The next step in site development is adding content, which includes everything from basic text to multimedia elements like audio and video presentations. Don't skimp on the content; it brings visitors back to your site and also boosts your credibility as an expert in your field. Again, this is something you can tackle alone, or you can get help from a designer and hosting company.

Want customers to visit your site again and again? Content is king . Keep visitors tuned in with message boards and valuable information.

Content varies widely, depending on your company's image and the products and services you offer. It can be as simple as a company brochure or employee-written articles. One way to generate free content is to allow users to participate in chat rooms or discussion lists (not necessarily about your products).

The best Web sites succeed in pulling in the same visitors repeatedly or for prolonged periods. John Shelley, 50, is an example. The owner of Shelley's Garden Center & Nursery Inc. , a 15-person garden supply and landscaping company in Felton, Pennsylvania, Shelley launched his nursery's Web site in 1996. Its 375 pages feature weather reports, news, a gardening newsletter and a virtual guided tour of his 20-acre nursery. The site cost $1,500 to set up, not including monthly hosting costs.

But, most important, the site highlights Shelley's passion and personality. He writes a new greeting on his home page almost every day and a weekly column in which he discusses his feelings about world events. He admits his personality brings people back to his site regularly-which incidentally has also boosted sales, despite the fact that Shelley hasn't specifically set out to sell his services on the site.

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"Last year, we did about $320,000 off the Web," says Shelley. "And that's because people are reading our Web site, looking at our graphics, listening to what we're saying and liking it. As a result, they're calling us up and coming from all over to visit our nursery and ask us to do their landscaping."

But almost as important as the right content is the perfect construction. When structuring your site, be sure to keep some basics in mind: It's vital that you make your toll-free number (or phone or fax number) easily accessible to visitors. They'll want user-friendly navigation to move easily through a site, control the flow of information and return to a central home page when necessary. Avoid confusing clutter; instead, design pages with catchy descriptions and well-placed graphics that are simple and elegant.

Finally, don't refrain from changing content if it's not meeting your visitors' needs. Says Tiernan, "By gathering information about how well a site is doing and keeping in contact with customer needs, retailers can learn from their customers [exactly how] to modify their Web sites to be more effective."

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Melissa Campanelli is a technology writer in Brooklyn, New York, who has covered technology for Mobile Computing & Communications and Sales & Marketing Management magazines.