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My first web site was nothing more than a brochure that was transformed into an HTML document and installed on the web. Since then I have learned that web pages can do a lot more than printed brochures, because they can offer several different ways to involve the visitors. Here are some of the ways that I use to bring my sites to life.
The first and most obvious kind of interactivity is to have a way in which someone can send you a message or contact you. You can do this by putting your e-mail address as a “clickable” link on your web pages. This is normally enough, but sometimes people are not surfing on their own computers and can’t click on the mail link because they don’t have an e-mail program on that particular computer. The answer is to put a contact form on the web site. This allows anyone to contact you, no matter where they are surfing. Also, as far as I can see, the contact form seems to get more responses than a simple “mailto” link, perhaps because it requires so little effort to complete.
If you do use a clickable mailto link on your website be sure to encode it and protect your email address from being harvested by spam merchants–see our article.
Forms can be activated by a CGI script, or if you are using Front Page, through the Front Page extensions. If you are unable to use either of these methods then you can get free form processing on a third-party server (such as bravenet.com), but you will have to put up with advertisements or pay a fee to have them removed.
Another way you can involve your readers on a regular basis is to offer a newsletter related to your site. The newsletter or e-zine in its simplest form can be nothing more than an update of new features on your web site. Or you can be more ambitious and write an article on themes related to your web site. For example, if your web site represents your bicycle shop, your newsletter could contain articles about cycling. Explain the scope of your newsletter with an announcement on your web site: “Get updates and information related to the themes of our website in a free e-mail newsletter” followed by a sign-up form where the people can sign up for the newsletter.
Start a Newsletter
In your newsletter provide links to your web site, and your products or services order pages. I find that whenever I send out a newsletter, traffic on the website increases as do orders for my products. Also provide information on how people can subscribe and unsubscribe, and tell people to forward the newsletter to friends and people who might be interested in your website.
You can keep people coming back to your site by using a bulletin board or online forum. The beauty of the bulletin board is that your visitors create your content. However, in order for this to work you must have enough traffic. If you have a Britney Spears fan site, then it should be no problem to get your bulletin board up and running. If your site doesn’t have a strong flow of visitors there is still a way in which you can use a bulletin board. Hold a special forum. Announce, on your site and in your newsletter, a specific period in which there will be a discussion on a topic: “Visit our special forum on Racing Bicycles which will be held from September 1-5. Participating in the discussion will be the webmaster and his staff of racing experts”. This is a good way to tie together your newsletter and your bulletin board to sustain interest in your site.
Put Up a Bulletin Board
In order to have a bulletin board you may have to install a script on your site. Or perhaps your hosting firm has a pre-installed bulletin board script. You can get bulletin board scripts for free or for a small fee. If you are not able to install a bulletin board once again you can get one hosted on another server for free (with advertisements) or for a monthly fee (without advertisements).
Finally, here is another idea on how to draw your visitors into the site. You’re an expert on something, that’s why you have your website! Start a questions and answers column on the site let your web visitors send in their questions and you and or your team of experts can give the answers. Award a prize to the person who sends in the best question of the month. It will help you to generate some useful and new content for your site and also let you know what your web visitors are thinking.
Taking this further, you can offer free advice on a one-to-one basis for visitors who have questions related to your product or service. Put a form on your web site. It can be right next to your product’s order button. Give the people a chance to either order your product or ask for more information. By offering good advice you will win the confidence of your web visitors, some of whom will eventually go on to purchase your products or services.