Deciding to create an internet presence happened more by accident than design. In March 1998, two directors were discussing the previous year's figures with the accountant when it was casually mentioned that the accountant now had an internet site. He gave us a company name so we could make contact with someone who was able to register a site name (URL) and create a basic web structure.

After consultations it was agreed that we would have a home page with links to other pages containing information about various types of policies, cover and exclusions. The site would also allow prospective customers to send us requests for information.

More importantly, we decided to have access to our site so we can update pages as and when we want at no cost. This is one feature we would suggest anyone with a website insists on.

The site was launched in August 1998 and we got the massive total of three hits that month (not bad for an £800 outlay). Despite constant tweaking of the site, the number of daily hits increased only gradually. By August 1999 we were getting between 20 and 30 hits a day.

However, the financial amount spent on the website was still moderate: £203 for another year's services from the website design company.

A chance encounter

In August 1999 I came upon some software that enabled us to rapidly write web pages that were search engine-friendly. I also decided to promote the website through national organisations. This involved investing about £4,000 in Thomweb (Thomson Directories site) for links in 100 areas, and £3,000 through which is a directory structure.

My advice for smaller brokers intending to do something similar is simple: don't! The return is negligible for the money invested and it is very unlikely that we will consider that type of expenditure again.

From late 1999 to the present date, we have been extending our product range. Having learned some basic HTML – the language web pages are written in – we are able to produce simple quotation modules to provide online rates for products such as caravan, horse, redundancy, accident and sickness, and private medical insurance. More importantly, we wrote many pages dedicated to these products to enhance our search engine profile.

Paid for nothing

In late 1999 we found that we were not competitive on the internet for motor insurance. But purely by chance we came to an arrangement with a wholesale broker: it would deal with motor enquiries from our site, handle the quotations and pay us a commission – for doing nothing, in effect.

In early 2000 we learned of the Insureright product that may be launched in the future, although at the moment it appears not to be cost-effective. We mentioned this to a broker at the Biba conference in Edinburgh, only to find that he was about to establish an online platform for motor business, would accept referrals from our site and pay us commission.

We now get £30 per year per case without any capital expenditure.

At the moment we are averaging 80 to 100 hits a day on our home page and 50 to 60 hits on our main motor page.

My advice to a broker, whether on the internet at the moment or not, is the following:

  • choose a website name with the word “insurance” in it, eg
  • structure the website in two parts. One area should give exact detail as to specific products or services, such as prices, terms and conditions. The other should consist of descriptive pages of the product, including words that people would use in looking for the product, eg motor insurance for young drivers. These pages would then link to the specific pages in the other part of the site
  • make sure that full contact details are available on each page
  • invest in software to submit your website to the dozen largest free search engines
  • throw away or ignore all correspondence relating to advertising on the internet
  • offer a wide range of products, but arrange for specialists to handle those products you don't want to deal with and concentrate on those products where you find you can offer the best service.