Yahoo! Revamps Web Hosting For Small Business

Hoping to encourage more businesses to start their own Web sites, Yahoo! has redesigned its hosting service for small businesses.

The revamped service emphasizes customization, brand autonomy, and a simplified checkout process for the 35,000 merchants who have already created Web sites through Yahoo!

Until now, merchants were given two generic checkout pages to choose from. Now, each is encouraged to customize their checkouts with the same tools they used to design the rest of their sites--controlling the font, colors, and button appearance, as well as the content displayed in designated navigation areas across their sites, from initial browsing to checkout.

The new service also allows businesses to choose between single- and multi-page checkout options, whether to include shipping and billing information on one page, and the use of an order review page. These options give businesses the ability to streamline consumers' shopping experiences--and, one hopes, boost conversion rates.

The changes are the result of in-house research that depicts a consumer base more familiar with the world of ecommerce, and merchants eager for more independence, according to Jimmy Duvall, director of ecommerce products for Yahoo! Small Business.

"Generic Yahoo! checkout pages used to give Web sites legitimacy at a time when consumers were still wary of shopping online," Duvall explained. "Today, our research is telling us how much more comfortable consumers are with merchants, who can then concentrate more on their independent look and strategy."

Sanjeev Aggarwal, an analyst at the Yankee Group, seconded Duvall's theory. "He's right," said Aggarwal, and added: "I think most people are over their old fears that the Internet isn't a safe place to shop."

The Kelsey Group estimates that between 35 and 40 percent of small U.S. businesses now have Web sites, and that the number will exceed 50 percent in less than two years, according to Kelsey analyst Greg Sterling.

Aggarwal reckoned the current percentage is closer to 60 percent.

Duvall estimated that while it shouldn't take merchants more than a few hours to customize their sites, it would probably be a few months before the majority of Yahoo!'s merchant-clients got around to revamping their Web sites.

Additionally, the service now offers shipping and coupon calculators on shopping cart pages, so consumers can better determine the entire cost of a purchase at the beginning of the checkout process.

Yahoo! Small Business aspires to be a one-stop shop for merchants, offering a suite of services that include Yahoo! Web Hosting, Yahoo! Domains, Yahoo! Business Mail, and the e-commerce platform called Yahoo! Merchant Solutions, which allows merchants to create a custom online storefront at their own domain name.