Marketing Your Game Online

Just a few years ago the ability for any small company, including independent game markers, to reach consumers could only be accomplished via specialty toy and game stores.  While many companies have become successful via these stores it does require both contacting and convincing them to make an investment in inventory.  Today though any company can launch a website and begin marketing their product.  However, if one were to simply build a website and then hope for it to become successful overnight without any additional effort they are dreaming.  In this article I hope to share with you insight that I have gained from over seven years of website development and promotion.

The first step in implementing your web strategy is designing, developing and launching your website.  You can either design and develop it on your own or contract with a web design company.  It is not impossible for a layperson to develop a website utilizing tools such as Dreamweaver or Front Page along with simple graphics programs.  There are also countless resources out there on developing web sites, for instance The Virtual Help Desk located at http://www.keptin.net/virtualhelpdesk/html.  If you do not have the expertise and/or time to learn how to develop a website on your own then contracting may be a good idea.  If you do contract do your research, ask around, find out what companies and/or individuals have a good reputation on building quality websites on a timely basis.  Be sure to ask for samples of work already created and a list of clients recently worked with that you can contact.  Also be certain to obtain a written contract detailing time lines, costs and that will grant you full rights over the content created.  Without a specified contract it would be possible for a web design company to claim ownership of any graphics and/or text created by them regardless of the amount paid thereby forcing you to maintain a business relationship with or having to have the site completely redesigned by someone else.

There are some basic components that every good website should have including product information, order information, information about the company and most importantly contact information.  I am absolutely astounded by the number of websites out there that do not offer an email address, phone number or mailing address for the company.  It should be straight forward for an interested consumer to find the necessary information to contact you.  Most websites do an excellent job of providing information about their products and company since it is a very obvious requirement however it can often be the case that ordering information is missing.  Later in this article I will cover e-commerce solutions however you should also provide information on how a person can order your product via the mail.  Perhaps a downloadable order form that can be printed along with payment, this will allow individuals who do not have regular Internet access to order your produce (they can have a friend visit the site and print out the order form).  Those who do not trust the Internet for financial transactions will also utilize it.

As important as possessing good components is utilizing a good design for your site, in the all of my website design I utilize a principle called KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid).  While this may sound derogatory it does illustrate a simple truth that simple web pages are in fact better.  The page should look nice but not utilizing complex/fancy graphics mainly due to the time required downloading your page.  Pages with complex graphics take a long time to download and for every second an individual must wait the greater the greater the chance he/she will give up and visit another site.  I have also seen many websites that are nearly impossible to read because of the many different fonts and background colors/images utilized.  Develop a simple and nice looking style and maintain it throughout your site.  Have friends of varying ages and backgrounds view your pages and ask for their input on its readability.  Remember your primary focus on developing a website is to convey information and to provide a method to generate sales it is not to entertain nor does it follow that a fancy animated graphic will automatically lead a person to buy your game.

Once your website is designed and developed the it is time to publish it on the Internet, after all having a website on your hard drive has zero value.  Understandably many startup organizations do not wish to spend cash paying for web space and opt for a free solution through GeoCities, Angel Fire or other like companies.  These sites however are not a good option since they utilized banner and pop-up ads to pay for the service and these ads besides creating an unprofessional appearance are also distracting.  There are cases when its justified to utilize advertising, for instance sites which offer forums, classified ads, search engines, etc.  However a corporate website marketing a product should not, are you building a website to promote your product or those of others?  There used to be many companies that would offer to host your site for free without banner ads however due to basic economics these companies become fewer and fewer every day, someone has to pay for the servers, Internet access and IT specialists.  These companies claim that they will cover their costs by sending you email messages with advertising and/or selling your name however this has proven to be insufficient as illustrated by the number of companies that have disappeared in recent years.  The fact of the matter is though, hosting a website is not expensive there are providers offering services from $5.00-$20.00 for starter solutions.  Considering the costs incurred for printing your game and the cost of traditional advertising this is insignificant and by paying for service you have a better guarantee your site will remain be accessible and the company providing it will be in business a year from now.

