Ways to Build Online Traffic and Boost SEO

           "If you build it, they will come." It worked in the movies, but just putting up a website is no guarantee that it will draw traffic. You could buy ads, but if you're unable or unwilling to "pay to play," you're likely facing the increasingly daunting challenge of attracting customers to your website on your own.

Millions of sites are competing for users' shrinking time and attention. The hard truth is that the top three unpaid positions on the first page of Google search results receive about 58% of all clicks, according to online-marketing service Optify. Websites that appear on the second page? An average of 1.5%.

Your best bet for attracting potential customers without spending money on advertising is creating content of such value that audiences can't help but feel compelled to seek it out or pass it along -- on a site that makes sharing it easy.

But how? Here are ideas for getting started publishing content that can help you increase online traffic, improve search-engine optimization and possibly go viral in the process.

Original Articles -- Time investment aside, online articles cost little, can be easy to generate, and provide a way to brand company representatives as experts. Your articles could offer instructional learning, new methods for tackling problems or insight into best practices or industry leaders' views. Here are just a few article formats to consider:

How-to articles
Tip sheets

Grab readers with arresting headlines, bold statements and an authoritative voice. Use humor and catchy hooks (for example, "5 Ways to Torture and Infuriate Your Employees" or "The Wrong Way to Do Downsizing").

For maximum impact, build content around popular search-engine keywords, dilemmas and industry memes. Avoid terms or references that might date your articles.

Keep in mind that less can be more. Be succinct and summarize wherever possible.

Videos and Podcasts -- Barriers to entering the online "broadcasting" business are lower than ever. Armed with a portable digital video camera ($100-$600), USB microphone ($20-$200) and a spare hour of time, nearly anyone can create compelling short or extended-length shows. Ideally, videos are best kept under three minutes and audio recordings to five to 15 minutes. You'd be amazed how quickly content can be built and distributed. Even a simple webcam can provide a ready vehicle for recording.

Here are a few ideas for videos or podcasts:

Behind-the-scenes footage from your office
Making-of style documentaries
Product demonstrations
Customer testimonials
Panel discussions
Uniquely-branded video programs ("Engineering 101")
Custom training segments ("Launch Your Leadership Career")
Exclusive sit-down interviews ("A Conversation with Seth Godin")

All should be stamped with your logo, prominently feature business contact information and be promoted on aggregators like YouTube, Vimeo and Metacafe. It's also vital that users be allowed to pass along links and embed them on their own websites, as well as access and download audio recordings through popular online distribution services such as iTunes and Podcast.com.

Blogs, Forums and Online Communities -- Your company wouldn't be in business if it didn't employ subject-matter experts in your field. A simple way to build trust, cement credibility and grow both reach and renown is to allow customers ready access to these individuals and their hard-won knowledge. Similarly, courtesy of their own education and experiences, customers may have additional insights, input and suggestions that they're happy to share with colleagues and peers. Tap into a wellspring of ideas, and prospective publishing material, by providing blogs, newsgroups, communities, message boards, polls and other forums where ideas are readily exchanged.

Such solutions can foster creativity and discussion, provide enhanced user support and allow prospective partners or buyers to communicate with and grow trust in you and your team. They also can offer a two-way channel for conversation that helps you get to better know your customers, understand their needs and stay on top of new trends or interests. The activity and continuously updated content can keep users regularly clicking on your website.

Charts, Diagrams and Infographics -- Computer generated or hand-drawn, these visually rich pieces can make data easy for anyone to understand and digest at a glance. And fun to share. Need ideas? Consider illustrating customer preferences, buying habits or population distributions.

Fun facts and especially interesting or one-of-a-kind information won't just draw audiences' attention. They may also provide a ready platform for publicity that can lead to newspaper, magazine, radio and TV coverage.

Books and Online Guides -- Everyone has a problem that needs solving: That's why businesses exist. Providing expert advice, hints, strategies and answers to perennial questions is an excellent way to establish yourself as a leading industry source and even gain media exposure. In addition to ebooks, you could consider publishing your work in PDFs or sharable online slideshow presentations.

While you may opt to charge for full or more detailed manuscripts, at least a small initial installment should always be given away free. Just be certain to include information of value. Customers won't want to pass along a glorified sales pitch.