A lot of words have been used to describe viral marketing, even though the name itself implies it all.

Think about a virus for a moment, how it seeks out then inhabits other systems around the body.

Now imagine that virus in a positive way, seeking out and inhabiting many places on the Internet.

There are essentially two forms of viral marketing in broad operation around the online world.

They are known individually as "Cross Promotion" and "Co-Marketing."

They differ in their goals, but perform the same vi ral task, that of identifying common markets and trading information to attract attention from each others assets.

This may seem to contradict common business practice; for example, one wouldnt expect to find McDonalds displaying ads at Burger King.

The Internet is different.

Cross Promotion

Cross promotion means finding other busi nesses like yours and trading information.

Your first step is to identify those sites that exhibit a definite similarity with what you do.

For example, if you have a site about regional travel opportunities, you would seek out other index sites, as well as specific travel outlets, such as motels, transportation businesses, tour guides, restaurants, etc.

Find professional looking sites that you find appealing and interesting.

Now that you have a list of sites, and youve collected contact information about those sites, youre ready to set your marketing virus loose.
Try to individualize each message, and email each of your contacts by expr essing enthusiasm about the market you wish to share.
Generate some excitement!  What you are looking for is the ability to exchange information in the form of website placements and email offers.
Dont limit y ourself to swapping banners or newsletter ads.

You want to take things a little further.

If you own a mailing list, suggest a dedicated, solo swap, where their subscribers lear n all about you, and yours about them.
Offer articles for publishing on a topic of interest if your partner site is publishing content.
On a website, youre looking for "integration" and not "advertising." Get into the sites navigation system, for example.
Supply content in the form of articles for resource pages.

If you have the ability, you can actually template such pages into the look and feel of the other site, then send them an email with a URL to view the page.

In our example above, you could have articles about the various towns in your regional travel site, and have specific target sites, like motels, take your page for inclusion on their own site.
They can either use your code, or just link to y our page, which is wrapped in their template.
Alternatively, you might have a search functi on at your site, which you could offer as a service to other sites, free of charge.
This invitation then adds a functionality to the other site and generates interest in you as the s upplier.
All website owners are looking for good content, as well as enhancing their sites functionality.
If you can use your site to help them, you both win and the virus grows.
The point is to be innovative, and to see how your ideas can benefit the site you with which you want to cross promote.


Co-Marketing

Co-marketing differs from cross promotion in what is being traded.
In cross promotion, the emphasis is on information to attract visi tors.
Co-marketing attempts to further the trade by exchanging information aimed at generating revenue.

This could be achieved with online coupons, or even an ecommerce reservation system.
Or it could work as a custom affiliate program where your clicks are traceable to sales at the other site.

As the above scenario suggests, another di fference between co-marketing and cross promotion is that co-marketing information does not necessarily have to be displayed by both parties.
Thats not to say it cant work both ways.
Lets say you sell search engine submissions.
You could sell your service thr ough a site that sells domain names.
Both markets are identical webmasters.
But you are selling totally different products.
Now you can sell domain names, and your partner can sell search submission services.
By co-marketing, you not only expand your r each, you have the ability to expand your inventory as well.

The really fantastic thing about co-marketing onli ne is the low cost of integration.
In the brick and mortar world, youre looking at pa ckaging, shipping, stocking, and retail costs.

On the Web, even if you dont know how, you can find somebody who can make the electronic integration take place at a tiny frac tion of what it would cost to reach the same audience in the physical marketplace.

Summary

Viral marketing efforts, no matter how small, will always increase your visitors over time.

Giving careful consideration to your first tasks of identifying and contacting those that share your online market will substantia lly enforce the vigor of the virus.

As you form more alliances with other website and list owners, the virus spreads.

Whats even better, as you grow, so does the number of people that will try to virally market with you, and your inbox will collect pl eas to do exactly what you did with your original contacts