I first thought of my company's name, Astuteo, one night as I was falling asleep. I'd spent months trying to figure out something that would express exactly what my company was – a small, independent design studio capable of producing insightful creative work. I'd read countless articles and various guides to naming a business, but still hadn't found anything that clicked for me. That night, though, for one reason or another, I asked myself the simple question, "Just what exactly is my business?" The first answer that popped into my head was, "a studio." And so Astuteo was born.
Well, more or less it was. First, I had to figure out if it was a name worth pursuing. For all I knew, another unbelievably brilliant design studio had gotten to it first. Being a web developer, the first thing I did was check to see if the URL was available, and it was. The second thing I did was a Google search. Google returned two results. Not two pages of results, but two results, both of which looked to be misspellings. I don't know about you, but I can usually input gibberish and get a few pages of results from Google. This was a tiny little miracle in my book. The brand "Astuteo" was essentially mine to define.
After a couple of months spent developing the website you're now visiting, I launched it and started looking for ways to build traffic. I already had a number of personal online profiles that needed updating, from services like LinkedIn and Creative Hotlist. After updating these, I set out to find other valuable services and interesting websites I could utilize. As I can now tell you, there are a number of easy ways to improve your website traffic effectively and at no cost through these free online services. Professional profile sites, social networking sites, online directories, website forums, and map listings are ideal places to start.
Professional profile websites like LinkedIn are designed for business-related networking and allow users to post a detailed professional resume or a business profile, along with website links, contact information, and more. If you already have a well-written resume on your computer, setting up your own professional profile shouldn't take more than a few minutes. Once you have an account set up, you can then use the site to invite your business associates to connect with you and set up their own profiles.
While it can be nearly impossible to keep close tabs on everyone you know through standard means of communication, professional profile sites help keep you up to date with the changes happening in your network. Whenever a member of your network updates their profile with new information, you are passively notified through the site and can easily stay on top of your associates' career changes and other important developments. As you make valuable new connections in the real world, you can connect via LinkedIn as well, and create a lasting tie between you, your associates, and your website.
Just because a resource isn't designed for business doesn't mean it won't bring qualified traffic to your website. Social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook are used by millions of people every month. Photo sharing site Flickr and video sharing site YouTube are other places it doesn't hurt to open an account and create a profile, especially if you enjoy creating and sharing these types of media. Research your industry and you're sure to find a few niche social networks that are being used by your customers. For example, Astuteo utilizes sites like iStockPhoto, The Best Designs, and Tag Society, all of which allow users to post a profile and submit web design work to gain attention and draw visitors.
If your website happens to feature a blog, there's a practically unlimited number of communities and social networks you can join and contribute to – sites like Technorati and Blog Lines are useful places to make yourself known. If you listen to a lot of music, LastFM and iLike are fantastic tools for profiling your tastes in order to find other similar music. The same goes for wine aficionados and the website Cork'd. If you're on the web for a fair portion of the day, Del.icio.us and StumbleUpon can both help you keep track of what you like and then discover new websites related to your interests.
The list goes on, but the point is there's a social network – or ten – out there for everybody. Think about what you enjoy and consider what would benefit you the most, both personally and professionally, and find ways to start contributing.
Online directories are the closest thing the web has to yellow pages, and therefore, they have the potential to drive a ton of relevant traffic your way. That said, there are two main types of listings you'll want to seek out – regional directories and industry directories.
First, find your city or region's primary online directories and get your site listed. The easiest way to find these is to search for some basic services based on location. MadisonClick is a popular online directory here in Madison, Wisconsin, that I discovered simply by searching for the phrase web design madison wisconsin. The directory popped up in the first few results on Google, and I turned around and used the site to boost my own traffic simply by getting listed on it.
Second, your specific industry is also likely to have some online directories of its own, which you should seek to be listed on. Creative Hotlist is a perfect example of this in my industry, but depending on what you specialize in, it shouldn't be particularly difficult to find some for your own industry. Like I said, the easiest approach is to just start searching Google using the terms you'd like your own site to be discovered with, and see if any directories pop up that can be used to your advantage.
Finally, the web itself has its own directory, the Open Directory Project, which can be found at dmoz.org. Visit the site, read the criteria for being listed, and apply to have your own site added. The true value of DMOZ lies in the fact that a huge number of other, more specific directories pull directly from its database, meaning a single listing on DMOZ can actually generate hundreds of other listings on the web for your site.
Where are your potential customers talking online? Most likely it's either in a few local forums, similar to Madison.com or The Daily Page, or on a number of different industry websites and forums. In either case, don't hesitate to start contributing your own thoughts and perspectives. Not only are you likely to learn new things and stay on top of new developments in your industry and local community, but by including your web site address in the signature of your posts whenever possible, you'll develop hundreds – if not thousands – of relevant links to your web site over time.
Forums are also a particularly good place to establish yourself as an expert in your field. By contributing well thought out, useful information, you’ll keep your mind sharp and show others that you’re a serious player in your field. In time, these discussions can develop into brilliant new ideas, valuable partnerships, and other worthwhile business relationships.
The final resource – one many forget to consider – is a map listing. If you have an office, don't forget to open an account and get your business listed on the major online map services like Google Maps and MapQuest (Google signup is easy to find on the left side of Google Maps front page. MapQuest signup is here). Astuteo.com receives five to ten visitors per day simply because of its business listing on Google Maps. As of the date this article was published, queries for graphic design madison and similar search terms return Astuteo as the third listing on the map, which appears above even the first organic search result.
In the end, the point is to bring qualified traffic to your site via well placed links in appropriate places. As you can see from this quick overview (and believe me, I only scratched the surface), there's a huge number of web-based communities and other resources that can be used to your advantage, no matter what your individual interests happen to be. Your job is to seek out the ones that match your lifestyle and start participating. As you contribute, you'll not only begin to increase traffic to your own website, you'll also develop a deeper knowledge of your favorite subjects and an even greater appreciation for the community that supports you.