Some unglamorous internet marketing tricks are raising the profile of New Zealand fashion around the world. has recorded staggering growth in overseas visitors in the past year thanks to behind-the-scenes work by search engine guru Jon Ostler. The site, which hosts pages for a range of Kiwi designers and retailers, is recording 160,000 visitors a month, up from 96,000 a year ago.

While general traffic has risen 60%, the number of overseas visitors is up 98%.

Caroline Church, whose designer label State of Grace features on, said her international inquiries had doubled in the past year.

“We’re selling to parts of the world, like Sweden and Japan, that we would never have reached any other way,” she said.

It was great to be able to type her company name into a search engine and see it pop up at the top of the results, she said. was set up four years ago by Christchurch businesswoman Nicky Wagner. The New Zealand fashion industry was full of small businesses that couldn’t invest heavily in overseas marketing, she said. That made the internet an ideal tool.

“Foreign retailers are always looking for something different and unique but our designers haven’t always been able to get the message out there,” she said.

For many foreign buyers the website was the first contact with the New Zealand industry. Last year people had turned up at New Zealand Fashion Week with printouts from the site, she said.

Ostler, who began his career as a technical adviser for British military intelligence, launched First Rate a year ago. His clients now include some of New Zealand’s biggest exporters, such as Fonterra, Zespri and Air New Zealand.

First Rate is a marketing company, he said, that specialised in search engines. With a good understanding of the programming rules that search engines such as Google and Yahoo used, simple changes could be made to most websites to ensure they ranked near the top of the result lists.

He has also been working with Saatchi and Saatchi New Zealand to be involved at the creative stage of a marketing campaign and ensure search engine-friendly slogans were integrated from the outset.

Some companies were even using print and television advertising to generate site traffic, he said.

Rather than promoting the URL address, they were promoting slogans and phrases designed to be memorable and make search engines find them easily.

First Rate employs six staff and is about to expand. Initial investment had come from an “angel investor” but the next round would be targeted at venture capital companies, Ostler said.