Survey: Database costs surge

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The cost of adding database services has jumped drastically in the last seven months as more companies look to add this feature to their Web sites.

According to this month's Web Price Index, the median price for adding a database to a large site has increased 113%, climbing to $75,000 from $35,200 in NetMarketing's original survey of database prices in August 1997.

The median price for the medium site, meanwhile, grew 29% to $29,600 from $23,000 seven months ago, and the median for the small site increased 41% to $11,250 from $8,000.

While this month's survey indicates that prices for adding databases can seem increasingly prohibitive, marketers can see returns on their investment by saving on development costs later and by gaining information about the site's audience now.

Content management issue

David Carnes, Channels Internet Marketing Manager at Sybase, Concord, Mass., sees adding a database as a "content management issue. With the direction the Web is going and the sheer volume of content, utilization of a database can greatly facilitate the presentation of information on the Web."

By adding a back-end database to a site, it empowers marketers to publish content on their own -- without extensive knowledge of HTML and without having to outsource that publishing to a Web developer.

That way, Mr. Carnes says, "You can focus your time on the actual content. The marketer can plunk a [Microsoft] Word document in and be presented with different fields -- this should go to the intranet, this to the extranet -- and give it a freshness date, like Budweiser beer."

Managing across continents

The marketer can even manage different content across servers on multiple continents with the same publishing tool.

"The publisher can choose, 'I want this to be visible in Latin America and Austral-Asia, but I don't want the Europeans to see it,' " Mr. Carnes says. "It's expensive, but [marketers] should evaluate their current way of managing documents."

Will it save money in the end? "It would almost have to," said Mr. Carnes, "but some things are hard to account for."

Adam Pisoni, chief operating officer for developer CyberNation, Santa Monica, Calif., says he "still finds a lot of people just getting their feet wet [on the Web]." These kinds of sites, Mr. Pisoni says, don't tend to see much return on their investment, whereas more robust sites tend to do better on the bottom line.

As for the difference in price increases for the big site vs. the medium and small sites, Mr. Pisoni says there are low-cost solutions for small marketers.

CyberNation often uses a free database package, Postgres, instead of a high-end commercial product, such as database software from Oracle Corp., Microsoft Corp. or Sybase.

However, Mr. Pisoni says one problem marketers face during the bidding process comes from inadequacies of the developers themselves.

"Large [Web design] firms only know how to use large [databases, like Oracle or Sybase] and smaller firms don't always know how to do database work at all," he says.

Meanwhile, Mr. Pisoni says he has seen a shift in the uses of databases. "More of our customers are looking for ways to do statistical analysis on information users provide to a Web site," he says.

Generating high-quality leads

For example, one of his clients, Kia Motors America, uses the information users provide when they sign up for a free brochure online to send out targeted mailings later. By narrowing an already self-selected group, the company hopes to generate even higher quality leads.

"As you put information into the database, you can learn about what people are using and how better to target info to your customers," Mr. Pisoni says.

A database can also help brand a Web site. By using templates that pull information out of a database, a marketer can facilitate the upkeep of a site while maintaining a consistent look to the pages.

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