This article was adapted from its original version at Entrepreneur
Want to learn how to advertise without spending money? Today, the most popular forms of advertising involve placing ads on websites like Facebook, Google, Instagram, YouTube, Bing, and Amazon. But what if these advertising methods suddenly disappeared today? How would you promote your business?
This article will provide helpful ideas on how to advertise without spending money. More specifically, you will learn five website promotion methods that were used during the web 1.0 era that are still effective today. Best of all, most are still free.
Recently, I contributed an article to Entrepreneur Magazine. My inspiration for the article was an e-commerce marketing virtual summit where the promoters were looking for speakers. My first thought was that most of the speakers were probably going to discuss predictable topics: Facebook ads, Google ads, Instagram ads, and how to grow your followers. I'd be willing to bet that most of the speakers invited to an event like this have not been online since 1998. So, that’s when the idea came to me: If the most popular advertising resources suddenly disappeared today, how would you promote your business?
The following business promotion methods were highly effective in the '90s and early 2000s: banner rotation networks, reciprocal link pages, guest articles and posts, cloned websites, and platforms or databases.
Banner Rotation Networks
One of the earliest ways to promote a business without spending money on advertising was to join a banner rotation network. These were also known as web rings during the web 1.0 era. The network consisted of a collective group of advertisers. To participate, a website had to submit a banner ad. Once the banner was submitted to the network, a script or line of code was provided for embedding onto a website. After the script was installed, banner ads were displayed in a rotation.
Sometimes, the rotation was activated by a specific action. For example, when a page refreshed or after a preset time interval. And yes, the ads were available in various categories. For example, if a website was sports related, a business could choose to only display sports related ads
When the banners were displayed across the network, it potentially gave businesses more exposure to new customers. Variations of this technology are still around today, and the advent of retargeting makes it even more powerful than ever before. Retargeting allows an advertiser to display ads across the web after the user has interacted with, and left a website.
Reciprocal Link Pages
During the web 1.0 era, the use of reciprocal link pages was common. They were dedicated web pages made exclusively for text-based hyperlinks and banner ads. Webmasters would simply reach out to other website owners and see if they were interested in a link exchange. Being featured on a link page was a source for additional exposure.
But there was a problem: reciprocal link pages were sometimes too large, and in some instances, created entirely by robots. The old school link pages or link farms are no longer a thing. The larger search engines ultimately determined that link pages didn’t elevate the overall user experience. However, a business can still create a link page with a handful of highly targeted resources. They just have to make sense. For example, a mental wellness organization can have a dedicated link page that highlights other support resources.
Guest Posts and Articles
This cost-free advertising method still works. In fact, long term, it might even be more effective than paid advertising. It takes a bit of time and effort because the guest must reach out to a website and offer to contribute an exclusive article. The guest must explain how doing so would benefit their audience. If successful, the website featuring the guest article or post will usually include a short bio, along with a link back to the guest's website. This is an easy way for a business to get in front of new customers, and it ultimately increases website traffic. Again, the goal is advertising without spending money.
Most have probably never heard of this strategy. But website cloning was highly effective for promotion during the web 1.0 era. Best of all, it didn’t cost anything except time and effort. How did it work? Step 1: Create a copy or copies of your best performing website. Step 2: Change the names, colors, design, and slightly adjust the content. Step 3: Watch your traffic grow!
The purpose of a cloned website was to promote an existing website, which offered something for sale or was incentivized in some way. Unfortunately, the practice of cloning a website is frowned upon because search engines now have the ability to detect duplicate content. However, there are still ways around it by simply making sure the content is substantially different from site to site. The basic principle can still be creatively applied.
Platforms and Database Websites
Another way to advertise without spending money is by creating a platform or database website. During the early dot com era, we didn’t really have standardized terms to describe various website types. But the reason some of my websites significantly outperformed others was because they were either platforms or databases. Let me explain. Here is my old website, infomercial ratings. It facilitated user reviews of as seen on TV products and services.
This is both a platform, and in more ways than one, a database. At the time, it was the largest collection of infomercial products, descriptions, photos, reviews, and more. It should be noted that infomercial ratings was sold long ago and is now defunct.
Here is my other website, workoutz.com, when it first launched.
In addition to free exercise video demonstrations, I created two variations of a free workout generator.
The first was more of a guided workout program based on a questionnaire. This was created for people who didn’t know where to start. Next, I created a second workout generator for fitness professionals. This was a fully customizable version of the workout generator where the fitness experts had full control. So, this was a platform because it facilitated workout programs.
Here's the secret...
Platform websites typically attract a large audience. The users typically have to return regularly to log into an account to do something. Sites like this don’t require a lot of advertising. True, they can sometimes take time and money to get off the ground. But once you create it, there will be residual, cost-free promotion.
And that is how to advertise without spending money on facebook ads or google ads.
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