New Net Player Gives Marketers Different Kind of Brand Positioning

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Web start-up Fat Traffic Inc., Fort Lauderdale, FL, plans to debut technology this month that lets e-commerce sites buy their way to the top of the hits page people see when they carry out keyword searches on the Net - almost regardless of what search engine is used.

The automated system is the brainchild of David Leedke, a computer specialist previously with Seattle-based Boeing Co., and Rob Crigler, former marketing vice president at Modcomp Inc., Fort Lauderdale, FL.

Here's how Fat Traffic's service works: An e-business that sells surf and turf delicacies through the Internet, for example, could go to Fat Traffic and reserve keywords such as "lobster" and "sirloin." The cost for each term or phrase is a flat $49 a month. Fat Traffic's technology then automatically creates and serves 10 separate Web pages for each reserved word - one each for 10 of the most popular search engines.

The major engines look for specific variables when determining how high Web sites should appear in search results. Page titles, repeated words, length of body content, HTML tags, header sizes and embedded links are just a few such variables. Fat Traffic pages will try to match those variables, get a higher placement in search results and, therefore, be clicked on more often.

Here's the important trick: No one will see Fat Traffic's pages. In effect, the pages are merely bait that draws traffic the company redirects to its clients' e-commerce sites. Fat Traffic can even send people who search for lobster directly to the food merchant's seafood catalog and send people who search for sirloin directly to its steak menu.

Technologically, it's no small undertaking. New content is constantly being fed into search engines, and the engines sometimes change the algorithms that determine indexing priority. In effect, Fat Traffic's computers have to chase those changes and constantly readjust to keep the company's clients high on results pages.

"It's a cat-and-mouse game, and what we've done is said, "Well, the only way to truly do this is to create an artificial intelligence that can learn and monitor these variable dynamics as they change,' " said Crigler, who is president/CEO.

The system is not perfect. When asked what Fat Traffic is willing to guarantee its customers, Crigler was succinct: "Nothing." Sites' positions on search results pages will vary from time to time, he said. There's no way Fat Traffic can promise to hold down the No. 1 slot on Lycos, for example.

And Fat Traffic can't determine what portion of people who search for a word like sirloin are choosing their client's site. The company can't influence people who search directories by going to Yahoo's portal page, for example, and clicking on "news" then "sports" then "baseball" then "Yankees." Fat Traffic's technology also can't influence search results on, an engine that prioritizes hits based on how much commerce sites pay to be listed.

Other things are measurable. Fat Traffic plans to show its customers how much their sites move up after they start using the service, and the company can tally which keywords are generating the most clicks. Also trackable are which engines generate the fattest flows of traffic.

The bottom line is that online stores need consumers, and Crigler is confident Fat Traffic will perform well enough to keep marketers happy.

"What you really are getting by this technique is a customer who's pre-qualified," Crigler said. "Here's a very good way of nonoffensively communicating the value of your company to somebody [who has] already started to look for you." He said Fat Traffic will not sell keywords that aren't relevant to a customer's business - for example, a pornographic site won't be allowed to reserve the name of another firm's product.

Fat Traffic will compete against existing services that either manually or automatically modify companies' actual e-commerce sites to make them more attractive to search engines. Fat Traffic's system is designed to take orders, make pages, bill clients and give reports automatically. The company currently has a staff of eight.

For now, Crigler is taking it slow. The company will not make its service broadly available until some time between the fourth quarter and beginning of next year, at which point businesses will be able to sign up at, he said.

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