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A wave of megabucks mergers has swept the Web world in recent months, with Yahoo! (http://www.yahoo.com) gobbling up GeoCities (http://www. geocities.com), cable provider At Home swallowing Excite (http://www.excite.com), and AOL (http://www.aol.com) buying Netscape and its highly trafficked NetCenter (http://www.netcenter.com).
What's all this merging about? A year ago, Web executives were hunting for "eyeballs"--viewers--and the push was on to gather as many eyeballs as possible, thus the mergers. Today's push is to keep those eyeballs stuck to the site--hence the latest Web buzzword, "sticky sites."
That's why Yahoo!, for instance, continues to flesh out its personalized "My Yahoo!" page, offering individual viewers everything from a to-do calendar to horoscopes and sports scores. The aim is to use ever more content to get viewers to stick around.
Will this new development squeeze small business off the computer monitor? There's no proof the sticky-site strategy will suck up every minute of Web viewing time. But there's a lesson in this for entrepreneurs: Build a site that encourages your visitors to linger. Use freebies, toggles that allow for personalization, frequently updated content, maybe even a chat room. Although the big guys will get the biggest share of this market, that doesn't mean there won't be plenty of tasty morsels left over for creative entrepreneurs.
How well does your Web site work? Do visitors leave in frustration over draggy load times, bad links or code that doesn't work? Drop by NetMechanic for a free tune-up that will inspect your HTML code for bad syntax, look for dead links and measure your pages' load time. Report cards tell you what's not working, and to remedy slow load times, there's a free "GIFBot" that reduces the size of your graphics by 90 percent. What's the catch? NetMechanic wants you to buy Server Check Pro for continuous monitoring of your Web server's performance. But it just might be worth it: The cost (starting at $10 per month plus a $10 setup fee) could be recouped with just one sale you might have lost due to a cranky server.
Would you open a retail store in just any available space you stumbled across? Of course not. You'd do your research before leasing a location in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Setting up a retail store takes a lot of advance planning--that's just as true when you're opening an online store. Do your homework, and the results will reflect it.
Where should you start planning? Read the guide to the main Web-store hosts at Quicken.com's Small Business site. The analysis is terse and to the point, but in a glance, you'll see the differences among GeoShops, iCat, Yahoo! Store, Virtual Spin and other providers. You'll also see that prices are generally less than $100 per month--which means an online shop is within almost every entrepreneur's budget.
Tools of the Trade
Want a visitor counter, tools for submitting your site to search engines, guest books, or tutorials for handling the tricky stuff involved in creating Web pages that sparkle? This is your destination. It's filled with freebies and links to still more free Web-building tools. Beginners will find plenty that's useful here, but so will seasoned Web authors--and there's no room for complaints because everything's free.
Ask the Experts
Need immediate advice on a sticky business issue? Log on to Expert Marketplace, an information service with backing from Dun & Bradstreet and Simon & Schuster's Bureau of Business Practice. Here you'll find data on more than 200,000 consulting and technical firms. If you can't decide which firm to hire, this site will play matchmaker, pointing you to the firms it thinks best suit you. Better still, performance appraisals on many firms are free to read. Membership is also free, as is access to a database crammed with case studies and reports on finance, human resources, sales, marketing and more.
To contact Robert McGarvey, e-mail him at email@example.com