Marketing via the web is a good chunk of what I do for a living, both at my "day job" and in my several sidelines and freelance work.
I'd like to share some of the things I've learned over the last dozen years in order to make this web site an effective marketing tool. I realize this is long and reambling, but I have a lot of ideas! All of these are things I've actually done and been successful with, not just "wouldn't it be neat if" ideas.
First, we should consider buying a better domain name, since wesurroundthemcentrecounty.ning.com is a great site for our needs, but the name is a bit hard to remember and to give to people. My experience tells me that it's too long and will confuse folks...it's also hard for the press to fit into articles and to read in a press release.
A new domain name could work in conjunction with the current site. A domain can be a simple forward, which would then send people automatically to wesurroundthemcentrecounty.ning.com, or it could "mask" the domain altogether, so that the ning.com site looks like it's really the other name. Something like wst.org would be ideal, in my opinion, but it does depend on what's available.
If we could come up with a good list of alternatives, we can see what domains are available and vote on one at the next meeting. 912cc.com/org is available today, for example.
It is important to have the .com version of an address, and the others are not really important. Addresses with .org sound nice, but people seldom remember to make the switch, so you end up needing both .org and .com.
Domain names are something like $10 a year, depending on who provides it. I'd be willing to pick up the expense, at least for the first year, through my current account with GoDaddy.
Another benefit of owning a domain is that most come with a large number of email features, such as the auto-responders mentioned in another thread. An email address of firstname.lastname@example.org is a lot easier to remember--and use--than some alternatives. Keeping everything at the same domain reduces confusion and presents a single "brand identity" for the various contact methods. Email addresses, if nothing else, would be consistent. email@example.com could forward to the current president, whoever it happens to be, for example. Having a web site at one domain and various email addresses at other domains is confusing to somebody trying to get in touch with us for the first time.
If ning.com ever sells out or goes bust, we wouldn't lose the domain name, too. Depending on how the organization grows over the years, we might even want to have more control over the site than ning allows.
Owning a domain solves all of these problems.
As for web mareting, I've got a lot of experience with that through several successful business ventures and sidelines, in addition to my job at Penn State.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the art of getting higher rankings in Google, Yahoo, etc., and it's the easiest, cheapest way to get exposure for the group.
SEO is all about search engines, which is how 99.9% of all visitors learn about web sites. For example, if you type "hike mount nittany" into Google, you'll get my web site from the "I feel lucky" button on Google, since it's consistently #1. On any given day, you can type in "nittany lion photos" and get another one of my sites as #1 or #2, right behind ReplayPhotos, who I'm affiliated with. This is not an accident, but by design. These rankings can be influenced, and it's one of my specialties.
I would like to ask the members for ideas about what keywords you'd like to have pointing to this site. I can help to get reasonable keywords listed highly, so if somebody Googles "conservative groups in state college", for example, it'll point to this site, and not the random jumble it links to now.
What I would need from the group is a good, concise, list of search terms, and to get those, you need to think like somebody searching for us, which isn't as easy as it sounds.
Terms like "We Surround Them" are alright, but even that doesn't point to the new site at the moment, rather, it points to the MeetUp.com site, which should probably be taken down, since it's competing with the "real" site, which doesn't show up at all.
There's already a FaceBook group, and that's great. I think we should cross-link the ning.com site with FaceBook. There are over 200 million people on FaceBook now, and anybody who's anybody at Penn State has an account. It's just another avenue for exposure. We could even advertise there with targeted ads, or through simple spam by inviting people to join based on keyword searches.
Google is great for keyword SEO, but running ads is just as effective, and it's really cheap. You can specify a budget,too, so you never break the bank. For less than $5.00 a month, we could get some nice, targeted ads to the right people, who may not necessarily be searching for us, but who might click on the ad while searching for something else.
I'm curious about the Google ads on this site, too. Are they being run through somebody's Adsense account, or are they required by ning in exchange for the hosting? If neither, we should be getting the profits, not ning.
Cafe Press is a site that lets you upload designs that customers can purchase "one-off" on a variety of products from tee-shirts and bumper stickers to Christmas ornaments and wall clocks. Cafe Press can print a single item, instead of having to produce large lots like traditional print shops. It's a cost effective way to get stuff for the group.
Cafe Press is also a good way to make some money, since shop owners there can charge whatever markup they like. I own a shop there and I bring in a couple of grand a year just selling designs I come up with at random (or have shamelessly pilfered!) http://www.cafepress.com/hikepa
If anybody has any good ideas or sees a problem that might have an online solution I can help with, please shoot me a message!