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The online success of Scottish businesses is being held back by the design practices of the web development community, according to recent research by leading online marketing consultancy Scotti Internet Marketing.

Scotti Internet Marketing has studied a cross-section of Scottish web sites to determine their level of search engine compatibility. The survey, which included 30 different sites developed by 10 web development firms from across Scotland, found that the average level of search engine compatibility was only 50%.

Commenting on the research, Managing Director Iain Harper said, “We objectively measured how search engine friendly each site was using a proprietary scoring system, which looked at the style of construction and site content. The sites we looked at represented 12 different market sectors and were selected at random to ensure a balanced result.”

The lowest level of search engine compatibility was a worrying 25% compared to 70% at the top end. Legal and retail sites faired the worst overall (45% on average), while finance and government sites were the most compatible (65% on average).

“None of the findings were particularly positive, but to discover that some of Scotland’s online retail businesses are virtually search engine ‘proof’ was startling. The web site owners are quite simply losing business as a result, and the web developers are failing their clients by creating sites incapable of fulfilling their commercial potential”, Harper added.

Search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, are the starting point for around 70% of web users trying to find products and services. From a marketing perspective, web site visitors that originate from search engines are pre-qualified by the search they perform and therefore tend to convert into customers at a much high rate than those from other sources.

Search engines present their users with both ‘natural’ and paid results. The ‘natural’ results are generally regarded by users as being more genuine and useful than paid results, and therefore receive a higher proportion of ‘clicks’. The research carried out by Scotti Internet Marketing related to the impact of web development methods on the ability of sites to achieve prominent visibility within those ‘natural’ results.

Harper explained the implications of the problem further, saying, “When given at least a fighting chance of success, search engine optimisation consistently delivers highly qualified prospects at a minimal cost per visitor – typically 4p or less. By creating search engine ‘unfriendly’ web sites, web developers are effectively forcing their clients to rely solely on paid search engine marketing (pay-per-click advertising), which is very much more expensive.”

“We are currently extending our research to sample the market south of the border as well, and initial results are similar to those in Scotland, but that doesn’t mean Scottish businesses should breathe a sigh of relief. On the contrary, this is an opportunity to create a tangible competitive advantage by waking up to the benefits of search engine optimisation and demanding greater search engine compatibility from web development agencies”, Harper suggested.

Harper also noted, “Many business web sites will be redeveloped over the coming year just in order to meet the latest accessibility requirements, and this presents the ideal chance to kill two birds with one stone. It’s important to view the findings of our research in the proper context. Scotland’s web development community produce some of the UK’s most creative sites, and lead the way in terms of web site usability, but this needs to be balanced with the commercial realities of marketing online – and this will only change if clients demand it”.

Ends

Editors

For further information, contact Kat McLean at Scotti Internet Marketing on 01786 464467 or e-mail evolve@scotti.co.uk

Published on: 12:00AM on 9th December 2004