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Dixon Jones, managing director of internet marketing consultancy Receptional.com, considers the fickle nature of internet search and directory listings.

Some businesses will inevitably have caught a heavy cold in the autumn, when one sunny day a major internet portal unceremoniously dropped a whole batch of search listings derived from one of its contracted content providers. This meant that hundreds of businesses found their position either missing from the listings or right down the rankings. There were technicalreasons for the problem and the solution was quickly found.

Then overnight and without any warning Google changed the way it did things. Search engine optimisers found themselves engaged in what has become known in the industry as the ‘Google dance’. This descriptive term describes the extraordinary game of calculating and guessing the algorithm used by this popular search engine to accord rankings. One day clients’ sites were riding high – the next the same sites sunk without trace into the murky waters of the ranking depths.

What these two incidents have proved is that having ‘all your eggs in one basket’ when it comes to search engine and directory listings is unwise and a rather dangerous position to be in.

Content providers deal in much the same way as the rest of industry. They buy, they sell and they reposition their product. They have technical difficulties from time to time just like the rest of us. But due to the nature of the internet, such activity doesn’t take months to have a serious effect; it can be minutes in some cases. For a business whose very existence is dependent upon its web site being found by customers, the fickle fortunes of these content providers could, in extreme circumstances, prove to be the difference between staying in business and going under.

What is more, unless a company employs real-time monitoring of their listings, a severe drop in position might only become apparent when orders dry up. With millions of internet searches performed each day in the UK, the effect of the contractual deals of the content providers has enormous influence. If a site happens to have a high rating with one portal partner it will come high up the search listings. But if that partner is dropped, the resulting loss of presence will occur.

The only way to counter the threat is to build insurance into internet marketing strategy by covering all possible avenues and purchasing good positions from the major players. Many of them derive content from several sources so the more embedded the site is in the world wide web as a whole, the less likely it is to sink into obscurity. If content feed is abandoned from one particular source – or the technology fails – the site will still have prominence due to its position with another listings provider.

Even though the directory and search engine market has attained a degree of commercial maturity there is no guarantee that it won’t continue to change significantly and rapidly. No doubt new players will enter from time to time and while they might appear inconsequential at the start, it could prove extremely worthwhile to get an early listing.