Web Site Marketing

June 30, 2004

In April 2004 Intendance Limited published the latest in a series of annual reports, ranking the Web sites of a sample of 100 small and medium-sized London-based law firms. Amongst the 46 criteria assessed for each Web site, Intendance touched on how firms are promoting their Web sites, awarding points for the presence of meta data on the Web site and the appearance of the Web site on the first page of search results on Google. This article develops the theme of Web site marketing and responds to some of the points raised by Laurence Eastham, who commented on the report on the SCL site.

Few will have missed the rash of recent media reports discussing the imminent, high-profile flotation of arguably the world’s most influential search engine: Google. Reminiscent of the heady days of the Dot Com boom, phenomenal valuations have been put forward by commentators in many quarters and we now wait to see the outcome of all this speculation. Let us hope that the feeling of déjà vu does not linger.

Search Engines and Web Site Promotion

Market excitement aside, the high-profile Google floatation has led to two consequences in the world of website promotion. First, it has further raised awareness of the concept of using search engines as part of a website marketing strategy, and secondly it appears to have changed the rules we technical people follow when submitting a client’s website to a search engine. There is nothing new about submitting a website to a search engine to help draw traffic and for some years a battle of wits has raged between techies and the search engines; the former looking to exploit every loophole to push a website as far up the rankings as possible on a free ride, whilst the latter – emulating the Inland Revenue – has striven to close the loopholes and compel website owners to accept that it is often more cost-effective to pay the search engine a fee to secure a prominent listing. Coincidentally, towards the end of last year – about the time the prospect of the Google flotation became well known – Google appeared to make drastic changes to the rules that forced many search engine submission specialists to abandon old techniques and accept that it may now be a case of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’. The techies still have a very important role to play – a website must be built and maintained as search engine friendly as possible – but recent pilot studies have shown that a combination of technical skills and a carefully managed, paid search engine advertising campaign (usually using sponsored links) can be very effective, especially for lower profile websites.

Raising Awareness

Of course, website marketing does not begin and end with search engine submission. When looking for a website most of us will resort to a search engine, but when devising a website marketing strategy it is important to consider other means of drawing people to your website. Firstly, consider how awareness of your website can be raised offline. The more people that note your website address, the more they will be encouraged to visit. Human nature invariably looks for the path of least resistance. To give the maximum exposure to your website, URL should appear on all printed material: letterheads, business cards, fax templates, directory listings, presentational material, brochures and so on.

For continuity, it is advisable to ensure that you use the same domain name for your website and e-mail and that the chosen domain name is as memorable as possible. The choice of our company name ‘Intendance’ was greatly influenced by the availability of the domain names ‘intendance.com’ and. ‘intendance.co.uk’. There is no limit to the number of domain names you register and each should be pointed to your website. ‘Spare’ domain names can be useful on occasions to measure the response from a directory listing or printed advertisement. By featuring a domain name that is not being used elsewhere and monitoring the traffic to your website using an online tool, you can compare the volume of traffic being directed to your site by this lesser-used domain name and thus gauge the effectiveness of the advertisement. Such a tactic might identify how an advertising budget could be better spent.


Although links from your website won’t be assessed, prominence on search engines such as Google will be influenced by the number of websites that link to your website. The concept of ‘link exchanging’ has helped many websites increase their search engine profile and can be organised on a formal basis – where companies trade or purchase links from high profile websites – or on an informal basis, where complementary businesses will swap links to help boost each others’ site profile. The profile Google gives to each website can be easily gauged by using their ‘page ranking’ tool, which can be viewed by downloading and installing the Google Toolbar on your Internet browser. This Toolbar can be downloaded from http://toolbar.google.com/. Page ranking runs from ‘0’ to ’10’: the higher the number the more popular the website. Very few achieve a ranking of 10; Google awarded itself such a score only relatively recently. A mid-range score is very respectable!

Search Engine Friendliness

I touched on ‘search engine friendliness’ earlier. To give a website the best possible chance of a high profile on a search engine, the site must be built for search engines as much as human visitors. Not surprisingly, search engines ‘see’ a site in a very different way to ourselves and a good Web site designer will be sympathetic to this difference. During design and construction, consideration must be given to a range of factors, including the advantages and disadvantages of choosing a ‘frames’ structure’ over a ‘tables’ structure, the use of metatags and title tags (the former including keywords and descriptions) and the use of third-party software such as Macromedia Flash. Overlooking the impact of each of these factors will impede the progress of a Web site up the search engine listings and thus reduce the odds of being noticed by a potential visitor.

Our Survey

When reviewing Web sites for our recent survey, we assessed the extent to which the Web site owners had ensured that their Web site was visible by checking for metadata in the home page source code and testing whether the website appeared on the on the first page of results on Google UK, using the firm’s name as a search term. For the purposes of the survey, this limited analysis was deemed sufficient, but there is much more one can assess when surveying a smaller sample – or if a client commissions us to conduct a full benchmarking analysis.

Writing on the SCL site recently, Laurence Eastham suggested the effectiveness of Web site marketing could be assessed by monitoring what attempts are made to get people to the site, be it through an analysis of the quality of e-mail newsletters, alerts or media marketing. Such criteria could be analysed, although ‘quality’ in these instances can be difficult to quantify. Basic values, such as the quality of presentation and ‘appropriateness’ (for example, we note an emergence of customisable alerts and news content to avoid unwanted e-mail content) can be assessed, but the quality of the content itself would be more difficult to quantify. As part of the survey we consider copywriting quality, but only to the extent of checking for excessive verbosity. Higher scoring sites in the survey often featured a visitor registration page, allowing the visitor to subscribe to additional resources, be they alerts or regular legal briefings. Evidence of a good marketing strategy would be shown if these communications try to attract recipients to the Web site to view full listings, in the hope that those same visitors will take the time to explore other parts of the Web site. As Laurence Eastham also suggested, ubiquitous media marketing would provide further evidence of a proactive marketing strategy.

It has been suggested, on the SCL site and elsewhere, that the report be extended to include the big firms, to allow all to compete on the same playing field. Certainly such a suggestion has not been ruled out for future editions of the report. The report’s heritage reaches back a few years and is based on the principle that the sample surveyed was large enough to be statistically valid, but small enough to apply the same rules of assessment to all. Instinctively, we would expect the biggest firms to be able to afford top class graphic designers, to offer extensive content and have no excuse for poor Web site usability. Therefore, a comparison between firms of relatively extreme sizes may not be a fair contest. But as the editor suggested, further investigation may prove us wrong.

James Tuke is Marketing Director of Intendance, a website firm that researches, develops and manages websites with a special focus on professional services firms. For more information or a free copy of the report “Solicitors’ Websites 2004: Who is Winning and Why?” please call Intendance on 020 8871 1330, email reports@intendance.com or visit www.intendance.com.