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Is a Small Business Web Site a Wise Investment?

One of the greatest pitfalls in e-commerce is Field of Dreams thinking, the notion that all one has to do is "build it (a web site) and they will come."

"I can't think of anything further from the truth," Ron Scott, a Riverside, California web designer, says. "Even if we develop an attractive, content rich web site, that is no guarantee that our client will generate enough sales, let alone traffic, to justify the expense.

"There has to be a market for a company's products and/or services in the first place, and then it has to be properly promoted", he went on to say.

This is why the firm recommends their small business clients answer a number of questions directly related to the development of a sound business plan before they open their checkbooks.

1. Have you adequately defined your market reach? Do you offer products and/or services that will be of interest to an international, national, regional, or local community? The larger your target audience, obviously the greater your probability of success. Could you add one or more products or services that would broaden your reach?

2. What is the global demand for your product and/or service? Do you have any idea how many internet inquiries are made about your product and/or service? For an answer to this question, Scott recommends visiting the "Pay for Performance Search" page listed under the heading "Products and Services" at Overture.com. Enter a keyword or keyword phrase you might use to find information about your product and/or service in the search engine suggestion window at the bottom of the page. In addition to finding out how many inquiries were made the previous month using that keyword or keyword phrase, you may find a dozen or more related terms and the number of inquiries made about them as well. Add the number inquiries and this will give you an idea just how much interest there is in your product and/or service.

If your reach is local or regional, be sure to incorporate the names of cities in your search terms. Pay-for-performance programs sometimes do not allow local or regional advertisers to use generic terms because their services are irrelevant to a more global audience.

3. How many of these inquiries actually come from your target market? Let's assume you do business in Los Angeles and your target market is Southern California. If 85% of all inquiries originate in the United States and that 7.1% of those live in Southern California , then the potential market in Southern California represents 7.1% of 85% (6.1%) of all inquiries using any given keyword or keyword combination.

To calculate the proportion of inquiries in any market area, visit the U. S. Census Bureau's web site. There you will find population projections you can use to estimate the number of inquiries that are likely to be emanating from within your market area.

4. What is your likely market share? Of those consumers actually making inquiries from your market area, how many are likely to visit your site, let alone make a purchase? Assuming that the content of your web site is inviting enough to motivate visitors to either purchase your product/service or to at least make an inquiry, what percentage are actually going to become customers? A 1% return is reasonable expectation if you are in a competitive market and you have a competitively priced product and/or service. Obviously, the more unique your product, the more the higher this percentage is likely to be..

5. How many sales will you have to make to recoup the cost of development and promotion, if only 1% of your visitors take advantage of your offering? For arguments sake, let us assume that it will cost you at least $100 to reserve a domain name and to secure a host, $500 to get a 10 page site designed, and that you budget at least $100 a month on promotion. How many net sales will you have to make to recover these costs? Put another way, how many sales would you need to start making a profit?

6. Do you know who your on-line competitors are? If you don't, go to any search engine, enter a few keywords related to your industry and see who appears on the first page. Visit a few of them. What is their message? What do you see as their strengths and weaknesses.? What do you like or dislike about their sites? How could you make your offering more attractive or enticing?

7. Can you be competitive? Knowing what your competitors are offering, can you realistically expect to compete with them, especially when it comes to pricing? Internet inquiries generally come from individuals looking for a deal so they are price sensitive. Do your competitors actual provide pricing or to they ask visitors to make an on-line inquiry or to call for a quote? If you are in a service related business, what are you going to have to do to compel visitors to act once they visit your site? What can you do to separate you from your on-line competition?

8. How unique is your product and/or service? Do you have a unique offering, or are you in a highly competitive industry? Obviously, the more unique your offering, the easier it is going to be to get exposure and the greater your potential is going to be for success.

9. How are you going to promote your site? One of the greatest misconceptions in e-commerce is the notion that to succeed all one has to do to is submit a site to search engines. This, unfortunately, is the full extent of marketing for far too many web sites and rarely gets the job done.

One of the primary considerations when it comes to search engine placement is popularity. The more sites linking or referencing your site, the higher page rank it will earn. It is fairly inexpensive to get a link on a wide variety of permanent directories, but it takes more than directory links to significantly increase a site's popularity. If you or your webmaster don't take the time to negotiate link exchanges with non-directory related sites, especially those who have high rankings, you are not likely to gain favorable positioning in any but the most insignificant search engines.

10. What have you budgeted for promotion? If you cannot afford to promote your site, you might as well forget spending money on its development. To get a quick idea what it might costs to promote your product or service on line using a pay-for-performance advertising program, visit Overture.com again. Enter one of your industry related keywords in Overture's internet search window on the company's home page.

When the results appear, click on "View Advertiser's Max Bids" link that appears to the top and right. The highest bidder wins the top sponsored position on Yahoo, MSN, CNN, Alta Vista, InfoSpace, Overture and a dozen or more minor search engines. The top three sponsored listings will appear above normal search results at the top of these search engines whenever the surfer uses keywords or keyword phrases the advertiser has bid on.

These questions are not all inclusive, but they do provide food for thought. Hopefully, they will help those interested in establishing a web presence a better idea of what will be needed to achieve a predictable degree of success as well as a reasonable return on investment.

If you would like more information, visit http://www.websitetutoring.com.

About The Author

Ron Scott is a web designer who spends half his time teaching small business owners how to design and maintain their business web sites in-house.

rs@websitetutoring.com

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