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It’s all about being noticed

A great web site isn’t much use if no-one’s visiting. Julie-anne Sprague reports on how web optimisation can help.

A WEB site with sensational graphics, broadcast quality sound and extensive use of technology may all add up to a good site, but this doesn’t necessarily translate to good web presence.

Many companies are starting to realise this and are turning to a group of professionals called web optimisers to lift their web site prominence.

Web optimisation firms differ from web design houses and some web developers in that their goal is to help a web site gain prominence in the search engine market.

According to the web optimisers spoken to by WA Business News, 80 per cent of all Internet traffic to a website is derived from search engine use.

Those sites incompatible with how search engines retrieve data could be left tangled in the web with millions of other sites.

ineedhits.com partner segment manager, Warren Duff, said making a site work well on the web involved good knowledge of search engines.

“The way I look at it is, the web site is no good unless you have visitors there,” he said.  “Most people get there via a search engine and unless you have a top level domain name or a well known name like McDonald’s then a suspect [some-one searching for your site] interested in your service needs to find you via a search engine.

“If they go in and search, you want to be listed close to the top of that search.”

And that’s where these companies make their bread and butter. Most of the big name search engines, such as Google, Yahoo and Looksmart, have databases or indexes made up of an enormous number of URLs (web site ad-dresses).

Web optimisers use a range of techniques to generate greater prominence for sites and utilise paid position, pay per click, and key words to tap into the search algorithms used by the search engine technology.

What is essential, no matter which search engine is used, is for a web site to have relevance to the subject matter.

Search engines scan for key words that determine ranking in order of relevance and there are a couple of techniques that help get better rankings for web sites, according to Mr Duff. 

“A web site needs to have the content and wording right in order to have relevance. The search engines don’t publish how the algorithm works but the titles and words in a site get put through that algorithm and that determines its relevance to a topic,” he said.

Webfirm, a division of Consolidated Business Media, specialises in both website design and optimisation. According to the company’s division manager John Boseley, many web developers pay insufficient attention to the importance of web optimisation.

He said Webfirm could design, build and market a web site and guarantee that the site would either come up first or at least be listed on the first page of any Internet search.

“We don’t recommend a lot of sound and movement until broad-band really takes off,” Mr Boseley said.

“Research tells us that most people will not wait more than 30 to 40 seconds for a page to download. Having said that, a lot of our clients are targeting the corporate sector. We will re-commend things like graphics because they will be using broad-band.”

Web optimisation was growing in importance, he said, to the point that Webfirm had launched a new division called Search Logic to specialise in web marketing and web optimisation.

Pay-for-inclusion is one method used to secure high search rankings and to ensure web sites appear on search engines faster.

According to Mr Duff, submitting a website to a search engine is free, however it can take the search engine administrators up to seven weeks to look at the website for its relevance.

“That’s a long time. But in 2000 the search engines thought about how they could make money,” Mr Duff said.

Most search engines introduced a pay-for-inclusion system, which means a website can pay money to increase its ranking. Google does not use this system.

“It’s a subscription type format. You pay and will be included within 48 hours to seven days,” Mr Duff said.

You can pay for up to 1,000 URLs, remembering that every link on your website is a new URL. The costs vary but generally the first URL is $39.

Another form of web presence is known as pay per-click, which can place a web site on Internet searches as a sponsored link.

The company is charged a fee each time someone clicks on its web link.

So what about web site design? Do flashy graphics hinder a web site’s ability to generate traffic? According to web experts spoken to by WA Business News there needs to be a balance between graphics and text and that using ‘Flash’ software can sometimes be a problem.

“The trend has been to make a very pretty website but from a search engine point of view they are very difficult to understand. The search engines can’t read Flash,” Mr Duff said.

“It needs a balance between looking good and functionality. For example, when a brochure is scanned in and loaded on a web page the search engine does not read the words on that brochure as text, it reads it as graphics.

“Graphic headings are also read as graphics and not words.”

As a result a site reduces its relevance because there are less registered words to link it to a subject matter.

Vivid Interactive and Design managing director Damian Cook said it was possible to get around some of the search engine pro-grams.

“We use doorway pages. We build three fake front pages. They all have individual key words that target a particular product or segment,” he said.

“That means you have three sets of keywords rather than one.”

Essential to making a website work was its ability to “stick”, according to South West E-Commerce Strategies partner Dave Roberts.

“What do people come there for? Why do they keep using it? A website that people returned to time and time again is said to be ‘sticky’,” Mr Roberts said.

“To achieve that, content is king. If it is really user friendly it will give the client what the client wants.”

He said it was vital that companies delivered on promises offered online.

“Offering people the ability to email you is a useful thing. But if you are not geared up to respond to them, then don’t do it,” Mr Roberts said.

It also was important to link the website to the business plan, he said.

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