Luke Petterson’s most recent article “Does Your Website Have Tentacles?” talks about how to make sure your website is capable of reaching out and bringing in visitors. For this installment of the 5ives, I’d like to keep with the aquatic theme to help give a new perspective on some of the core principles of website development and online marketing. And since I’m from the upper Midwest, I’ll use freshwater fishing analogies because it’s what I know.

#1 Yacht in a Pond

Make sure your website isn’t a yacht in a pond or a raft in the ocean. In other words, when building a website, make sure it’s the right size to do what you need it to. More importantly, make sure it’s something you and your crew can manage. For example, social media is a great tool, but if you don’t have someone or some company in place to manage your pages, you won’t find social media as effective. A big site with all the trimmings is an excellent marketing tool, but an un-updated site is a ghost ship and will put people off.

#2 Bait and Tackle

Know what your audience likes and what you’re willing to use to lure them in. Content is your best, and most inexpensive, source of bait. Have something worth reading and chances are good you’ll snag a few visitors. Lure search engines to index your website and you’ll be handsomely rewarded. Other types of bait are giveaways, email clubs and social media networks. Experiment with different types of tackle and stick with what works. Some offers might work better than others, so be flexible. Bait is paramount. A site without content won’t get your audience to act – they won’t bite on what you have to offer.

#3 Depth Finder

In fishing, a depth finder is a device that shows how deep the water is. Different fish swim at different depths, so knowing how deep your line is may make the difference between catching a tasty walleye or an annoying bullhead. In terms of the Web, a depth finder refers to analytics. Google Analytics does an excellent job of informing Web masters where traffic is coming from, what sorts of pages are of interest and how long people stay interested in your site. Use this tool to adjust your bait and tackle tactics. Website marketing, like fishing, takes patience and practice.

#4 Trolling versus Casting versus the Bobber

In website marketing, there is no magic Bert and Ernie  fish call. You need to decide how active you’re going to be in your website marketing tactics. For the purposes of our fish theme, there are three levels of activity: trolling, casting and bobbing. Trolling is the most active approach. Essentially, you drag your bait (content) along and actively try and bring users to your website. You’re constantly on the move looking for new, bigger and better leads. Think of trolling like search engine optimization (SEO). You put your bait in front of as many people as possible and constantly move to show new things to new people.

The second approach is casting, whereby you sit in a high-traffic area and put your content out there. If it doesn’t land right away, you regroup and put new information out there again. It’s still a very active approach to getting Web traffic even though you’re not as aggressively seeking out new and different types of visitors. The casting approach could be seen like social media, where you throw out content while staying within a popular network and try to maximize your catch by working the social networking users.

The third approach is the bobber approach. Here, you build a website and hope people come to you. It’s by far the easiest method of online marketing and it can be very effective if you’re the only bait and users are hungry for what you have to offer. The bobber approach is much like a brochure website (a site that’s content only) with a contact page. Some websites do just fine by making an attractive brochure site and registering for free online directories. Chances are, however, the biggest and best fish won’t pass by a lowly bobber. But if a passive website is all you can manage, then that’s the best you can do. You don’t want a yacht in the pond. (I hope this phrase catches on.) Just make your initial content really appealing to people who happen upon your site.

#5 Catch and Release

Success! You brought users to your website. Now it’s time to figure out what to do with them. Catch and release is a matter of visitor management. Your website should have a clear call to action and should move people along the purchase chain in some capacity, whether it’s subscribing to your email newsletter, contacting a representative for more information or buying your product online.

Visitor management also involves knowing how to handle the boots, tires and other crud you sometimes dig up. Your blog post might have attracted some spam blogger who posts empty, self-serving comments. Or maybe, your social networking site has received some negative posts by disgruntled followers. Have a plan for dealing with these situations. In the case of the bogus blog response, you’ll want to preview comments before you let them go live. Blog platforms, like WordPress, do an excellent job of allowing users to manage comments before they go live. When your social networking sites come under attack with bad press, you need to either ignore, respond-to or bury the comments. Assess the situation and then show off  your exceptional customer service skills.

This closing paragraph is “saturated” with puns. Enjoy.

The Web is a vast ocean of opportunity, but it comes with rough water and a need for an experienced Skipper to guide you through it. There are always more fish in the sea for you to catch, but you need to make sure you go where the fish are biting. Heed this advice, set sail on new online opportunities and you’ll be able to tell a fish story that’s not a fish story.