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Getting the most out of search engines

Few web users will look past the second page of results on a search engine. This means that if your website isn't rated as one of the 20 best matches for someone's search, you are unlikely to pick up passing trade. While this can sound daunting, there are lots of things you can do to improve your rating.

* Include the right keywords or metadata (information that describes a web page, but isn't visible on the pages) when you build your website.

* Exchange reciprocal links with related trade associations, consumer forums and sites selling related (but not competing) goods or services to boost your ranking on sites that measure a site's popularity.

* Pay search engines to include your website in search lists.

* Consider paying for a sponsored link alongside search engine results.

* Use pay per click to bid for particular keywords or phrases to make sure you appear at the top of a search engine's listings. Your ranking is determined by how much you pay and the number of click-throughs you receive. The amounts bid may change on a daily basis so you may lose your ranking. You may also be required to set up an account to cover the costs incurred.

In-house or agency?

You can engage the services of a professional search engine placement agency, though if you are a small business with a limited budget, and your website is just one of several channels to market, you may be better off saving resources.

If you do decide to go for an agency, ask for:

* Proof of its success with previous customers
* The cost-per-click of the extra traffic it can generate
* An analysis of your current website's suitability for search engines, including suggestions for improvements