April 30, 2003, 12:00 AM

An update on the other Internet Retailer

Our coverage of the e-retailing industry taught us one fundamental lesson: if you build it right, they will come, but if you don’t keep developing it they will leave.

A little more than two years ago, I drew your attention in this column to our recently redesigned and upgraded web site-internetretailer.com-the online extension of our magazine. In addition to a more attractive and navigable design, the makeover involved putting the site on faster servers, vastly increasing its editorial content and adding a highly efficient search function. Furthermore, we committed ourselves to steadily enhancing the editorial content going forward, and we have lived up to that commitment. Two years ago, the site had an archive of just 1,500 articles relating to e-commerce in retailing; today that number exceeds 9,100. We also added an on-line buyers guide that contains listings of more than 600 industry vendors.

We have made these investments despite a sluggish economy because our coverage of the e-retailing industry taught us one fundamental lesson: if you build it right, they will come, but if you don’t keep developing it they will leave. The fact is web sites either continually improve or fall into disuse. And we were certain that the investments we were making would yield an encouraging spike in traffic to the site.

Our only miscalculation in that regard was grossly underestimating the traffic the renovated site would generate. During the first quarter of this year, internetretailer.com has recorded 364,000 visits, a better than 12-fold increase in traffic from the first quarter of 2001, when the changes in the site were implemented. That growth in traffic shows no signs of abating. As I write this column two-thirds of the way into April, the site has already received 100,000 visits during the month and appears headed for another one-month record of 150,000 visits, 20% greater than the previous high-water mark set in March.

We have made relatively modest efforts to market the site, such as increasing its visibility with search engines and advertising the site in this magazine. Yet, we believe much of the traffic growth is attributable to the amount, quality and searchable nature of the editorial content on the site, which makes it an invaluable information research tool. The number of people making multiple visits to the site in a single month has grown steadily. And word about the site’s helpful content is obviously spreading via industry e-mail and web links. We have made no effort, for example, to market our magazine or web site abroad, and yet visits to the site from outside the U.S. are growing even faster than the overall traffic, reflecting both the growing international interest in e-retailing and the web’s ability to spread a message globally. Foreign visits to the site have grown 25-fold in the last couple of years, while increasing the percentage of international traffic from 2% to 4%.

A lot has happened in the last two years to create uncertainty about the future and discourage investments in it. On their own, the Internet stock bust, the September 11 attack on America, Enronesque accounting scandals, anthrax, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and now SARS have each had a depressive effect on business. Who could have imagined that the economy would have been burdened by all of these events in just two years? Yet, through it all the productivity of the Internet has continued to amaze. Through it all, strategic investments in the web have paid off. One only wonders what kind of growth our Internet site-and Internet retailing in general-will experience in good times.

jack@verticalwebmedia.com

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