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The Web Lives

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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the June 26, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

The Web Lives

Connotate Technologies is an Internet company. The New

Brunswick-based start-up creates software that lets people who are

not programmers tag Internet content (U.S. 1, March 21, 2001). Yet,

despite its ‘Net savvy, the company’s website was getting not more

than 100 hits a month, and it was generating no sales leads.

Larry Bailin, CEO of Brick-based Single Throw, a web marketing firm,

tells this story. Connotate turned to his company to up their website’s

volume last month. "We started three weeks ago," Bailin says.

As of June 18, a jubilant Connotate informed him via E-mail, its website

had received 1,000 hits and generated nine sales inquires. And the

month was little more than half over.

"It’s not smoke and mirrors," says Bailin. "There’s no

magic bullet." Upping the number of quality hits a website receives

requires extensive research and hard work. "Seventy-five percent

of our time is spent on research, twenty-five percent on execution,"

says the CEO of the two-year-old, 10-person company.

The rules of web marketing are in flux. Search engines are rolling

out a variety of pay-for-placement models, some with flat fees, some

with an auction model. Many web marketers are saying smart companies

will jump on these deals, snagging, for instance, the top pay-for-placement

spot on the left-hand side of a Google page.

Bailin is not enthusiastic. Yes, he says, for certain companies paying

for placement can make sense. But for most, there are better ways

to get the oh-so-vital attention that a prominent search engine can

deliver. He speaks on web marketing on Thursday, June 27, at a New

Jersey Technology Council eBusiness Multimedia Expo, which runs from

4 through 7 p.m. at the New Jersey Network, 25 South Stockton Street,

Trenton. Cost: $70. Call 856-787-9700.

In addition to the panel on which Bailin is speaking, there is a web

applications panel, and a number of Internet companies will be exhibiting

their technologies. Among the exhibitors are Alarity, Cognetics, Digital

Brand Expressions, Newton Interactive, u1.net, Visionet Systems, and

WEB4POS.

The above list demonstrates that the Internet is not dead, far from

it. Bailin quotes industry studies indicating that Internet usage,

while not "doubling every 100 days, like it used to" is still

on the rise, and that E-commerce is on track to generate $1 trillion

this year. What’s more, says Bailin, all of those 8 and 10 year-olds

who helped mom and dad assemble their first PCs a decade ago, are

coming of age knowing nothing of a pre-Internet era.

The Internet is here to stay, and smart companies are finding ways

to make it pay. In Single Throw’s case, that means attracting long-term

clients by setting specific goals, and guaranteeing success. There

is no way to fake it. "Everything is measurable on the Internet,"

says Bailin. "Everything is quantifiable."

Single Throw, in conjunction with a number of independent web developers,

creates websites, but only high-end websites. It also does some E-mail

direct marketing, but gingerly, and in tandem with a partner. It is

involved in translating websites, too, in collaboration with Berlitz.

But, by and large, the company’s business niche — an brand new,

and exceedingly small niche — is using sophisticated algorithms

to get its clients onto the first two pages that pop up after an Internet

user types a term into a search engine.

This is how, and why, the process works, and what it can do for a

company’s business.

Count the words. "We see how many times per day any

phrase is typed into any search engine," says Bailin. There are

six or seven software packages that perform this task, and his company

licenses — and uses — all of them. Time was when a limousine

company would make sure it was optimizing use of the word "limousine"

and perhaps words indicating where it was based, or where it frequently

did business. That is no longer enough.

For a limousine company client, Single Throw has found that it is

vital to make sure the words "Newark airport parking" appear

within the website in optimum positions. That is so because its analysis

shows those are the words its potential limo customers type in. "Anyone

typing in `off site parking’ or `parking’ should know their shuttle

is better," explains Bailin.

The analysis, then, comes down not just to the obvious words, but

to an understanding of who potential customers are, and what they

are looking for — especially when they don’t know what they are

looking for.

Travelers looking for information about parking at Newark Airport,

for example, soon stumble upon warnings about arriving early because

of the difficulty of finding same. If the limo website is right there,

on the same page where other websites are warning of parking problems,

it has its shot at persuading the airport bound to try their service

as an alternative.

How it works. In bygone years, search engines sent spiders

crawling through the entire Internet every day to look for, and analyze,

websites. The size of the Internet no longer makes that possible,

but even though they can’t traverse the whole space on a daily basis,

the spiders are out there all the time, analyzing and re-analyzing

websites to slot them appropriately into their search results.

To come up where it wants to, a website must, of course, know what

words it wants found. Then it must create relevancy. There are four

main elements to relevance, says Bailin, prominence, proximity, density,

and frequency. "The spider says `what are you about?’ Then it

says `prove it.’" The way to prove it is through content. If you

want a top listing under limousines, there had better be a whole lot

of talk about limousines on your site.

Important words should appear close to one another. The engine likes

to see key words back to back, says Bailin. The word "limo,"

for instance, finishing one sentence, and starting the next, would

be a good thing. The word appearing twice in one sentence also would

be good. Beware, though, "if it’s used three times, that’s bad,"

says Bailin. Four or five or six times is even worse. The spider knows

that kind of repetition probably signals a scam.

The spider also looks at how many words are between each instance

of the key word. If it sees only one word separating the key word,

for instance, "limo and limo and limo and limo," it quickly

knows the site is not legitimate. Using mathematical formulas, the

spider uses density of words as an important criteria. The key word

generally needs to be about 5 to 10 percent of the website’s content,

says Bailin.

Don’t try to fool the spider. Tricking the pseudo spiders

used to be a game websites could win. No more. Bailin says penalties

for those who are caught are steep — not uncommonly, expulsion

for life. This can be serious. A website banned from Google, he says,

loses 24 percent of its customer base.

Why not just pay? Bailin’s company promises to get clients’

websites to appear high up on lists of search results — and, remember,

this means figuring out and playing to the algorithms of the biggest

search engines, all 15 of them.

"No one reads past the second page," Bailin says. Placement

on the first page is optimal, but he says it generally doesn’t much

matter where on the first page. "People read the descriptions,"

he says. If number three or six looks like it is right on target,

users have no trouble determining that and clicking on over.

There is a growing trend toward paying for placement. Bailin sees

two drawbacks. First, the paid listings often are set apart from the

"regular" listings. On Google, for instance, they are off

to the right hand side. Most surfers, he says, go straight to the

regular listings, ignoring the paid listings. Disadvantage number

two, to his mind, is that the listings can get awfully expensive.

"In October, the winning bidder for `American flags’ went through

paid $2,000 in three-and-a-half hours under a pay-per-click arrangement,"

Bailin reports. Prices paid to a search engine company for a a particular

term may be fixed or they may be flexible, and often based on an auction.

But while that $2,000 was pricey, Bailin says it may be the exception

that proves the rule. At that moment in history, there was so much

interest in purchasing flag-motif goods of all kinds that the website

got 900 hits in those three-and-a-half hours.

For most websites and most circumstances, the price is too high, especially

given that most surfers are still looking exclusively at regular,

unpaid listings. "It can be $3 or $4 a click," says Bailin.

The science of search engine placement is a phenomenon even

a daVinci would have been hard-pressed to predict? Yet the phenomenon

is big business, and proof that there are still plenty of angles left

to search out in the Internet game.


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