Unfortunately, building a great website is not enough. No matter how awesome your site is and how much value it provides, no one is ever going to see it if you don't promote it. And, promoting your site is likely to be the hardest part of your online business. Fortunately though there are a great variety of ways you can promote your site, and you can choose the combination of methods that best suits your business. There are three primary sources of "traffic" or visitors: unpaid search, paid advertising, and social networking. I'll cover all three below, including links to more in depth sections on each.
Search engine optimization, usually referred to as SEO, originated as a way to make sure your website could be crawled and indexed by search engine crawlers or "bots". It's become far, far more than that today, and the phrases search engine marketing (SEM) or internet marketing are actually more descriptive of what SEO today involves. There are only 10 positions (if you're lucky!) on the first page of most search engines, and for commercially valuable search phrases there can be hundreds or thousands of people competing to get onto that first page. In fact, if you're not in the top 5 for your targeted terms, unless the terms are extremely high volume, you might as well not have a website if you're not doing any other form of promotion. SEO is extraordinarily competitive, but that doesn't mean you don't have a chance. Most people don't really know how to properly do SEO, attempt to use shortcuts that often do more harm than good, or don't have a quality site capable of producing the quality signals that search engines are using to determine rank. For much more information see our section on SEO.
If you're not getting visitors through SEO, or the "organic results", the next best searched based source is pay-per-click marketing or advertising, called PPC. While other search engines and companies provide advertising opportunities, Google Adwords is the most commonly used and can provide the most traffic to your website. Facebook is probably a close second, and Facebook ads tend to be less expensive than Adwords. PPC advertising can be extremely expensive depending on the terms you're targeting, the average price per click you need to bid, and the search volume. If you're not selling a product yourself with good margins and a decent conversion rate, PPC likely isn't for you. You can learn much more about PPC on our PPC page.
In addition to PPC, there are countless opportunities for paid advertising both online and offline. High traffic sites in your niche or in related niches may offer space for advertising with fixed rates. If you're selling a product that solves a need and can find non-commercial information sites in the niche, they can be great places to buy direct ads. Offline, there are opportunities in newspapers (especially if you have a locally focused site), magazines, and even billboards.
Social networking is not only a great way to get visitors to your website or blog. It can also provide a great boost to your SEO efforts. Rather than only thinking of social networking as talking to your friends on Facebook or Twitter, you should consider it a way to get your website or business out there (and generate links). You can network and connect with people by participating on industry forums and blogs and contacting the owners of other websites in your niche. Real social networking is likely to produce lasting results, as the people you're communicating with already have a presence on the web and the ability to spread your message if they find it valuable.
Should you have Facebook and Twitter pages? I may be in the minority, but I don't think so. Here's why. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't include Facebook and Twitter "like" buttons on your site. Including the "like" buttons allows people to easily talk about your site, without wasting your time on other people's businesses.
See our social networking page for more information and tips.
The key to all three methods of promotion is value. If your website doesn't provide something of unique value to the visitor it's likely to fail. Before you even begin building your website you should come up with a plan that adds value to the niche, and an angle that's different from all the other sites on the same subject. Without adding value, there will be nothing to distinguish your site from the hundreds or thousands of others your competitors will no doubt be making.