Every business is trying to win a prominent ranking on Google, linking it with prospective online customers.

If you are a small New Zealand business trying to get a slice of the international market, it's crucial.

Arriving in New Zealand during the recession, 33-year-old Richard Conway, who had worked in search engine optimisation (SEO) for ten years, started Pure SEO, www.pureseo.co.nz, in September 2009.

He saw a gap in the market for a company that specialised specifically in SEO, targeting budget-conscious, small-to-medium-size enterprises.

"A great website is all very well, but often potential customers can't find you or, worse still, are directed to a competitor's website while looking for yours," Conway says. "To attract the visitors you want, proper search engine optimisation is vital.

"In the real world you can't compete with the massive chains, but online there's a more level playing field," he adds.

Knowing no one when he first arrived, Conway networked extensively, becoming a member of SEO Ignition, Business Network International, Business Mentors NZ and the Auckland Rotary Club.

He also joined the Ice Accelerator business growth programme, becoming a resident at The Icehouse.

Pure SEO's first client was an embroidery company, Creative Embroidery. Conway got them to number one on Google's search listing for the key words, "embroider Auckland". Their website visitors per day increased 30-fold.

"We worked on Warmup's website (www.warmup.co.nz), achieving top position on Google for the highly competitive term 'underfloor heating' within a couple of months."

The business computing graduate warns: "Anyone that promises you overnight success or the top position in Google is either lying to you, or trying to claim the impossible".

His team spends four or five hours a month maintaining companies' websites so they can keep an advantageous ranking.

Every month, Pure SEO sends reports on the progress of customers' Google ranking and visitor numbers.

There's a lot of research involved in this specialist business, says Conway. "We've got to understand exactly what the clients of our businesses are searching for," he says. Then they put key words on the website.

Conway hasn't bothered approaching the large corporates here. "Dealing with big corporates is difficult in New Zealand."

Often the New Zealand company is a satellite office for a multinational and it can take months to get a decision.

Having said that, people are very accessible in New Zealand, he says.

Unlike the United Kingdom, he can gain access to big entrepreneurs through contacts like The Icehouse's chief executive Andy Hamilton.

These days, Pure SEO has 35 customers including AIA Insurance, Stamford Residences, Hopper Developments and Ray White Mt Eden Village.

"Most of our leads come from referrals," Conway says.

The entrepreneur, meanwhile, has several other business ideas up his sleeve. "Pure SEO takes 90 per cent of my time," he says. "We're in the fast growth phase. We get inquiries pretty much every day."

Conway is working on a price comparison website for the big insurance companies offering car, house and contents insurance, iCompare.co.nz. There's a similar website in the UK, www.confused.com.

Two businessmen who've supported him since the early days, Uli Knapp and Dean Metcalf, are his fellow directors in iCompare.co.nz. Almost 65 per cent of UK car insurance is bought at online sites, says Conway.

The idea is to "remove the smoke and mirrors," he says. "iCompare could be worth a fortune."