“We’ve only had 632 visitors to our website in six months. What can we do to get more traffic?” After a company website has been up for awhile, this is usually the wake-up call. You built the site but no one is visiting.

The World Wide Web is littered with thousands of dead sites that have been virtually abandoned. It’s easy to spot them — they were last updated on the day the site was launched.

For some unknown reason, businesspeople seem to view a website as a “magic bullet,” an easy way to attract customers, since search engines are seen as a universal panacea for solving the traffic problem.

Few recognize the real effort involved to pull visitors to a site.

The efficacy of a website has rarely been questioned because, until recently, few knew what questions to ask. As companies become experienced with the new technology, this is beginning to change. Still, myths persist.

Here’s a Reality Check

• A website is just one more marketing tool, not much different from any other tactic a company might employ for prospecting or communicating with customers.

While a website offers incredible possibilities for a company, it should be viewed as one among a number of marketing activities.

• Relying on search engines to do the work of taking visitors to your site is dangerous. It was only a few years ago when a search engine was almost a sure-fire solution. It isn’t today.

There are millions of sites vying for attention. A search might turn up a few hundred to several hundred thousand sites. Few people, however, stay with it for more than three pages. Many abandon the search after the first page.

• Why would anyone want to visit your site? This is the killer question because it focuses on the attraction issue. What’s in it for the visitor?

If your site is all about your company, what you do, and what you sell, no one will come. If someone happens to land on your site accidentally, they’ll leave quickly. There are many other companies offering the same products and services.

At the same time, there are venues providing visitors with the information they may be seeking. For example, an LCD projector manufacturer’s website is a mini-university for making presentations.

This is the reality of the World Wide Web, and more to the point, it is the reality of a website. If a website does not assist the visitor, it will not be used.

All the confusion about websites is to be expected. The concept is new and few have the necessary experience to design and maintain sites with high visitor appeal. As a result, they take the advice of someone who may be selling website design, they invest in “instant website software,” or take advantage of someone’s offer to build a site for $239 or even $23,239. And everyone expects a miracle.

Against this background, what does it take to build website traffic?

Traffic Builders

Attracting visitors requires commitment.

After getting a cost estimate to develop a website, the chief financial officer or president begins seeing the invoices pile up. “What’s happening? This is costing four times what we expected.” No amount of explanation convinces the decisionmakers that the expense is necessary.

A website is never finished; it will forever remain a work-in-progress. It’s more like the evening news than a brochure. It needs to be kept fresh, interesting, and appealing, and that takes a financial commitment, requiring constant planning and updating.

Attracting visitors requires website design expertise.

Designing a website is not for the untrained, no matter what the software package may say. Homemade sites look that way — amateurish and unappealing. Many are filled with the worst possible copy that’s riddled with spelling and grammatical errors.

We even found one website that provides a link directly to the company’s closest competitor. When it was pointed out to him, the company president was unaware of the blatant mistake.

An inadequate site is worse than no site at all because it represents wasted time and effort. Remember that your website is a reflection of your business.

Attracting visitors requires “magnets.”

What type of information can you place on your site that is of interest to your customers or clients? What can you give them that they want and cannot get easily elsewhere? What can you do to make your site exciting to visitors?

Macintouch.com gives Macintosh computer users valuable information about new products, solutions to problems, and ways to talk with other Mac-users. These “magnets” keep Macophiles coming back to a valuable resource — and seeing the ads on the site.

An insurance-related site, riskvue.com, offers risk managers and insurance agents valuable information and an e-mail newsletter. Subtly, the visitor becomes aware that the company publishes risk management books and reports. A number of companies, including The Wall Street Journal, send out e-mail “news alerts” that get to the customer instantly. Each one, of course, directs the recipient to a website for the complete text.

Attracting visitors requires constant promotion.

Once again, just because you build a website does not necessarily mean they will come. If you read The Wall Street Journal, you know that a high percentage of the advertising, including full-page color ads, have a single objective: to drive the reader to a website.

Website promotion is an “in your face” task. A company’s website should be listed on everything — letterhead, business cards, calendars, print and e-mail newsletters, trucks, etc.

An oil heat dealer has large decals on the rear bumpers of its oil trucks: “Win $100 in free oil — visit federalheat.com.” But it isn’t just the website address that’s important; it’s the magnet or pull that counts.

Offers of information can be just as compelling. Visitors answer a few questions and provide their e-mail address in order to obtain what is offered, such as a report, brochure, or survey data. This is an effective technique for acquiring e-mail addresses for communicating with customers and prospects at a later time, with the purpose of motivating them to return to your site.

Eye-catching postal cards and mouse pads are effective methods for reminding customers and prospects of what’s happening on your website.

Without question, the key to success is repetition, repetition, repetition. A website is out of sight and, therefore, out of mind. It takes constant reminders to attract visitors.