Searching for better returns

By Steven Shaw

In the broadband era, it's possible for employees to work from remote locations - and if home is half a country away, all the better for your lifestyle.

Stephan Spencer founded internet marketing company Netconcepts in 1995 in Madison, Wisconsin, but wanted to raise his family in New Zealand.

"People told me that in the internet industry I could work anywhere. And Madison isn't exactly San Francisco - or Silicon Valley for that matter."

Spencer shifted to New Zealand in 2000, setting up an office in Browns Bay, Auckland, which now has 35 staff. An office in Wisconsin also employs 12. Staff numbers are on the rise, he says, growing an average of two new employees per month.

"It seems every time I fly to Auckland or Wisconsin there are new faces I have to get to know."

Netconcepts works with big US online retailers, specialising in auditing and building e-commerce websites, optimising sites for search engines, and providing other e-marketing products and services. About 70 per cent of Netconcept's clients are US-based, with the other 30 per cent in New Zealand.

New Zealand clients include Westpac, Vector Energy and House of Travel.

In the United States, Netconcept works with large companies such as AOL, telecommunications company Verizon and search engine company Infospace, which owns MetaCrawler. Yes, even search engines need help to remain high on a Google search return.

Spencer says search engine optimisation represents about half of the company's revenue.

"We do specialised audits that just cover only search engine optimisation. We also do more holistic audits - there are plenty of companies out there that have a large internal web team and want to make sure they're not missing anything."

He says that more than 70 per cent of clicks go through to unpaid search results rather than sponsored links.

"If you don't have good placement in search engines it's equivalent to having an unlisted phone number for your business," he says.

"It will become much harder over time to achieve high rankings as more businesses become more savvy about search engines. As search engines change their algorithms and become more personalised it will also become harder.

"Most people when they do a search on Google look first to the unpaid search results.

"If a site is ranking well, they'll get a sense of implied endorsement. To a lesser degree people will look at the sponsored links on the right-hand side."

Spencer says there is a synergistic effect when you're at the top of both the paid and natural results. Paid search is still "the star of the show", he says.

Netconcepts, he says, has been growing at a fast clip and is looking to double its revenue.

Competition is out there, especially in the United States.

"We compete with a lot with companies in the States, but we're not bumping up against the same companies each time. In New Zealand the search engine optimisation industry is still a cottage industry."

Netconcepts

* Who: Managing director Stephan Spencer.

* Where: Based in Auckland and Madison, Wisconsin.

* What: Internet marketing and search engine optimisation.

* Why: "If you don't have good placement in search engines it's equivalent to having an unlisted phone number for your business."

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