Like some huge universe expanding away from itself after a big bang, the Internet is continually growing and shifting. Internet shoppers travel between the sites, one after another, searching for the best information and the most attractive deals. The fluidity and ease of their motion brings a disturbing consequence for online merchants: no longer are shoppers bound by the concept of \"customer loyalty.\" Even if your site is remarkably well designed, useful, and popular, there is no guarantee that your customers will remember you and check back with you later. After all, they can always find what they need somewhere else.
So what can you do to ingrain your URL in the minds of your visitors/customers? How can you encourage repeat business and announce site news to an interested audience?
Write a Newsletter!
First of all, you have to build a readership base by collecting as many interested email addresses as you can. Notice the use of the word \"interested.\" Unless you want to alienate lots of potential customers and waste valuable email resources, you can\'t just randomly sign people up for your newsletter.
The simplest way to gather names is by simply asking your site visitors to sign up for updates. However, the more casual or merely curious shoppers will most likely not be encouraged to give their information to you.
To sweeten the deal, add a contest or sweepstakes to your site, and devise an entry form which contains an area for registrants to sign up for your newsletter. If you want to risk it, you can automatically place your registrants on the newsletter subscription list; in this case, you had better make sure that there is a statement on the entry form informing registrants of this policy and reminding them that they can cancel the subscription at any time. Display an \"unsubscribe\" email address for their convenience, both on your entry page and on your actual newsletter. After all, why would you want to waste time and money sending newsletters to uninterested and/or annoyed parties?
Now, you have to devise content for the newsletter. Of course, you could make your newsletter a mess of extensive advertisements, mindless hype, and self-serving promotion, but this approach ignores the fact that you are trying to draw your visitor\'s loyalty.
Through your newsletter, you are trying to express a sense of community, of shared interests, of an accessible, customer-oriented company. Instead, try to think like your visitors. Wouldn\'t they like to read something a little more useful, a little more fun, a
little more attuned to their lifestyles? If you give them the content that they want to read, they will remember your company\'s name. They will remember that you care about entertaining and informing them.
- Announcements: There are ways to announce new web site content, sales, and upcoming contests without sounding like a pushy ad. Emphasize the benefits of promotions by naming prizes that can be won from your site. Subtly highlight discounts and new product lines without resorting to a hard-sell.
- News: Find interesting tidbits or news regarding your retailing sector. For example, if you have a skiing newsletter, you could include a short, fun history of the sport. Make it informative and different.
- Links: Give links to helpful and/or site-related information, or choose a \"Link of the Month.\" For extra exposure, trade newsletter links with another partner site!
- Polls: Ask your readers a question, and then print the results in the next newsletter. For best results, pick a well-known topic and allow your readers to send in simple responses. If you want deeper insights, make a contest out of it and give a prize to the most interesting and/or well-stated opinion.
- Various fun stuff: Anything goes, as long as it is entertaining, cool, and has at least a tenuous relationship to your site. Recipes, famous quotes, funny anecdotes, jokes, and riddles are all good ideas.
Now you've got a web site newsletter chock full of fascinating information that your visitors will actually want to read. Be creative, be informative, and above all, be remembered.