Friday, February 04, 2005

So Much for My SBI Site

After a year of using Ken Evoy's Site Build It for one of my primary ecommerce sites I decided a few days ago to move the site over to a conventional server. Today I got the deed done -- with no serious hitches, no downtime (so far), and no lost ranking or PR (as far as I can tell).

The site in question, namely was set up as the primary vehicle for promoting our company's trade show display and trade show graphics business. When I set the site up just over a year ago (in December 2003) I did it partially as an experiment. I told myself I would set up using SBI, and my other primary site --, set up at pretty much the same time -- using a conventional host.

I was impressed enough by Ken Evoy's pitch focusing on the Search Engine Optimization and submission tools built into SBI that I felt it was probably worth the difference in cost. After a year of head to head comparison I would be able to make an informed decision.

The difference in price is not insignificant. You can get a normal site up and running these days for around $5 a month. That's $60/year. Ken's package costs in the range of $300 (I'm not even sure what he is charging now). The justification is that SBI helps you select a "niche", holds your hand while you build it, and then helps you promote it by submitting on a regular basis to the SEs.

After a year of working with the SBI site, and building about 25 others on normal hosts, I have concluded that there is no significant advantage to SBI. I say that from the perspective of someone who has approached web building in a very serious manner. On all counts -- traffic, SE ranking, PR -- my SBI site has not done any better than 4 or 5 of my other main sites. And that, in spite of persistent PPC promotion for the entire year drawing traffic directly to my SBI site.

Here are my conclusions:

1. The claims for constant and regular "submission" to the SEs are overstated. I have concluded that submission is unnecessary. If you are interlinked with other sites, and if you keep your content updated often enough you get spidered automatically. No need for resubmission. I could be wrong about this, but, as I noted above, I could not see any effective ranking or placement difference.

2. The site building tools built into SBI are restrictive and clunky. I never used them anyway. I built my pages in Front Page and then uploaded them, one at a time. I found this process aggravatingly restrictive.

3. At least two important technologies cannot be used (as far as I could tell) in SBI sites: SSI (server side includes) and dynamic pages such as .php or .asp. Both of these things make building a dynamic site much easier, and both have become important for the kind of sites I am currently building. I think the SBI claim is that not allowing these things keeps their sites cleaner and more SE-friendly. I suspect the real reason is that they cannot easily implement these technologies in the restrictive hand-holding "modular" environment they use to build their sites.

4. The cost is not justified. Yes I know there are many tools made available to SBI subscribers, but I could not make use of any of them. It would be interesting to know how many SBI sites really make money for their owners. I can't say that I have ever seen one that looks like it has significant traffic.

5. One thing I will say is that I have never had any problem with my SBI site going down. Virtually every other site I own has had serious and very annoying downtime. It is hard to say how much this reliability is worth. I also find it hard to believe that there aren' at least a few reliable hosts out there. I assume it's just a matter of finding a couple.

The SBI package is probably a good investment if you don't know anything about web building, have no design experience, and need serious help formulating a business plan. But I suspect anybody with this many strikes against them isn't going to make it in online commerce anyway.