Marcus Exall explains how to put your website on the search engine radar

' The internet is now used by over 27 million people in the UK. Government statistics show that 80% use it to research products and services.

Although search engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN may have played a huge role in such research, industry reports show that a whopping 95% of people use search engines for their pre-purchase web research.

In March 2005 one UK engine alone had over 2.5 million searches for 'car insurance', while 'cheapest car insurance quote' was requested nearly 1,500 times.

Such extensive use gives the internet enormous potential as a business marketing tool. With hundreds of insurance companies on the internet, how do you ensure that your business comes high in web search?

There are two routes to maximising your presence on a search engine: 'organic' or natural search engine optimisation (SEO), and 'pay-per-click' or sponsored links on search engines.

The value of SEO and pay-per-click can be hugely underestimated simply because people don't understand how to make them work properly. Yet with millions of people using search engines daily, the potential return on investment is clear.

Once you start working with experts who can truly maximise your potential, you will reap the rewards and need never be relegated to the search engine wilderness again. IT

' Marcus Exall is client services director for interactive marketing specialists, blue barracuda

Search engine optimizatio
Search engine optimisation (SEO) means making your website compatible with search engines so they can find you. From the outset you need to design your site with an understanding of the technology behind how search engines work.

It is possible to do SEO on an existing website, but it will create more cost and won't be as effective as an integrated approach.

Search engines use indexing software known as 'spiders', which visit billions of websites all over the internet to examine their content. Spiders calculate which sites are most relevant to each search to determine how high each site should be listed in the results. The key is to ensure that your website can be interpreted well by spiders, so that they view you as being highly relevant.

Three key elements will determine how well spiders can analyse your site:

  • Architecture - ensure spiders can move around your site and access content easily. The structure, build and design of pages and navigation is vital, as well as the software you use and how you display content. For example, embedded words, logos and images are harder for spiders to read
  • Content - spiders will marry the words it finds against those typed into the search engine to determine your relevance. Ensure that the most relevant words are included on your site and are integrated with a breadth of keywords, terms and phrases for the spiders to find

  • Links - the more links you have, the more popular you seem and the higher you will be rated when the spiders calculate your relevance.
  • Pay-per-clic
    Buying 'pay-per-click' or sponsored links on search engines is another popular way of ensuring your website rates highly in searches.

    On any search site, the companies displayed in the top two results of a search and those down the right-hand-side of the page have paid to be there.

    You can bid against other firms to secure a particular position in those paid listings when certain keywords are searched for. If there is high competition for a phrase, such as 'car insurance', then it will be more expensive to bid on as more people will want it.

    The higher you are in the results, the more website traffic you will get and the more expensive the cost will be. You bid the amount of money that you are prepared to pay for every person that 'clicks through' to your site. The beauty of this activity is that you can start today, whether your site is 'search engine-friendly' or not.

    Like SEO it is important to ensure that you work with the right breadth of keywords, but with pay-per-click you must also understand the way to balance the various positions available against the cost. The key is to balance the usage against cost. It is also imperative to measure return on investment - especially in a market such as insurance where the relative cost of a visitor can be quite high.