Tons of web startups are at the stage of "built it, have visitors, but need more." Compare this to similar sites created when the word "webmaster" was the buzzword of the year, that get 100-200k+ uniques per month.
People like myself are thinking "wtf? this site sucks, but they still get traffic. not only could we gain a lot of visitors with more traffic, but more data points for A/B testing and the like."
What are the best ways that you've found for gaining traffic to your website?
This is the key question. If it could be answered here in one post, I'd get +1000 votes!
Do you think twitter was an instant hit? They launched in 2006... They had what is essentially no traffic for two years.
Some web sites are naturally viral. Many are not. For instance, the CEO of Mint spent a lot of time in the early days pitching to the press to keep the name in the news. That's because financial software is not something that you tend to share with your friends.
So having a great product really helps. That's 80% of the advice. And by product, I mean a solution to a problem, not a technology.
Then study analytics to understand what happens to the people that do make it to your site. A good lesson is that you tend to optimize for what you measure. For instance, if you measure the number of unique visitors on your site, that's what you'll improve. But maybe what you really wanted is for visitors to create an account and use your app. Then measure that instead.
Mostly, expect that it will take time. If you have $0 marketing budget, then you will have to engage with your customers and repeatedly see what needs they really have. Those tend to differ from the solution you built. Keep listening, engaging, tweaking... and my favorite motto: doing. If you are spending an hour online reading stuff, you just wasted an hour. Instead, you could have written a blog post, e-mailed a journalist and 3 key influencers in your space.
It's very simple:
Google each of these and take 5 years off to learn then. Remember, those dorky sites that have been around forever have people that have been doing it forever.
There's no silver bullet here, or those dorky sites wouldn't be beating your pants off in terms of traffic.
Really basic SEO (make sure the site is search engine friendly)
Use social networks, etc to get the word out.
Make sure the content is killer, and frequently new so people have a reason to come back.
Once this is done
Make sure it is easy for users to share with their friends (digg, reddit badges etc)
Make some of the content social (forums, wiki, games, facebook apps, etc)
Even if your site is an app rather than a content site you need content. It is what will drive search engine traffic and give people new reasons to link to your site.
Build a brand (have a distinct voice, think Joel Spolsky or Jason Fried)
Be patient. It is sustained effort and nothing less. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something.
Publishing an article in a well-known trade magazine worked well for me. It added not only visitors but also links from relevant sites (references to the article), which in turn improved PageRank.
I'm still working through this process as well. What I've done is hire someone part-time to just handle "relationship building". The job basically is about not only getting quality backlinks but maintaining a relationship with these contacts so we can help each other for the life of our business. This is just one way but we felt it was the most important right now. If you can afford to do this, it may be helpful. It's really not too expensive. I hired someone on Odesk at $8/hour (they bid this amount, I was willing to pay $20/hour) and they have a weekly work limit of 6 hours. But the task is simple, they spend several weeks researching and compiling an "alliance list" and then several weeks contacting these individuals and companies with our irresistible offers and following up.
We use some of the techniques in this article for our offers.
http://www.copyblogger.com/mind-control-marketing/ Some other ways we've been able to drive site visitors so far:
We are also working on our blog for later in the year. But there are many ways to drive traffic, you just have to get more creative these days. :)
Whenever we would email our users (major service updates and such), we'd see a spike of traffic -- existing users coming back to see what we've been up to. This might not be exactly what you are looking for, but there's certainly a difference between building loyal users who sign up and keep on coming back vs. search-engine/viral-hit traffic that hits a page and bounces right off.
Our small company is in the business of software consulting, and publishing technical tutorials, tricks and techniques has brought people to our site. Eventually, it turns into paying gigs.
Since SEO and PPC have already been covered above, I just like to add that word of mouth is key... both offline and online. Talk to people about your website, ask them to tell their friends about it, do the same online, Twitter, leave messages in blogs, participate in online discussions, etc...