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Web Search & Marketing Newsletter - January 2005

Here's the new January issue of our newsletter to get you off to a flying start with more news and advice to help market your business online. This month we've tried to predict some of the main changes that could take place during the coming year. Only time will tell how close we are and what major events we haven't foreseen!

We've also included a review of website statistics packages this month. Tracking the usage of your website is a vital part of understanding how it is working, where users are coming from and what they are doing. If you're not using this data at the moment or are unhappy with your current analysis software, this should help. We also cover the Firefox browser that launched last year and is becoming an increasing popular alternative to Internet Explorer.

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.

Best regards,
Clive Hawkins

On to this month's news...

Predictions for 2005

We couldn't start off the New Year without making some predictions of trends or events that we might see over the coming months. Nothing is ever that easy to forecast with the online market, but here are 5 predictions for 2005:

1) Spend on online advertising will continue its rapid rate of growth as more companies compete for web traffic. This will put more pressure on search advertising (pay-per-click) in particular, so that achieving an effective conversion rate and ROI (return on investment) will become harder to achieve in some competitive sectors. This will mean campaigns will need to become more effective in attracting and converting visits, but also long-term customer value will also need to be measured where possible. As the pressure on pay-per-click options and costs grow, other forms of online advertising will develop. One potential growth area will be related to the equivalent value of high ranking sites on Google that attract good traffic volumes and the opportunities for onsite advertising, sponsorship or other partnership options with related but non-competing sites. Link value will continue to be important for traffic as well as search engine rankings.

2) In the search engine market, the expected launch of MSN's new search tool in the spring will not impact the established tools immediately, although we predict that Google will make a significant change to its ranking criteria at around the same time in an attempt to refine results further and retain users. The quality of MSN's results will determine how much share it can gain, although initial tests are not that impressive. MSN are also likely to launch their own PPC scheme in the future, although this will not happen until 2006.

3) Specialised search will become a more prominent feature in 2005, ranging from subject specific search tools to local search filters gaining prominence. We also predict that Google will introduce an option to search within results by sub-categories of site, such as commercial or academic websites.

4) The number of companies offering search engine marketing services will stabilize next year as less scrupulous operators will fold or struggle for business as the more established and professional agencies will benefit from their experience in achieving effective solutions for clients, as well as website owners becoming more aware of scam operators in this field. A number of acquisitions will also begin to take place between larger agencies who continue to grow on the back of increasing online spend.

5) Finally, 2005 will be a make or break year for email spam. The quantity of this rubbish continues to spiral out of control and the increasing use of spam-busting software means that the use of email as both a marketing and general communication tool is suffering as a result. More concerted legal action will be taken to control the output of spam mail, supported by the world's banks who are now coming under increasing pressure from 'phishing' emails.

We'll see what happens as the year progresses and keep you informed of all the major developments in the online search and marketing field, either through this newsletter or via our regular reports to clients. So what do you think? Are there events that you would like to see, or not see in 2005? Let us know.

Using the Firefox browser

In recent years Microsoft's Internet Explorer has had the overwhelming share of the web browser market. However the Firefox browser - which was officially introduced in November - is gaining market share quickly and has reportedly been adopted by around 4% of web surfers to date and has set a target to gain a 10% market share within the next year.

Firefox is the latest browser released by the Mozilla project, an open source community. It is downloadable, free of charge and is very simple to install, allowing you to import your Internet Explorer bookmarks at the same time.

It includes some innovative features, such as the ability to browse with different 'tabs' in the same browser window, a built in search box (which you can use with a range of search engines) and good pop-up blocking and security features. It is also possible to customise Firefox to add a wide range of extra search features and completely change its appearance.

Try it out. It would also be worthwhile checking how your own site displays in this browser, although the variation from Internet Explorer is not bad. If you'd like us to check this for you (and send you a screenshot), please let us know.

Web analysis tools

Web analysis tools provide valuable data on your site traffic and usage, which in turn can help you to improve your site and your online marketing activity. They can answer a wealth of questions, such as:

Most packages use either a website's log files or they record information with a small piece of code placed on each page of a website.

There is a wide range of packages available, differing greatly in price and functionality. We have summarised some of the most popular options below:

i) The Free Options

Webalizer is a simple log file analysis tool that you can load onto your web server and use to view your website statistics online. It provides yearly, monthly or daily summary information on usage, referrals and search engines and keywords.

AWStats is a more advanced log file analyser which is developed by the 'open source' community. It provides complete lists of referrers and keywords and also includes good information about the browsers, screen sizes and operating systems that are being used to view a site. Its main limitations are that it can be quite difficult to install and it does not provide the facility to export data to a spreadsheet format.

ii) Hosted Analysis Packages

Hosted analysis tools display your statistics on a secure website and providers charge a monthly fee for their service, meaning you can get started without a large initial expense. To set a package up, most require a small piece of code to be placed on every page of your site, which tends to be very simple to do.

The majority place 'cookies' on your visitor's computer to measure unique visits and browsing patterns. However caching, dynamically generated pages, frames and firewalls can often disrupt this process, meaning that the statistics they provide may not be totally accurate in terms of volume, but are still useful for measuring trends over time.

These commercial tools provide more detailed information than the free tools and allow you to create reports based on custom date ranges and export reports to spreadsheet files, which can be very useful in many business settings.

Some of the most popular tools for small and medium sized business are LiveStats.net ($49 per month), HitBox Professional ($35) and WebTrends 7 ($35). Click Tracks ($49) is a slightly different package that allows you to view statistics superimposed on different sections of your website, making it easier to visualise behaviour.

iii) Standalone Packages

Most of the main commercial providers also offer a 'stand alone software' version of their packages that you can use on your own computer. There is a high up front cost to this type of solution and they tend to use a website's log-files so can be more complex to set up. However this can be more appropriate if you work with a number of different websites or are certain you want use a tool in the long run as there is only a one-time fee and the software provides faster performance.

Most commercial packages offer a demo version or a free trial that you can test by running through the scenarios you are most likely to face before you buy.

In many cases your hosting company will provide statistics through a favoured package, depending on the fees paid or the depth of data required. If you're not sure what statistics are available for your site, or how to make the most of your log files to develop your site, please contact us for more details of how we can help.

Google logos

If you're a regular user of Google (and who isn't these days!) you probably noticed the seasonal logos being used before Christmas with cartoon characters integrated with the logo. Google's sense of fun has meant that these 'holiday logos' have been used quite often over the past few years to mark special events and have included some impressive executions of their logo to match the theme.

You can see all the different versions used over the past 6 years on the Google site. We especially like the versions marking birthdays of famous people from 2002 onwards. When these were used, clicking on the logo would have taken you through to a list of search results related to the event.

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.