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Web Search & Marketing Newsletter - March 2005

This month we look at Image Search, which is a powerful search function offered by all the main search engines and one that can also be a useful way of generating more traffic to a website. We have also focused on using PPC advertising outside of the UK market and also how you can target regional searchers through natural or paid search listings.

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...

Optimising images for search traffic

The ability to search for images has been a key feature on the main search engines for several years now since this function was first introduced by Google and AltaVista. Image search can be a valuable resource for users and also provides an additional opportunity for websites to attract relevant traffic to their site, once images are optimised effectively.

All the main search engines now offer an image search functions with a basic search and advanced features that allow users to select results by file size, format or colour. Yahoo has recently made a number of improvements to its service to try to rival the market leader Google, and the new MSN search engine has also recently announced that they will integrate image results from the specialist Swedish search engine, PicSearch.

The Technical Advisory Service for Images has produced a comprehensive review of image search engines and directories which could be worth a read if you are interested in finding out more about this area, either from a user or website owner's perspective.

Websites can attract valuable extra traffic from image search results, either directly or indirectly. For example, sites that sell pictures, such as photos or paintings, can attract a significant proportion of their traffic directly from users looking for a specific subject or location. Sites may also attract new customers indirectly from searchers who may be looking for a product illustration or specific image and come across a site for the first time through this route.

So how can you optimise your site to rank well for image searches?

The first step is to get your images 'indexed' (where the search engine takes a copy of the page or image to use in its results). Most image search engines don't have a facility to submit images directly, so the best way to encourage these to index your pictures is to make sure that your website easy to navigate and also to obtain links from other websites to encourage search engines to navigate to your site and index all the relevant pages. An exception to this is PicSearch (which supplies images to Ask Jeeves and soon to MSN) which allows you submit the location of your pictures to them directly via email, although this can be impractical for large sites.

The next stage is to target the main keywords that people might use to find the image. These should be included in the image file name and on the 'alt' tag for the image. You should also consider optimising the text surrounding the image (in particular any captions or nearby headings) and also the title and metatags for the page. Once this is done you need to review the rankings being achieved, as you would with any page ranking, and revise the optimisation as necessary.

If you would like to find out more about optimising your site for image search engines, please contact us for further information.

International pay-per-click advertising campaigns

If your business has an international customer base you may want to explore the options for using global pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. In addition, you may want to ensure full coverage of the UK market by using some of the US-based PPC tools, although this can have potential disadvantages.

Last month we looked at some of the smaller UK PPC tools. However, another issue to consider if you are running a UK-targeted PPC campaign through tools like Google AdWords and Overture UK, is that you could potentially be missing a section of the UK market that use US search tools like MSN.com, or do not see UK listings through IP address targeting (we explain more about this below).

In these cases, you can extend your PPC advertising to the US or global market to ensure complete coverage of English-language searchers. Google AdWords allows you to target different countries or searches from around the globe just through changing the account settings. Overture's US version covers a similar range of search engines to its UK counterpart (including the .com versions of Yahoo and MSN), which together are responsible for around 50% of US search traffic and an additional account needs to be set up for this tool.

One benefit of doing this is to reach UK users that may have a US-based dial-up account (such as AOL) that won't therefore recognise them as UK searchers and so not display those PPC listings that are determined by IP location. The potential disadvantage with this approach is that your listings will be opened up to the US/global audience and although you can include 'UK' within the advert wording, they are likely to significantly increase the traffic and costs, without necessarily improving the conversion rates.

If you want to target the US or wider global market, then Google AdWords and Overture remain the main options to use. In addition, FindWhat has the third largest PPC network in the US and provides results to Search.com, Excite, Webcrawler, MetaCrawler and Dogpile. There is a minimum set up cost of $25 (which is refunded against advertising fees) but no minimum monthly spend and the minimum cost per click is 5c.

Last year FindWhat acquired the UK/European PPC provider Espotting to create a global network, although the setup and interface that the two businesses use are currently very different. This could change over the coming months as this group tries to extend its share of the PPC market.

FindWhat have also recently introduced a 'pay-per-call' feature that allows advertisers to only pay for each telephone call they receive as a result of search advertising. Adverts can include telephone numbers and the scheme is tracked through the use of an '800' number. This is likely to appeal mostly to small or localised businesses and if this scheme proves to be successful it is expected that many of the other PPC providers will roll out similar schemes, both in the US and internationally.

If you want to consider a new PPC campaign with these tools, or to extend your current activity, we would always encourage a test to see how effective they can be. Please contact us for more details of how we can help.

Regional and IP Address Targeting

As the use of search engines becomes more common, they are increasingly taking the role of online 'Yellow Pages' directories, helping users find local products or services. If your business targets a specific town or region, how can you make sure that your site is found in these results through natural or PPC listings? Also, how can you minimise the amount of paid traffic to your website from people who are in the wrong location?

The first and most obvious method is to optimise your website so that your location is included alongside the main keywords (eg: 'flowers in Brighton'). In some markets, the majority of people may search using this local method, although there may still be many people in Brighton who just search for 'flowers' but would prefer to use a local company. If you are also running a PPC advertising campaign, how do you reach them without exposing yourself to a large number of unwanted visits or paid clicks?

Some of the main search engines and PPC tools have introduced IP address targeting, which attempts to allow advertisers to target specific geographic areas. An Internet Protocol (IP) address is a unique number that identifies each internet connection from web servers or Internet Service Providers. Although the IP address can carry a range of identifying information, the only area that concerns us for search targeting is that it can carry information relating to a server's location.

One result of this is on Google.co.uk, where UK-only searches generate results from sites that use a .uk domain name, or those that may have a .com or .net domain, but are hosted on a UK IP address. This is designed to enable all UK sites to be listed here, but problems can arise if a UK site uses a .com domain and is also hosted on a server that is not in the UK, in which case the site will not appear in the search results and may consequently lose a proportion of the potential search traffic being generated.

On Google AdWords, advertisers can target a specific geographical region or city in the UK - you will sometimes see the AdWords display 'England' or 'London' below the advert, which signifies this level of targeting. However, the limitation of this technique is a searcher may be located nowhere near the location of their server, or an Internet Service Provider may assign the same IP address to a range of users, meaning that they will be served adverts for the wrong location, or miss adverts that are more relevant for them.

This level of targeting is, in principle, a powerful way of generating cost-effective traffic in a competitive marketplace, yet overcoming the current limitations of the technique could be a major undertaking. However, if an effective targeting system is implemented in the future, the main search engines could easily establish themselves as a highly effective form of localised advertising.

If you'd like to know more about targeting your business to a geographical area on the search engines, please contact us for more details.

Online time travel

Last month we looked at the Internet Archive website which can help online users go back in time. On a slightly different note this month, we take a look at time around the world.

If you have an international business that works across time zones, there are two websites that provide an excellent resource to check local time around the world.

World Time Server is a simple but effective site that allows you to select countries (and states or regions for some countries) around the world to display their current time. Time Ticker presents the information in a more visual way - you need Flash to display the global map and then drag the time line to the required location. Alternatively you can select a country from the right hand panel whereas the left hand panel lists all the countries that fall within the current time zone.

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.