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Web Search & Marketing Newsletter - February 2005

In the search market, this year seems to be getting off to a busy start with new products and options being offered by the main search engines on a weekly basis - all good news for web users who are benefiting from the increased competition between these major companies.

The long-awaited MSN Search tool has now 'gone live' slightly earlier than expected, as the Beta format tool is now displaying the results on the main MSN search site - more details below.

We have also included a feature on some of the smaller pay-per-click search tools that are available to get some additional coverage of the UK market. These tools have some advantages over the 'big 2' - Google AdWords and Overture - which we outline below.

To find out more, please read on below. You can also browse through previous editions and if you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, just submit your details using the form at the side of the page.

On to this month's news...

MSN release their new search engine

As we reported last year, Microsoft has been developing its own search engine to compete with Google and Yahoo and this has been launched during January on MSN. The new look search engine and revised results listings have been available in a 'beta' format for several months and we reviewed this in a previous newsletter issue. Now that is has been introduced into the main MSN Search tool we have started to notice some substantial changes to the search engine results being shown, although it is still too early to detect any real trends and the importance of the ranking criteria being used.

The search engine does seem to be effective at indexing the majority of pages within a website, which is good news for large, dynamic websites which will be able to use their pages to target a wide range of search phrases. It also hints that 'paid inclusion' (where websites pay a search engine to index all of their pages) is dying out, with only Yahoo still offering this service, and it is possible to submit sites to the new MSN search engine.

The launch of this tool now means that MSN is no longer using the same search results as Yahoo and therefore there are 3 major players in the search engine market, each with their own search engine. Yahoo and MSN could start to make some in-roads into Google's dominance now, by improving their usability and results and through heavy marketing of these services through their portal services. Soon this could mean that any major changes to one of these engines should not have such a dramatic impact on a website's search engine traffic in the way that changes to Google over the last few years have done and it will also become less important to heavily target just one search engine.

If you're a current client, we'll be reporting on the impact of the new MSN search engine on your ranking results over the next few months and making recommendations of action that may be required to improve your rankings on this search tool.

Smaller pay-per-click tools in the UK

Although Google AdWords and Overture currently dominate the pay-per-click (PPC) advertising market, there are a number of other options to use that all use the same principle of bidding for top ranking position, although traffic volumes and coverage will vary depending on the network of sites used.

However, if you find that pay-per-click is effective for your business and you want to try some wider coverage of the smaller search tools in the UK, you should consider these options:

Espotting

Espotting was a strong competitor of Overture's several years ago, but its partnership with the large search engines has dropped away and it now serves results across several hundred smaller search tools, including business directories and shopping portals. As a result, the number of advertisers and the bid levels have dropped on this tool and it could be a cheap way of extending coverage through PPC advertising.

Due to the profile of websites on its network, Espotting tends to be more suitable for retail and other consumer targeted advertising. There is a 10p minimum bid level, plus a 10 set-up fee and 50 minimum deposit to start a campaign. Listings tend to be displayed with a small logo alongside and the top 10 listings tend to get good coverage on most first pages of the results shown. The disadvantages of Espotting are that campaign management is not particularly easy compared to some of the other PPC tools, and the reporting is limited, to the extent that search volumes and therefore clickthrough rates cannot be assessed.

Espotting was acquired by FindWhat in 2004, which is one of the largest PPC providers in the US, so we may find that this service becomes a larger player again in the future. It also has a reasonable European network covering Ireland, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

Mirago

Mirago is the largest UK-only search engine that enables searches by region as well as nationally. It offers a PPC programme that will display 'Featured Results' above the search engine results on this search engine, plus it integrates these listings with a number of search partners, including DogPile, Copernic, The Local Web and UK Sprite.

There is a 25 deposit to set up an account on Mirago and no minimum monthly spend. It offers an impressive array of account management tools, including the option to use 'Day Parting' - where you can limit your campaign to appear at certain times of the day, or days of the week, when potential customers are likely to be searching - and also Traffic Selection, where you can select only those sources that display your advert with a high ROI (return on investment).

