Businesses find a friend in local search firm

When its Web site was first launched, US plus-size clothing store Avenue was virtually invisible to search engines - and therefore consumers. Now, a Google search for products as generic as "black skirts" finds Avenue at the top of 20 million hits. The Web site has enjoyed a four-fold increase in its natural search revenue, and it's all thanks to an Adelaide-based start-up named YourAmigo.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) company, YourAmigo, was among the four Australian start-ups selected for US publisher Red Herring's list of the Top 100 Private Companies in Asia, announced last week at the Red Herring Asia 2006 Conference in Hong Kong.

This latest endowment joins YourAmigo's previous, long-standing accolades on the US magazine KM World's "100 companies that matter in Knowledge Management" lists from 2003-2006. Despite its awards, however, the company remains relatively unknown in Australia, said its vice-president of Global Sales and Marketing, Gary Smith.

"When we first started, and even today, a lot of Australian companies still don't regard the Internet as a place for conducting business," he said. "We started marketing this technology overseas and we've had so much demand in the US and Europe that we've spent all our resources overseas."

YourAmigo exports 99 per cent of its business to the US and Europe, Smith said. While its engineers are based in Adelaide, the company has sales teams located in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York and London, and has clients such as McGraw-Hill, Reebok, Sony Europe, Sky TV and Orange.

Likening high search engine rankings to a good position in a shopping mall, Smith boasts that YourAmigo has accomplished up to 800 per cent increases in its clients' online revenues through SEO technology that was acquired from Adelaide-based Flinders University in 1999.

"People spend significant amounts of money to be at the front of the mall," he said, "because that's where there's the most traffic; that's where you're going to have the most eyeballs - it's an investment in marketing."

The problem with many Web pages, he explained, is that they feature dynamic elements, such as Flash content, frames, databases or forms. Content stored in these formats are invisible to search engines, so they become what Smith calls "barriers to getting indexed".

YourAmigo handles these barriers by aggregating content stored in dynamic elements against common search keywords, into a different, more search engine friendly format.

"YourAmigo forms a bridge between Google [and other search engines] and the Web site," Smith said. "We've been able to solve the problems of what the barriers are between a search engine and large Web sites. We take out these inhibitors by providing an alternate, smooth path between search engines and the Web site."

But getting indexed is only the first of many steps towards a Web site that is optimised for search engine visibility. According to Smith, all pages of an optimised Web site must also rank highly in a search, and must be constantly updated to keep in line with regular changing search algorithms employed by the leading search engines.

"I think the major issue of search engine optimisation is continual change," he said, speculating that sudden losses in search engine revenue could be very damaging to businesses dependent on search for income.

YourAmigo has been able to keep abreast of changes in Search Engine algorithms through its membership in Yahoo's search marketing ambassador program. The company uses Yahoo's information about optimisation in an automated process that updates its clients' Web pages accordingly.

With the rapid growth of e-commerce and online revenue, said Smith, the future looks promising for YourAmigo - especially with the endorsement of Red Herring, which once awarded the same recognition to current e-commerce monoliths Google and Ebay.

Smith suspects that most of YourAmigo's business will continue to be exported.

"There are some smart Australian companies wisening up to the potential of the Internet, but we [Australian companies] don't generally think as competitively here," he said. "We'd like to get more Australian business, but the fact is we can make more money overseas."

The company is now looking towards listing on the stock exchange, Smith said. While its plans are currently "too premature" to be released, wheels are expected to be set in motion from 2007.

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