Having a website strictly for the purposes of providing information about products and services, ordering information and components mentioned earlier is a great marketing tool, however its only the first step.  If your online marketing strategy is to be successful it should also incorporate facilities for users to purchase the product online.  An e-commerce solution will not necessarily cost you thousands of dollars for software or an IT specialist earning $120/hour!  Bill Payment companies such as PayPal offer easy to use facilities and services that will allow you to add a ¡°Buy Now¡± or ¡°Shopping Cart¡± link to your website.  Consumers can then utilize these links to purchase your product with a credit/debit card or checking account information.  These companies will charge you a small transaction fee however the total amount paid will be substantially lower than buying your own software especially for small companies.  In the event your company is highly successful and producing tens of thousands of dollars in sales you can then afford and justify the investment in a high-end e-commerce solution.

So you have built a website with an e-commerce component and found a reputable web hosting company, you now sit back and wait for the sales to come pouring in but nothing happens!  The simple act of publishing a website does nothing to bring visitors to it, you must take steps to promote it.  The first and most obvious step is to register your site with search engines and topic specific sites.  Many search engines all you to register your site for free and others for a small fee, there are also companies out there that will register your site for you but again for a free.  However, you do not have to pay to get your site to appear in search engines by taking a few simple steps.  First of all register your site with all the free ones out there even if they have a low traffic volume, secondly locate all like websites and invite them to create a reciprocating link (you link to them and they link back to you) and finally locate topic specific websites.  For instance http://www.gameresourcescentral.com offers a free service to game inventors to add their sites to the search engine, this particular site and many like it may not currently have many entries and at first glance it may appear as a waste of time.  However, this is not the case since many search engines, including ones that you would have to pay for inclusion, have automated programs that surf the web and will automatically add links to their index.  The more often a link to your site is found the higher the chance your site will be included.  For instance a website I created (Horse Lovers Central) can be found through Mamma.Com, a search engine that charges $29.00 to add your site.  I never paid them this fee, my site was added as a result of it being linked by other websites and because it was included in other search engines.  It should be noted though that when you pay these fees your site would be ranked higher in the search engine (be towards the top of the list).  Also realize that it may take several months for your site to appear in search engines even if you pay for inclusion.

If you have the resources to support it you may consider the purchase of banner advertising.  If you do elect to utilize this approach closely evaluate what websites you advertise on and be sure they are the type of site that will reach your target market.  For instance if you have an equine (horse) related board game you would advertise on horse related websites, a car related game on car related websites.  Also be sure the website or agency you are utilizing has the ability to measure performance, how many times was your ad shown, where was it shown and how many times did someone click on it.  Obviously you would not continue running an advertising campaign if no one ever clicks on the ad and actually visits your site!  There is a type of banner advertising that I would recommend to any company that is just starting out and that is establishing an affiliate program.  An affiliate program is where another website will display your banner ads and you will reimburse them for every sale they send to your site (typically 5%).  So if your ad is shown a 100 times and no one clicks on it you do not owe the affiliate a dime, if fifty people click on it but do not purchase the product you do not owe the affiliate a dime but if ten people purchase the product then you do owe them 5% of the net sales.  This encourages affiliates to place your banners in high traffic areas and to actively work to increase click-throughs (encourage users to click on banners).

Launching an affiliate program may require some programming to track the transactions and to record which affiliate generated the sale.  The degree of customization will depend on the provider of both your e-commerce solution and affiliate program provider.  It is recommended you contact e-store providers such as Yahoo Shopping, Amazon¡¯s Z-Stores and E-bay as well as affiliate program providers such as Reporting.net, Link Share and Commission Junction to determine what would be required.  However companies such as Keptin Consulting Services (http://keptin.net) offer e-store solutions with built in affiliate programs for a reasonable cost.

While there is no guarantee that your web marketing strategies will be successful taking these steps will increase the probability of success.  Even if it is of limited success do not give up in the short-term, typically it will take time to realize success and an online presence may help increase retail sales by increasing market awareness.  Also do not be afraid to experiment with different marketing solutions.  Finally publish the existence of your website in all marketing material and on the game board packaging itself.  An individual may see friends playing a game and take a liking to it, if the web address is readily available there is a high chance that the person will use it and perhaps purchase your game! 

Scott Perowitz
Keptin Consulting Services
http://www.keptin.net



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