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The requirements for a small business website have typically been simple: a nice-looking website to act as a glorified brochure. That type of small thinking is being challenged by a growing number of small businesses. For some small businesses, their website is their business.

Not only are websites becoming a larger part of a company's operations, they're being used as an important strategic tool by small businesses to be successful. Those that aren't utilizing their websites beyond the brochure are going to have a much harder time competing with not only large businesses, but the growing small businesses that are becoming more technology savvy.

However, even sophisticated small businesses aren't yet taking full advantage of data analytics. They may have website visitor analytics, email marketing open rates and are tracking conversion rates, but they shouldn't blindly trust their data (more on why in this article). Those metrics are only a small set of the total data they could be compiling to gain real insight into their business operations.

Visitor tracking Goes Beyond the Basics

Getting a true picture of online performance means putting together information from all visits. It includes tracking a person's movement on the website from the first visit to the last visit and everything they've done in between including making notes of their interactions. If a person fills out a contact form, subscribes to a newsletter, opens an email, or makes a purchase, their profile is constantly being updated with new information learned.

This data collection goes beyond the standard website visitor data typically collected such as page views and time on website to expanding that information across independent sessions for extensive profiling of website visitors. It also means that their various systems from their blog to the e-commerce system must be integrated, or all of this data will remain unassociated and inaccessible.

This level of tracking may sound a little scary, but large companies have been doing this for several years. The difference is that they've had the budget and technological infrastructure to manage all of this data.

Advanced Visitor Profiling Means More Data

Fortunately, advanced visitor profiling and tracking is becoming easier and more affordable for small businesses using newer website management platforms; it's what my company specializes in and I've seen the benefits firsthand. Yet this creates a new challenge in managing small business expectations because of a growing data storage footprint.

As a website increases its visitor count, there's a correlating growth in data, sometimes exponentially. Not only is each visitor session tracked, it's combined with previous visits and updated anytime there's a new interaction by that person.

Traditionally, that data could be purged or summarized every so often since it only needed to be viewed in the aggregate. With comprehensive data being generated and associated with existing visitor profiles, data can't be purged because there wouldn't be a full collection of a person's history on the website. That growing data is where real insights can be garnered to improve a company's results.

How to Plan for Growing Data Storage Needs

Many big-name web hosting companies offer shared web hosting for less than $10/mo. and they include seemingly endless storage for next to nothing. Those storage numbers come with significant caveats. Looking at the hidden terms, you'll see instances of limited CPU usage and the size of the database and even the length of database queries.

Shared hosting may no longer be a viable solution for advanced websites. Businesses may need to consider virtual private servers, on-demand hosting such as Amazon Web Services, or a web hosting service that doesn't limit resource usage in exchange for excessively high storage and bandwidth limits that can't possibly be reached because of other resource limitations.

Consider that any advanced web hosting options are going to be at a minimum five to 10 times as expensive as low-cost shared hosting. The good news is that even $50 to $100/mo. is not going to break the small business bank. The insights gained from access to comprehensive data should more than make up for a minimal increase in the web hosting investment.

What small businesses need to realize is that while advanced technologies are being made more cost effective, the overall growth in pure data a business collects is going to increase significantly and so is the performance requirement to get access to this data quickly. Having an understanding about this growing data set is vital and plays an important role in establishing data backup strategies, budgets and availability. Traditional low cost shared hosting that offers minimal database performance and limited access to resources beyond storage and bandwidth isn't going to cut it.

No longer is a website just a website. It's a growing database in a company's arsenal and a big factor in winning the war of business. Invest appropriately.

Mark Cenicola is the President and CEO of, developers of BannerOS, and the author of The Banner Brand.

BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America's most ambitious young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

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