Digital Content

One of South Africa's fastest-growing internet specialists will soon have to turn away business unless it can recruit at least 20 more website developers. Cape-based incuBeta has already recruited some German developers and relocated others from Johannesburg. Despite that, founder Vinny Lingham says there are so many positions to fill that customers are being given job completion dates far ahead.

"We urgently need web developers. We could double our turnover but we are having a huge problem because we can't find enough staff. We are getting more deals than we can handle." IncuBeta is an online marketing company with branches in London and Los Angeles and about 110 staff.

It helps companies to improve their presence on the Internet by making sure their websites are listed by search engines such as Google and Yahoo. Its technicians also make web pages easier to use, make sure they can be viewed by any browser or mobile device, and improve the processes for selling more goods or services online.

One customer saw its monthly sales of R200,000 soar to R2m after incuBeta overhauled it and raised its profile. So far Lingham has not turned away any customers, but they have to be patient when they request its services.

The skills crunch is about to intensify, as the demand in SA for online marketing and advice about e-commerce "is about to explode", he says.

Lingham demonstrated in Johannesburg this week how badly local websites fare when people search for information. None of the 10 most popular websites in SA is South African, according to the traffic-ranking website alexa.com. The first local site to feature is M-Web in 12th place, in a field led by Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and MySpace.

Google alone handles 2,7- billion queries each month. Lingham says any company advertising online should concentrate on Google, which claims a 65% market share of all searches and close to 90% in SA. "Focus on Google and you will make money," he says. Working with other search engines, including local creations Ananzi or Search24, is not worth the effort, he says.

IncuBeta spent more than R50m placing adverts on Google for its clients last year, but only 3% of that was for South African businesses. Its foreign clients have their websites so finely meshed into their systems that when incuBeta directs potential shoppers to their website, the buying process works smoothly.

"In SA you have to teach them to build a site, and make the database work and interact with customers," he says.

Companies can check how easy it is to find them online compared with their rivals by typing key words relating to their business into a search engine. "If you are not at the top of the first page you have a big problem," he says.

Large companies will probably see smaller rivals appear far higher up as they are generally more flexible and more creative. Cellular service provider EliteMobile almost always appears far higher up the lists than Vodacom.

One common flaw with local websites is the way they are designed with images and graphics, as search engines cannot read graphics and will not route traffic to those sites. Sites also have to be easily viewable by any browser. Designing a website specifically for Microsoft's Internet Explorer is like a bank telling customers they can only come in if they are wearing certain shoes, he says.

Lingham says there will always be a variety of ways that companies advertising online can pay for traffic directed to their sites. They can pay for every person who sees their advert and clicks through to their site. They can pay for banner adverts without tracking how much response is generated, or they can pay a fee for every order that is finally placed by a customer.

Lingham is considering listing incuBeta late next year, unless it is bought out before then. Although it is not actively for sale, several local and international media houses have made tentative moves to discuss a takeover. Its turnover will reach R100m this year, and its shareholders and financiers include Mark Shuttleworth's HBD Venture Capital.

Business Day