Internet consultant says aggressive PR, tactics necessary While Web Fever has every grower examining his commitment to cyberspace, Internet marketing consultants warn that without proper marketing and promotion, Web sites can quickly become cyber white elephants.

"The now cliche Web maxim `If you build it they will come' has lulled many online marketers into a false sense of opportunity. The truth is that Web site traffic building has its own set of PR needs and requires its own system of aggressive, attention-getting tactics" says Charles Sayers, an Internet marketing consultant based in Acworth, Ga.

Specifically, Sayers says Western growers looking to maximize the Web's potential should first attempt to determine how many of their customers or clients are actually online - and how easily they will be able to reach this market.

"Don't rationalize the number. Don't inflate your projections," Sayers says. "Be conservative. And determine whether it's a number you can live with." Obviously, Sayers says, it makes no sense to invest resources in a Web page if only a minute percentage of your potential customer base actually has an Internet connection.

If the decision is made to make the plunge, Internet consultants suggest taking advantage as many of the following Web site marketing and promotion strategies as possible:

Acquire e-mail list Rent or buy a consumer e-mail list: This is probably one of the easiest - although maybe one of the most expensive - ways to promote a Web site and company services on the Web. Essentially, firms using this technique rent exposure in an e-mail customer distribution list of a firm that is already established on the Web. Often, the firm owning the list recommends via e-mail that its customers visit the site of the list renter, and sometimes includes a discount coupon for a goods or services at the list renter's site.

Consider a professional search engine listing firm: Seasoned Web users turn to search engines like Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com) and About (www.about.com) to help them find specific information on the Net quickly. Essentially, they simply type in a subject area and the search engine brings back "links" that they can "click on" for further information.

Given the great power these search engines have to steer thousands of Net cruisers to specific sites, it should come as no surprise that several Web-savvy firms have cropped up to help firms be among the first "links" the search engines return to information seekers.

Royal Groves (www.royalcitrus.com), based in Riverside, Calif., is no stranger to this listing strategy. When the keywords "California orange growers" were entered into Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com), its site was the first link to be listed. That kind of visibility does not happen accidentally. Another winner in the listing wars was Greenfield Citrus Nursery (www.greenfieldcitrus.com), based in Mesa, Ariz. Its site was first up when the keywords "Arizona Citrus" were entered into Yahoo!

Another option: use a software program like Web Site Traffic Builder, by Draper, Utah-based Intelliquis (www.intelliquis.com). Traffic Builder automatically registers your site with more than 900 Internet search engines and will automatically put your business in the appropriate category for each search engine. Plus, you can use the software to check your site's position on the Net's eight most popular search engines. A similar program, WebPosition Gold, by FirstPlace Software (www.firstplace.com), focuses on getting your site placed high up on the Web's top search engines.

Link `til you drop: Probably the easiest, least expensive way to promote a site is to link your page with every other noncompetitive page on the Internet that shares the same interest. The California Fig Advisory Board (www.californiafigs.com), based in Fresno, Calif., offers links to fig growers off its site, including Valley Fig Growers (www.valleyfig.com), based in Fresno.

"We've exchanged links with about 80 to 100 Web sites and we do see a difference," says Linda Cain, vice president of marketing for Valley Fig Growers. "We get a lot of calls from people who've seen us on the Web, or who have found us from a link on another site."

Adds Craig Settles, a senior strategist for Berkeley, California-based Successful Marketing Strategists, and author of "Cybermarketing: Essentials for Success," published by Ziff-Davis. "Link until you drop."

Establish a virtual press center: Probably one of the most overlooked opportunities on the Web is the opportunity to establish a virtual press center on a site. Increasingly, journalists are turning to the Internet and the Web to search for stories and develop new ideas, and there is no reason why any company with a Web site should pass up an opportunity for free media exposure, says Settles.

Sunkist (www.sunkist.com), based in Sherman Oaks, Calif., serves up a formidable press center on its site, as does the California Avocado Commission (www.avinfo.com), based in Santa Ana.

Quick transformation "Technology has transformed our business almost overnight," says Jan DeLyser, CAC's vice president of merchandising. "Now we're seeing the results of how information technology can be used to increase our efficiency and extend the reach of the commission's programs."

Since launching its Web site in 1994, the CAC has seen its Web traffic grow from a few views a day to more than 700,000 hits per month currently, DeLyser adds.

Get posted in Web directories: In an effort to make Web cruising a little easier, several businesses have packaged themselves in easy to use directories the help Net cruisers get to their sites more quickly. A good place to start would be The Ultimate Citrus Page (www.ultimatecitrus.com), a directory of citrus-related Californian, Arizonan and Texan Web sites.

Start a newsletter: Interesting and informative company newsletters are a time-honored way to establish an ongoing relationship with current and prospective customers. Pear Bureau Northwest (www.usapears.com), based in Milwaukee, Ore., has a sign-up online for an e-mail-delivered newsletter, which features new pear recipe ideas.

"We currently have about 3,000 subscribers," says Maggie Andrew, vice president of communications for Pear Bureau Northwest. "Every time we send out the newsletter, we see a spike in visits to our Web site."

The California Avocado Commission (www.avinfo.com) also sends out a monthly newsletter featuring new recipe ideas to Web site subscribers. "We've registered more than 5,200 subscribers," says DeLyser. "People write back and tell us how their recipes turned out. It's a great way of bonding with some of our best customers."

Add a send-this-page option: A new twist on one of the most reliable forms of advertising - word-of-mouth - send-this-page options enable site visitors to send your home page, or any other site page for that matter, to a friend with a few mouse-clicks.

Start your own contest: Another tried-and-true traffic generator in the bricks and mortar world, online contests do the same for Web sites - as well as glean valuable demographic data about site visitors. Pear Bureau's Andrew, for example, regularly runs contests from the organization's Web site. For Christmas, visitors could win Christmas ornaments by correctly answering a question about Andrew's weekly column.

Add a "recommend this site to a friend" button: The old maxim "Nothing is more valuable than word-of-mouth promotion" never rang truer in cyberspace. Get your Web designer to ad a recommend this site button. By clicking on the button, the visitor can dash off a quick "heads-up" about the site to a friend, which is automatically forwarded to the friend's e-mail address.

"Combining these tactics with a relentless persistence to build your site's traffic will virtually guarantee that within a few short weeks, your access counters (a software tool used to measure visits to a Web site) will start spinning like the gallon indicator on a 1950s gas pump," concludes Sayers.