We have a website that's just about to be released. We did a limited beta release (friends, family) and some light advertising with Google Adwords (very small budget- about $200).
The ad campaign got us a couple hundred visitors, but no real active users.
What can we do to grow our user base? Is it simply more advertising? Is it worth seeking a PR firm, and if so, any recommendations? Is it worth seeking venture capital for any reasons? The site is already built, and our operating costs are low, so we aren't in any need of cash, per se.
Thanks in advance
Edit: The site helps people find gift ideas through users offering suggestions for each unique gift-needing occasion.
So there are 2 draws for people to visit the site: To get gift ideas, and to have fun helping others get ideas.
Edit 2: One possible idea I've come across since posting this is to use Amazon's Mechanical Turk-- pay prices for small bits of work done. I wonder if anyone has any experience having done this.
Honestly, so many people ask this here, that we should set up a "cooperative" where we agree to join each others sites - and maybe provide feedback and ideas - so that we all can get that critical initial user base. Also, I'm not sure if you will get anywhere with Google ads. One thing I just tried with my sitte was to buy some StumbleUpon traffic - that is only five cents per visit. Then I put the StumbleUpon logo and and "welcome Stumblers" message in a block on the home page. I only did a very brief one day trial with less than 50 visits - just a few registrations, but lots of "likes". I decided to do a bit more work on the site and may give that another shot. For $20 you can get 1000 visitors, targeted to any demographic, and you can turn it off and on like a water faucet.
Your problem is here:
no real active usersFix that first (iterate by buying a few Google ads, and measuring whether people actually end up using your site). Then you can worry about spreading the word. It's called finding market/fit.
You can buy ads if you can afford it and if you think it's worthwhile, but there are a few things you can do to get free exposure:
All this will probably not work overnight, but if you keep after it you could get some sizable traffic.
Find your target market, does your website cater to teens, moms, dads, etc. Use catchy ad line and relevant keywords in your ad campaigns.
You could also try looking for message boards or forums that are related to your niche, participate and share your knowledge while slowly promoting your website, but be careful also not to spam the forums or message boards.
"What can we do to grow our user base? Is it simply more advertising?" At this stage, I would say no to more advertising. It sounds like you have bigger concerns at the moment than generating traffic.
"Is it worth seeking a PR firm, and if so, any recommendations?" I don't think so - same reason as previous answer.
"Is it worth seeking venture capital for any reasons?"
I don't think so - same reason as previous answer.
If you generated traffic without active users, it seems that you have one or both of the following problems: Either your site does not have a compelling value proposition or your landing pages (if you are even using any) are ineffective. For the moment, let's assume the problem is not the value proposition because the answer would be simple (i.e. abandon hope). Let's assume the problem is poor landing pages. Here are some suggestions for optimizing them:
Create pages with compelling headlines. Focus on creating a vision for the audience that allows them to see how much better off they will be after taking the action you want them to take. Be sure to include one of the seven fascination triggers in your headline (lust, vice, alarm, power, prestige, mystique or trust).
Connect with the audience. Build off of your headline by showing the audience that you can identify and empathize with their plight. People want to buy from people who are more like themselves.
Clearly define your offer. Tell the customer exactly what they will get in exchange for their lead information (preferably no more than an email). Don't get cute here - be extremely concise with your language and don't hide anything.
Provide testimonials. If people have made it this far, a powerful testimonial can seal the deal. Social proof is a vital aspect of the buying process.
Dispel their fears. Try to anticipate the buyers' reservations and address them head on. For example, tell them it won't take as much time as they may think or won't be as risky as they may fear. Making the offer completely risk-free (e.g. money back guarantee) is another way to accomplish this.
Cuga, let me try and give you some direction.
Since your site needs user generated content, and you typically want users that want to share their gift ideas, I think the place to scout around is Facebook.
After you have done what Jon DiPietro suggests above - because you need a clearly focused website to begin with - and created an enchanting Facebook page, buy the book Killer Facebook Ads: Master Cutting-Edge Facebook Advertising Techniques by Marty Weintraub.
For your need, the best place to spend your limited budget is in Facebook ads, but do that after you read the book by Marty.