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Web Search & Marketing Newsletter - May 2008

Welcome to the latest monthly edition of our web search and marketing newsletter, bringing you the current news and trends in the online marketing sector.

In this issue we look at several pieces of research that have just been published. The first analyses the trend for online shopping in Australia and how growth seems to have halted due to the limitations being set by retailers. The second research report looks at how web searchers are using 'universal' search results on Google and the other main search engines and what this means for search engine marketing campaigns. Finally we take a more technical look at the issues involved when moving a website to a new hosting location or domain name and what impact this can have on search engine indexing and rankings.

Read more about these stories below, or you can also browse through previous editions of the newsletter, either by month or by subjects covered.

On to this month's edition...

Is online retail stagnating in Australia?

Recent research published in Australia appears to indicate that the number of online buyers in the country has leveled out and that many web users who aren't currently shopping online don't intend to start. This is a surprising finding and should be a concern for many online retailers and for the Internet industry as a whole, so why might this be happening?

The research was completed by The Leading Edge consultancy who looked at current online shopping trends and future intentions. Despite the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics which reported that 61% of Australians shopped online in 2006-07, this new research casts a more sombre outlook on the way future habits are expected to develop, at least in the short term.

Part of the reason for this stagnation is reported to be due to poor or unclear return policies by the retailers (47%) or high delivery charges (32%). Australia's limited Internet capability is also quoted as being an obstacle for users, as well as the online strategies of traditional 'bricks and mortar' retail stores that tend to hinder their own online success.

Unlike retailers in the US and Europe that are embracing the opportunities of selling online, The Leading Edge say that many retailer websites in Australia are little more than online catalogue pages, with limited selling channels that offer few integrated services between existing stores and websites. Ultimately they claim that there is little being offered at the moment to excite shoppers or to give them the confidence to change their current habits and spend more online.

This may indeed be true for some of the mainstream retailers who want to protect their established retail businesses, whereas the increasing numbers of specialist retailers who have developed their businesses solely online tend to demonstrate a more advanced use of the Internet as a selling channel.

However, as the online market develops – particularly with Web 2.0 applications – all Internet retailers need to consider new methods to sell their products and to stand out from competitors. This could mean creating more interaction and personalization with their customers and target market, such as by using blogs, online communities and RSS feeds, or by incorporating videos or podcasts to demonstrate products to customers. As the market becomes more competitive then retail websites need to be more creative in finding ways of attracting new visitors and converting more of these to satisfied buyers.

If you'd like to discuss ideas about how the web can be used to sell products online more effectively, then please contact us now and we'll be pleased to help.


The impact of 'universal search' on search behaviour

The introduction of 'universal search' (sometimes referred to as 'blended search') in 2007 is having a significant impact on the search market, both from the angle of search engine marketing as well as from the way that searchers are now using these combined results.

A new research report published by iProspect in the US shows that most web users still tend to prefer making general web searches, rather than use the specialised 'vertical' search options, such as news, images or blogs. However, reflecting the more recent move by the search engines to present these 'universal' search results – where results from different search options are combined into the main search engine results - the study found that searchers are more responsive to the type of search results that now display multiple forms of results in one place, including text, video, images and news.

The research reports that only 17% of users who conduct a news-specific search actually click on a result, while 36 % of users click on news results that appear within general searches. In a similar way, 26% of users find satisfactory results when conducting an image-specific search, while 31% click on image results within general search results and for video there was also a similar pattern (10% versus 17%).

The report concludes that this trend is due to a common “aversion to vertical search” (or perhaps an unfamiliarity with these options) among web users. As universal search is becoming more integrated and so more commonly displayed for relevant search results, more web users are becoming familiar with these combined results and are therefore becoming more familiar with these options.

This will therefore strengthen the role of universal search and highlights the need for business websites to consider how they can optimise for all the different search results that may be presented. However, as iProspect also point out, vertical search also still exists as an option and companies shouldn't ignore the need to optimise for these results as well since they can be more focused and less 'cluttered' (and competitive) than the main search results list.

To find out more about the impact of 'universal search' results and how your business could benefit, please contact us now.


Moving a website's hosting or domain

The need to move the hosting location of a website can sometimes arise and often causes webmasters some concerns about how this may affect their website on search engines. If the need also arises to change the domain name of a site there can be other considerations to minimize the impact of any move.

Firstly, if you need to move your website to a new server or hosting company, there are a number of steps that can be taken to minimize the impact that such a move may have on the way that the site is being indexed by search engines. Ideally the site should be moved to the new host location and tested on the IP address before any other changes take place.

Next, the DNS settings of the domain name needs to be changed to point to the new IP address. Once that's all in place it's really then a question of monitoring the activity logs for the site to see when the 'spiders' from each of the main search engines visit the site in its new location. This can be achieved directly through the logs or through an account with Google Webmasters or through Yahoo!'s Site Explorer of Microsoft's Webmaster Live panel.

If there are no crawl errors then there should be no further problems and the old IP address can be closed. The new site should now be getting indexed in the new hosting location and there should be no effect on the ranking performance of the site, although moving the hosting to a new country location could have some impact on rankings within the regional versions of Google.

A more dramatic change can be when your site has to change its domain name for whatever reason, as this is much like creating a brand new website and any ranking performance that the current domain has achieved could be lost. Therefore the process of moving a site to a new domain needs to be handled much more cautiously.

Ideally you can move part of the site first, such as a one directory or section from the existing site. A '301 redirect' will be an essential tool to help the transition as this is a permanent redirect command that tells the search engines that your site has permanently moved to this new location. If you can see the moved pages being indexed under the new domain then this will demonstrate that the redirect is working smoothly and the whole site can then be moved by using the same process.

When using a 301 redirect you need to try to redirect each page if possible, rather than a blanket redirect to the new domain name, which will create a lot of 'dead' pages from the old site still being listed in the search results and so generate 404 errors. You will need to ensure that you have a tailored 404 error page for your site in the event that pages get missed and users try to enter the site from an old page which will still be listed on the search results for some time.

Next, you will need to check both the external and internal links pointing to pages on your website. For external links you'll probably need to update directory listings or contact the webmaster of each site and ask them to update the links to point to the new domain. If this isn't practical, make sure that all pages with incoming links are redirected to your new site.

You should also check internal links within your old site, and update them to point to your new domain, particularly if the absolute domain path has been used or page names have changed as well. Once your content is in place on your new server, use an online link checker to make sure you don't have broken links on your new site.

It will be necessary to submit and verify the new domain on each of the webmaster consoles for the main search engines, as mentioned above, and to create a new sitemap and robots file for the new domain. In the event of any problems or errors arising from the move, it's also best to retain control of your old site domain for at least 180 days so that any issues can still be resolved.

As these comments indicate, it's really advisable not to move a large or established website to a new domain if it can be helped, but there are ways to avoid problems if you plan ahead and put all these steps into place. Moving to a new hosting location is less of a problem but still one that needs to consider the potential impact on the site's search engine rankings, especially if these are driving a large amount of business traffic.

To find out more about either of these transfer issues and how they may affect your website, please contact us for further information and advice.


Recent articles from The Marketing Workbench

The Marketing Workbench is our regular web marketing blog covering news and comment on Internet marketing events and trends. If you want to keep track of current stories you can visit this section of our website on a regular basis, or set up an RSS feed. These are just some of the items posted over the past month:


We hope you've found this month's issue useful. Please contact us if you need any more information 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 to us.