Product literature and, yes, even magazine articles can be blamed for spreading the rumor that great Web sites are easy and inexpensive to set up. While a static page can be put up in no time and at a low cost, setting up a professional Web site can be a very costly and time-consuming endeavor.
"If you're doing `brochureware,' it can be pretty cheap," says Charles Rutstein, an analyst with Forrester Research. "You can do it in your spare time with off-the-shelf software in the couple-hundred-dollars range."
But putting up a good transactional Web site takes several months and costs anywhere from $10,000 to the six- or even seven-figure range. "You have a whole new spread of things to think about, such as how you're going to take orders, track inventory and fulfill orders," says Rutstein.
And then there's the burden of keeping your product information up to date. "Keeping inventory information current is a difficult task that many small-business owners don't even think about when they first decide to venture onto the Web," says Martha Frey, an analyst at Patricia Seybold Group, an e-business research and consulting firm in Boston. "This usually means integrating your Web site with some back-end systems. The major challenges arise when you enter this world of integration."
Well-designed Web sites should also have sophisticated customer support mechanisms in place, such as customer support software and a strong support staff that can respond to the whole world 24 hours a day.
Effective Web sites often require the work of agencies, consultants and integrators. "You really need a Web advertising agency and a Web engineering firm," says Frey, "so you cover both the creative side and technical side."