Getting By With a Little Help From... Perfect Strangers!

by Tom Snyder on Nov 17, 2000

When a Web site’s success is dependent on significant amounts of traffic, the site owner’s business model includes marketing and promotional efforts designed to drive visitors to the site. Some efforts succeed. Some fail. Occasionally, you get a little help from out of nowhere. One of our clients recently was the beneficiary of such help.

The Sport Utility Vehicle Owners Association Of America (SUVOA) is an organization that was formed to help SUV owners enjoy the responsible operation of their multi-purpose vehicles by informing members about emerging issues and developments, as well as giving them a united voice before Government, regulatory bodies, insurance companies and the media. The centerpiece of the organization is a Web site,, designed and built by Websight Solutions.

The site and the organization launched in April, accompanied by the typical hoopla, press releases and media coverage that happens whenever a new enterprise hits the market. Up to 5 minutes of “face-time” on the local news reports and a feature in USA Today helped to give the site a modest opening week spike in traffic. Follow up promotion included search engine registration, newsletters, and the occasional filler in a newscast or magazine article.

After the initial spike, the traffic settled into a regular pattern and the number of visitors became fairly predictable. Because the site offered an opportunity for visitors to take a survey and be rewarded with a free license plate frame, the predictability of that traffic was good for planning how many license plate frames they would need to keep in stock to meet the demand… historically a couple per day.

A few weeks back, one of the site owners asked if, somehow, we had suddenly decided to send a bunch of survey results to them we had been saving up. The results had always been submitted to them real-time, so that wasn’t the case here, but there was now a mystery. After months of getting a few completed surveys and free license plate frame requests per day, that morning they had received 300!

We checked their log reports and saw that, after months of a few hundred hits per day, that day there had been 16,000.

But that was just the beginning!

The following day the site received 24,000 hits. The day after that there were 60,000 hits. After that peak, the hits trailed off gradually, retuning to their previous levels after a week.

We put on our Sherlock Holmes hats to get to the bottom of this sudden spike in traffic. The referrer logs showed a ton of traffic having come from a Web site they had never heard of before. The site was Totally Freebies (, a site that offers links to other sites offering free merchandise. While the site allows you to advertise and submit your own site as a place to go for freebies, SUVOA had not done that. Somehow, the folks at had discovered that SUVOA.COM was a place you could go to to get free license plate frames. And boy, did they go! By the thousands.

Although filling all the license plate frame orders totally disrupted their operation for a week, the traffic was welcome because the spike resulted in a bunch of new members. However, the most valuable benefit of this episode are the lessons they (and we) can learn.

1.) When it comes to promotion, look for both Goliaths AND Davids.

Going for promotion in USA Today is a given. But the mentions (and the link at along with the other media mentions only resulted in about 10,000 hits. The listing in resulted in over 100,000 hits. The conventional wisdom would rate a listing in USA Today as a home run. But the real out-of-the-park hit was the listing. The lesson here is to look for unique and obscure opportunities like this, and don’t think your job is done just because you got six column inches in USA Today or the Wall Street Journal.

2.) Exploit conventional wisdom first, then move beyond it and find creative angles.

The logical place to try to get links would be SUV related sites. But sites that attract hundreds of thousands of visitors who normally might not care about your product or service can be exploited with the right incentive. has NOTHING to do with SUV’s, yet it generated tens of thousands of hits for an SUV site. There are hundreds of sites that have thousands of visitors that are just a click away from your site, if given a motivating incentive. It will take some work to find them but who said success would be easy?

3.) Make sure you keep your site’s business model goals in mind.

Don’t just give stuff away to give stuff away! The SUVOA site offered a free promotional item, but they did so in exchange for valuable demographic information… information that will be turned into revenue by SUVOA. Secondarily, they are hoping to gain new paid members. While paid membership was not required to receive the license plate frame, filling out a survey and becoming a free associate member was. Associate members get regular newsletters containing offers for other perks, and constant reminders of the benefits of a full paid membership.

4.) Use the Grocery Industry’s Dairy Case strategy.

Grocery stores put milk as far away from the front door as they can for a reason. They want to take an item that may be the shopper’s only reason for coming into the store and make them walk past hundreds of other items in hopes of selling more on impulse. While you need to make it easy for your real partisans to quickly and easily get what they came for, it is wise to make sure that people who come for other reasons (freebies, coupons, etc.) get sidetracked into other areas of your site on their way to the goodies. At the SUVOA site, the link to the giveaway was not as obvious as the link to join the organization (and put your membership fee on a credit card).

5.) Be prepared for success.

SUVOA ran out of license plate frames. While they wait for more, they’ve had to temporarily suspend the giveaway. The link from was a surprise, so there was no way to plan for this. But if you’re planning for success, that means doing everything you can to guarantee that success, as well as making sure you’re ready to handle the success.

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