SME apathy blamed for portal closure

Auckland-based online shopping mall ArmadilloNet is to close its virtual doors, blaming its small business members for not changing or updating their entries.

The closure is another sign of small businesses "just not getting it", says ACNielsen NetRatings' Brian Milnes.

"It's exactly like a window display -- if you had the same display for a year, people would stop coming into the store," says the head of the web traffic monitoring service. "I just don't think [small businesses] have got it yet; they are not relating websites to their retail store."

The 18-month-old site, which listed 280 businesses in Remuera, Newmarket and Parnell, claims to have received more than 200 unique users a day, but was too small to register on ACNielsen's tracking services. It is to stay online until the last of the businesses' subscriptions expire in December. They paid a listing charge of $50 a year, but any changes or updates had been free.

Internet consultant Spencer Willis, from the Auckland-based web design firm Rattleshack that built the site, says many businesses ignored marketing advice to change web content. Those that did scored an increase in customers, he says. He says Rattleshack advertised the site extensively, but there was nothing to keep the punters coming back.

Willis also says the lack of promotional content made it difficult to maintain high representation in search engine results. He says "city portals" can often be too generic and can muddy direct hit recordings. Also, visitors are brought to the front page of a city portal rather than the specific product page searched for and are being put off, he says.

Rattleshack will only undertake to build more specific or industry targeted portals, he says, as these are proving more successful.

Internet measuring service Red Sheriff head Jonathan Dodd says the static content and a mix of low traffic would have decreased Armadillo's search engine rankings -- but noted engines rank in different ways.

Auckland internet consultancy Net 4 Business says generally, search engines do not downgrade because of lack of dynamic content. Rather, the lack of dynamic content reduces the likelihood of repeat visitors and human referrals -- and hence hits, says N4B researcher Paul Wager.

But Wager agrees consumer searches are usually product-related rather than related to generic sites or store promotions.

Milnes and Dodd say there is a place for the shopping centre portal -- if it can provide goods that suit internet sales and goods that are difficult to find.

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