Dita de Boni
Search engines tried to put order to chaos when they surfaced in the mid-90s; today, they are still the most common feature used by surfers to navigate through more than 2 billion pages in cyberspace.It is estimated that 46 per cent of sites are discovered by search engines, and that 81 per cent of web surfers using them to find websites.

The mammoth use of search engines such as Alta Vista, MSN, and AOL and directories such as Looksmart and Yahoo Web Directory has led to these sites presenting huge marketing opportunities to companies with brands to promote.

Into the breach steps Auckland-based First Rate, a company which plans the best ways to get a website well “ranked” on global and local search engines, promising a meaningful return on investment for your internet marketing buck.

First Rate founder, Briton Jon Ostler, with a background in internet consultancy and military intelligence, realised in previous work with small business that search engines provided huge opportunities that were not being exploited.

“To get your website listed on a search engine used to be seen as a cheap technical trick, and a headache for management,” Mr Ostler said.

“But it is really more a specialised marketing strategy, a way of protecting your brand and ensuring the money spent is not wasted by its never being found.”

Search engines used to be free to advertise your website on, leading every small operator who knew how to build one the chance to advertise his site to huge numbers at zero cost.

To trigger inclusion on a search engine, a website owner lodges a submission to be included on a particular search engine. The search engine, in turn, sends out an electronic “spider” to read and analyse the words, trying to get some idea of what the page or pages are about.

Then, depending on the information gathered, a “ranking” is given.

Directories, such as Looksmart and Yahoo, work slightly differently – websites apply to be included the same way, but directories send a human to the site who then writes a summary of the site and categorises it manually.

These systems worked until the number of websites spiralled out of control. Not only that, but spammers – pornographic sites and the like – learned how to cheat the system.

A general decline in ad revenue combined with the prevalence of spammers led to search engines and directories charging website owners fees for search engine “rankings”.

Mr Ostler decided that as this trend took hold, getting a site well ranked would increasingly be less about tricking spiders and more about the science of maintaining your place at the front of the ranking queue.

And he now markets himself as a strategist capable of getting websites registered with the big boys. One of his clients, Exonet – a New Zealand e-business services company – is one of the first names to pop up in Yahoo’s business section when the word “ebusiness” is typed in.

At around $7000 for First Rate’s services, plus listing costs on the world’s largest search engines, the outlay is not cheap.

But for that cost, a search market strategist will look at your website to see what it could be doing better, help you build a site that captures the attention of your target searchers, and maintain your name in the site’s top rankings.