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To Web or Not to Web?
So the internet has been around a while now, and the dazzling growth rates of the early years have leveled off somewhat. We all know that this Holiday Season (2004) millions of shoppers will spend billions of dollars online. Recent numbers say something like 46% of all US shoppers will make at least one Holiday purchase online.

Maybe you've thought about getting a website, and maybe you've even done so with limited success. Is it really worth it to build a site and maintain it? You can now find web site hosting for under $30 per month with lots of bells and whistles like ecommerce capability and merchant services (credit card processing).

The most important part of starting a website having a strategy. You should consider several issues when making a decision to start a website for your company. What is the ultimate goal of your site? How much time and money are you willing to spend?

For most businesses, selling retail products on the web is a difficult proposition. At last count there were more than 45 million websites on the internet. Add to the mix ultra-competitive sites like Ebay, Amazon.com and Overstock.com, and it can be difficult to generate enough traffic to make any money. For this reason, many brick and mortar stores use their website as a means of promoting the store itself rather than as a vehicle for online sales.

Keep it simple: showing your hours of operation, store location, upcoming specials or events, a list of products, and photos of merchandise can be a great way for customers to find your business. More importantly, the website can serve as a means for repeat customers to find out what's new and exciting at the shop. Of course, this also means updating the site regularly.

Ten years ago, you needed to know html in order to build a site. Now most web hosting companies offer an interface that allows you to make most or all of the additions to your site through a browser like Internet Explorer. This user-friendly software often comes bundled with the cost of monthly site hosting. Often a web hosting company will have several options for hosting, including initial set up, ecommerce, newsletter management, site stats, merchant services, etc. Often it is best to have an experienced designer do the initial set up so the overall look of the site is attractive and functional. After the site is up and running, updates can be done quickly and easily once you get the hang of the software.

We started indiasilver.com in 1996 with a shoe string budget and a small product line. With much less competition back then, we were able to place in the top ten for search terms like "wholesale silver jewelry" and "hanging lanterns." Eight years and thousands of dollars later we are still generally in the top ten for these search terms, but it is a laborious and ever-changing proposition to stay above the masses.

Which brings us back to the original idea of having a strategy. If you are hoping to start a retail site from scratch that competes with the big dogs, you better have deep pockets. If on the other hand you want to use the site to augment the business you already do face to face, then your website can be a relatively inexpensive and effective proposition. As the site grows in popularity, you may even want to start selling online. The key to a successful site is all in the planning.

(This article written by Mike McGinnis and published originally on indiasilver.com. We encourage republication but stipulate the piece be copied in its entirety with links and attribution.)

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Updated 2/17/06
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