A survey of the websites of New Zealand’s top 100 exporters as revealed many can’t be found by overseas internet users.

The survey, by Auckland-based internet consultancy First Rate, showed 56% of the websites could not be found by their name in three of the most important international internet directories and 40% were not appearing on the most critical search engines.

First Rate technical director Jon Ostler said research showed 46% of internet users found websites via search engines.

“People use search engines because they tend not to remember URLs (web addresses even if they are catchy.”

But only 5% of the websites he surveyed were showing adequate visibility on the Yahoo!, Open Directory and Looksmart internet directories and the Google, AltaVista and Inktomi search engines.

Ostler said a simple lack of awareness was often to blame.
“I think a lot of people expect search engines to find their sites automatically. They are not aware of the places they need to submit their sites to. In the real world everyone knows of the existence of the yellow pages but they are not aware of directories like Looksmart.”

Another reason for exporters’ low ranking on search engines was that their websites were too technically advanced.
“Sometimes you find the most expensive and most modern websites shoot themselves in the foot because the search engines can’t understand the technology.”

The key to a successful search engine and directory strategy, according to Ostler, is to put yourself in the shoes of your target audience.
“You have to put a lot of thought into your directory submission because you get only 20 words to describe your whole business. You can be found only by the keywords included in that submission, so if you do a woolly marketing type description of your business, you’ll get a listing but no one will be able to find you.

“You need to be able to understand what sort of language your target market will be using and include those keywords in your submissions.”

Ostler said websites were an important marketing tool despite a recent survey by statistics New Zealand showing internet sales amounted to less than 1% of the turnover of local businesses.

“Companies wouldn’t ask how many sales they are getting from their business cards,” Ostler points out.

“Websites are very effective in supporting marketing overseas.
“If you are doing overseas trade shows, for example, you’ll find a lot of the response comes back via websites.”