What kind of Web site to deploy is a major business decision and must be considered with great care. Your choices affects both the effectiveness of your Web effort and its cost.
Lets be right up front about this. A Web site is an investment just like a piece of machinery, office equipment or advertising campaign. What you spend on it and what you get from it should be in direct proportion, but, just as with other capital expenditures, it is possible to spend just a little too little and get nothing.
Caution: This industry is entirely unregulated, and there are no standards for pricing or product delivered. It's swarming with people out for a fast buck who promise the world at a very low price. Results will not match expectations, but you've already paid.
- "Business Card" Site: A single screen with logo, address, phone number, hours of business and brief description of products and/or services, and a link to your email box. An experienced Web person can get this done and up in two to four hours depending on what you want on it - figure $50 to $200. At the very least, it fills the empty space you got with your Internet service.
- "Brochure" Site: A multi-screen site with extended product and/or services information, perhaps a map, e-mail links and other useful information. Costs are similar to creating a nice professional 4-color brochure of similar scale. Don't think you can just put up your brochure though, the mechanics are way different. At best the designer can cut some graphics and copy some text from your brochure.
- "Mini-Catalog" Site: A larger version of the brochure site, but more product oriented and may have pricing. There will be forms to place orders, request quotes, etc. Production costs are similar to a color catalog of similar scale.
This kind of site can be nearly as good a sales tool as an e-commerce site, since most people still pick up the phone to actually place orders. You can't negotiate by filling out a form, after all, and a sales person may know about conditions, new products or price changes that aren't posted on the Web yet. Many people feel their credit card information is more secure that way, too, and given how easily most e-commerce sites are hacked, they're probably right.
- "Information Site" - "Mini-portal": Sites of this type are designed to bring people back over and over by offering news, reference material, interesting information and links to related sites where even more information can be found. An information site may also include features of the "brochure" or "mini-catalog" site.
Cost varies in the extreme depending on who is doing the work and how that work is being accounted for. If it can be done as part of normal operations, so much the better. If you can apply volunteer labor, so much the better.
- "E-Commerce" Site: On-line credit card sales are the hallmark of this type of site. Costs vary in the extreme depending on scale and approach. A site that is a member of an on-line mall can be fairly low cost (though limited). You may be able to get on a mall for $600 or so, but you'll need $15,000 or so to start anything significant.
Our article E-Commerce - Selling on the Web has information about the risks and advantages of this kind of site.
- "Integrated E-Commerce" Site: Here the Web site is linked to or integrated with the company's back office processes. The on-line catalog is built dynamically from a database. Availability, on-line customer service inquiry and other "real time" features are integrated into the site. A couple million dollars will get your started.
- "Portal": If you think you can compete with Yahoo, Microsoft, Yahoo, Alta Vista, and the rest of the big guys, this is for you. A few billion bucks will get you into this game, but doesn't guarantee success.