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Flypaper: how to draw traffic to your Web pages

by Richard Seltzer,
This article is based on my personal observations. It was heard on the radio program "The Computer Report," which is broadcast live on WCAP in Lowell, Mass., and is syndicated on WBNW in Boston and WPLM in Plymouth, Mass.

When old friends who I hadn't been in touch with for 10-30 years started sending me email -- about half a dozen of them each month -- at first I was flattered. Isn't it amazing that all those people would be looking for me?

Then it dawned on me -- why should they look for me?

With a few quick queries I soon established that they weren't looking for me at all. They were looking for themselves. They had gone to search engines and had entered their own name as the query. And since I have a lot of content at my Web site -- including lots of my writing -- many of my old friends are mentioned there. Searching for themselves, they chanced on me; and wound up sending me email.

If I had wanted to find them, I could have spent a lot of time looking and might never have succeeded. But because I had my own Web pages and, by chance, those pages had the right kind of content, and that content was indexed by search engines, the old friends found me instead.

The developers of AltaVista and other search engines intended to allow people to find answers to questions and to locate specific information that they need. But instead, it turns out that many people look first for themselves -- satisfying their curiosity about how often they, and others with the same name, are mentioned and what's said about them. Next they look for particular things that are near and dear to them -- often just out of curiosity, rather than need. It was this behavior and the fact that I had my own personal Web pages that led to me getting so many email messages from old friends -- them finding me by looking for themselves.

I soon realized that what I had done by accident, others could do deliberately -- setting out "flypaper" rather than going hunting with a "fly swatter." While hyperlinks are a way to point people away from your Web pages to other resources on the Internet, "flypaper" provides a way to draw people to your pages and encourage them to get in touch with you directly.

It's a neat flip of your usual expectations -- you connect with the people you want to by making their names and their subjects of interest findable at your site.

You can create Web pages and organize the content on those pages specifically for the purpose of drawing particular people and particular kinds of people to your Web site and hence getting in touch with them.

So how could a business use the flypaper approach? If you want to connect with a particular person, and your phone calls and email are going unanswered, create a Web page that mentions that person and topics that that individual is interested in. Say, on that page, all the good things you've been meaning to say about how you could both benefit from working together.

Be sure to put the person's name and the company's name in the HTML title and in the first line of text, so the ranking algorithms at AltaVista and other search engines will put your page high in the list of matches when people search for those words and phrases.

You needn't have hyperlinks from anywhere to your "flypaper" pages. Just be sure to submit the individual URLs to search engines, especially to AltaVista and InfoSeek, which are good about quickly adding material to their indexes. AltaVista will usually add your pages over night.

The next time the target person does a search for him or herself at AltaVista, your page is likely to appear at the top of the list. When that happens, that person may get in touch with you, and suddenly your position in the upcoming dialogue is greatly improved because they contacted you instead of you contacting them. There are no guarantees, but it's certainly worth a try; and the odds are getting better all the time as more people use the Internet regularly.

That's what I call targeted flypaper -- where you are trying to get in touch with one particular individual.

You also could try general flypaper.

For example, at my Web site I have a list of every book I've read for the last 41 years. It's just a list. When I posted it, I doubted that anyone would be interested. I posted it as a lark, for the fun of it. But because of search engines like AltaVista that Web page draws lots of traffic to my site. I've gotten email from authors, agents, editors and others who like the same books.

How can you apply this concept? Say you work for a school. Create a Web page that lists every alum and the year of graduation and other public info about them. Add URL at the search engines and you'll get email from some of them. As you begin to draw audience to your site with flypaper of this kind, you might give these people reasons for coming back, becoming a loyal audience -- part of a new on-line community.

However you decide to use flypaper, be open to the unanticipated value of saving, recording, and posting information of all kinds.  privacy statement