Mirago also provides some detailed reporting tools, making this an impressive service that deserves wider coverage and usage in the UK market. It also offers similar national and regionally targeted search services in France, Germany, Spain, Italy and 6 other countries.

WebFinder

WebFinder was launched in 2003 by Thomson Local to provide an alternative PPC tool for national and regional advertisers. Their coverage of the UK market through a number of search partners has fluctuated since this time and the adverts are now displayed on supplementary pages on large portals like Wanadoo and Tiscali, or smaller search tools like StreetMap and Turbo10.

The minimum bid cost on this tool is 10p. There are a number of package options to set up an account, however the cheapest still charges a high 49 'administration fee' plus a minimum 50 click deposit gives this tool a high initial start-up cost. Once active, the account management is quite straightforward and reporting tools provide some reasonable information, despite not being very intuitive!

WebFinder has recently deleted one of its partner sites due to excessive traffic volumes being reported, which is somewhat concerning but also reassuring that WebFinder is monitoring this activity and taking the appropriate action to combat possible fraud.

PPC advertising in other countries

We shall be reviewing this issue in more detail in a future issue of the newsletter, but if your business is targeting countries in Europe or worldwide, there is a network of PPC tools that can be used - most notably, Overture and Espotting provide some good networks of PPC advertising across Europe and also Google AdWords can be activated to appear in selected countries worldwide.

Another consideration is to use Overture's US tool to increase potential coverage of English-language searches worldwide. Some UK web users will use search tools that display adverts from this account, so it can be useful to extend your UK coverage with an additional account on this tool (and on Google AdWords) although you do need to consider that you will also be generating traffic from US searchers as well, which may make a campaign uneconomic.

With all the PPC tools listed above, we would encourage you to test these whenever possible and ideally by tracking responses from each source to see if they can be cost-effective means of generating new business. If you would like to know more, or wish to set up a new PPC account on any of these tools, please contact us for more details.

Managing your email marketing campaigns

How can you use email effectively to promote your business? We briefly covered this subject in a previous newsletter, looking at the advantages or using email to generate new or repeat business, as well as the potential pitfalls. In essence, email can be simple to implement, but hard to get right.

We can offer an email marketing service to our customers to help produce regular newsletters, targeted promotions, or one-off mailings to promote your business. We will combine our marketing experience in this field, together with an email management program provided by one of our partners, which can customise your requirements and even integrate each campaign with your website. Some of the features of this service include:

We are able to offer you this service, whether you have an existing email list or need to develop a completely new strategy. We can develop an email marketing programme for you and design a template for your messages, then prepare the emails and manage the campaign through to results and analysis.

Contact us now to find out more.

One of the main issues facing email marketing campaigns now is how to handle email filters operated by many companies. As spam email has become an increasing problem, more and more legitimate emails are not able to get to their intended recipients as the filters automatically delete or bounce messages that trigger the blocking action.

Often you won't know whether an email has reached a recipient, which can impact the responses to a campaign - and it may not just be mass mailings that are prevented, as individual email messages can also fall foul of a filter if the sender is not recognised.

Here are some quick tips to make sure that your emails reach their destination safely and are not perceived as spam:

For more information about setting up and running an effective email marketing campaign, please contact us.

The online time machine

Can you remember how your website looked 2, 5 or even 9 years ago (if it even existed)? Well, for some enlightening fun, try the Internet Archive's WayBack Machine. Over 30 billion web pages have been recorded and archived since 1996 and you can view how websites used to look through many design changes or updates.

For example, try some of the original search engines - AltaVista, Excite or Lycos - to see how they have changed, or of course, your own website or those of your competitors. Sometimes pages or images don't display, but often the results can be illuminating and surprising!

It is also a good way of working out how long a company has been online when trying to establish their credibility.

We hope you've found this month's newsletter informative. Please contact us if you need any more details on the items covered, or our advice on any aspect of your website's performance. Also, if there are any issues you would like to see in future editions of this newsletter, please submit your suggestions.