Right now there are thousands of servers online and hundreds of thousands Minecraft players playing on the servers. Today I will give you a helping hand and show you exactly what you have to do in order to get a piece of the cake and have a popular Minecraft server with lots of players. You don't necessarily have to follow these steps in the order I'm giving you them.
Step 1: Add Your Server to Server Lists
Early on you should add your server to a server list. Just make sure the server is online and it's possible to connect to. This will help you gain exposure faster when you have got your server up running with all the plugins and modifications you want. Once you feel ready and want to launch it for real you should take advantage of a Minecraft plugin called Votifier. It is a plugin which allows you to reward players when they are online on your server and voting for it. There are several scripts for free you can use. These scripts you find over at the Bukkit Developer Forum and are called listeners.
Step 2: Be Unique
Unique is a word which is important to keep in mind while creating your server. It doesn't necessarily have to be a complete new server with only self-made plugins and a new type of gameplay. Maybe you really want to create a roleplay server but then an attempt of making it unique could be going for a medieval type of roleplaying game, or roleplay similar to the world we are living in today.
Grab a popular fairly popular niche and make it your own by adding your unique touch to it. This is the key to success!
Step 3: Be Careful of Who You Choose to Trust
In the early beginnings of servers there usually is a quite good stream of new players which want to become admins. It's also quite easy as server owner to accept these requests because you want to keep them as players. It's quite dangerous to trust a lot of these people with admin powers because sometimes these are people only wanting power so they can hurt others. It might sound cruel and unreal but just look at the real world and you won't be amazed anymore.
Choose carefully the people you trust with such powers. Make sure they are mature, polite and the average population of the server likes them. If not, it's more than likely you will find yourself with a troublemaker admin and less new players.
Step 4: Be a Fair Server Owner
A new server with few players can sometimes be harder to manage than a larger server because it's easier to become more intimite with players on a smaller server as you spend more time together with them. Make sure not to give away free items and tools because in the future the economy (if you care for one) will be quite demolished because the older players have loads of money and items. It's also bad because it makes it easier to create tension between players. It's better to give nothing to no one and instead on focusing have a great time together doing different events and such instead.