kind of organic promotion is critical to your long term success — if your message is good enough for people to care about what you're doing then they will promote you, how cool is that!
Build the Community First — A Case Study
A buddy of mine is consulting with a startup who has done it right. This startup will be selling a physical product that will help keep kids safe — so they have a message that people actually care about. They are still in product development right now but rolled out their marketing site several months ago. They now have hundreds of people who have commented on their blog, thousands of people on their email list, an active affiliate program with over 2,000 affiliates and are even generating revenue on their site by accepting pre-orders for their product. The crazy thing about this company is that they just used a template for the graphics on their site (and their blog is just the WordPress default theme), haven't even established the final graphics for their logo — yet they've been generating revenue for months now — and their product won't even launch until August!
If you're waiting for your graphics to be perfect, your product to be complete, a “killer” flash piece for the front page or anything else — don't. Get your website online today and start building your community now. No website is perfect on day 1 — its virtually impossible to get the message right and make it as effective as it can be instantly. What matters when launching a website is that you are committed to making daily, incremental changes based on the data coming in from your community (analytics, comments, surveys, etc) and you'll have a killer website that actually turns a profit!