The internet of 2016 is a much more crowded place than the internet of 1999. The business quote "build it and they will come" may have been of some use back in the day, but if you build a website these days, you'd be pretty lucky to become successful without investing any effort in promotion.
Unfortunately some business owners are still under the impression that by designing a shiny website and putting it "out there", the enquiries will come flooding in. Now I have seen that happen a few times in less crowded markets, but in general you'd be well advised to come up with a strategy for promoting your website as soon as it launches.
Most of us will have to find some ways of driving traffic to our websites.
Large companies spend millions of dollars on advertising to do just that. Fortunately for small businesses, there is generally no need to spend big bucks on marketing. There are many free or low-cost promotional tools available. It does take some time to educate yourself in the field of online marketing (or hire an expert if you can afford it), but it is well worth the effort.
Some great low-cost promotional tools for a small business website include:
Social media marketing
Figure out where your target audience hangs out, and set up profiles on these social networks. You can build an audience organically with great content, e.g. on websites like Instagram. Some social networks will allow you to pay for advertising, and this is really worthwhile especially on Facebook, as it can increase your reach very quickly, in a highly targeted way and at low cost. Of course social media works a lot better for some types of businesses than others.
Nobody reads emails any more you might say, and we wouldn't want to spam anyone. Well, email marketing has been around for a long time and is therefore not exactly sexy, but it does produce results!
Email marketing has been proven to have a great ROI (return on investment) compared to other online marketing tools. The golden rules are to make sure people have opted in (i.e. they actually want to receive your content), not to email too often, and make sure you provide value.
Google AdWords allows you to pay for a sponsored listing on Google to come up at the top of search results. Similar to email marketing, Google AdWords has been around for a while and is not as popular with many businesses as it used to be, mainly due to increasing advertising costs. However, you can set your own budget starting with just a few hundred $ a month, and in some industries AdWords is a fantastic lead generation tool. If you have a local service business, AdWords is definitely worth looking into for immediate lead generation.
Booking & listing websites
Depending on your industry, there may be some websites that rank high on Google searches and list businesses in your industry (e.g. Yellow Pages online for tradies, Booking.com for accommodation providers, Easy Weddings for the wedding industry and so on). It is worth looking into these and potentially paying for a listing as you might quickly get your money back if the website is popular and not too expensive to list on. In addition there may be local or industry specific associations or business groups that offer member listings online, and it might be worth joining some of these.
If you're a local business, make sure you have a Google My Business listing set up so that your business comes up on map searches. This also allows your customers to leave reviews for your business (you should actively ask them to), which in turn can really increase your business's visibility in Google search results, given the reviews are positive.
Producing interesting and useful content for your target audience is a great way to increase traffic to your website, as well as engaging with your customers. Focus on quality content that people would want to read and share. This content can be posted on your blog, shared on social media and in email newsletters, or provided to other websites as guest posts. Video marketing can also be a great way to increase reach.
You can also use websites such as SourceBottle or HelpAReporter to try and get quoted on other websites as an information source for your industry, ideally with a link back to your website. This can really help with your Google rankings.
This is another "oldie but goodie" marketing tactic which can be very effective. If you can find businesses that are aligned with yours without being competitors, you could approach them and offer cross promotion. For example, a wedding venue and a celebrant could promote each other on their websites (e.g. in a blog post) and refer clients to each other. Or a kids fashion business could sponsor a prize for a competition in a parenting magazine. If you can find the right "partner" and make the arrangement mutually beneficial, this can produce great results, on- and offline.
Hopefully this list of promotional ideas has provided some inspiration. There really is no way around it: If you want to be successful online, you must actively promote your website.