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There are several database software solutions out there. Depending on the server type you are using, free and cheap options such as mySQL and mSQL are available for your use. In Windows, the defacto web site database is Microsoft SQL Server, though other packages do exist. Each software has its own nuances. For example, Microsoft SQL is slightly different than traditional SQL used in Sybase or Oracle databases. In short, almost all databases created today are Relational Databases, and should suit your needs as you create your database driven websites.
There are two basic options for a searchable product line on your online retail website. The free solution requires having a site-specific search box from one of the major search engines (Google is a great place to start). The drawback is that you need to wait for a full spidering of your ecommerce web site. With the free approach, new items may not be searchable for several days. The alternative is implementing a database design and using database driven websites. The big win here is immediate gratification...changes to prices, product lines, descriptions and inventory are immediately updated for your customers. In any event, having a product search of some sort on your website will allow customers to quickly pinpoint items they want to purchase and create a more cohesive web experience.
While each web host is different, most include database hosting as a separate fee. Database driven websites require constant backups of your data in case of a web host failure, and the software licensing is expensive on some database packages. You'll generally find a setup fee for a web site database of anywhere between $25 and $70, with a monthly charge in the range of $20-$50 per month, depending on how many products you plan to store. Remember, you get what you pay for, so don't skimp on your business' database needs.
About database driven websites: One of the primary reasons to use a database design for your ecommerce store is that the data and presentation remain separated. In short, you can make as many modifications to your product line as you like without having to go through and edit each static page by hand. Database driven websites work off a template system, taking the shell of the HTML and pumping in the correct information from your web site database. The main reason you should consider database driven websites is speed...every change you make becomes instantaneously displayed on your website. You may need an ecommerce web hosting service that handles database hosting, but the charge is usually nominally higher and the benefits outweigh the capital invested.
More about database driven websites: Most turnkey solutions for online shops are business database web sites. This means they use a database to store your product information, descriptions and even the pictures you upload. Database driven websites are much more popular than you might have thought, being used in everything from Ebay to Google. If you are building your site out yourself or using a developer, a sound database design up front will get your products in order and make your customer management a snap.
For standard database driven websites, you will need at least 3 types of templates; one for your products, one for your content and one for your home page. A web site database will put the content and products in the page according to how it is laid out. The database design should reflect options for different types of data (i.e.: knowing content from products) and the templates themselves should be optimized to bring in as much traffic as possible based on the keywords for that particular template. Again, depending on your needs, you may find you want more than just one template for your items. Multiple templates serve as good visual cues for product categories and product lines your online business sells.
Effective database design is crucial to being able to organize your data into effective categories. How many times have you visited a website, searched for one product and found another? Chances are, that is caused by a miscategorization of the person's products. With effective taxonomies, you can make sure your whole product line is at your customer's fingertips and thereby create more sales from your website. Web site database design should be done by a trained professional. Think about it, you would not trust the construction of your physical storefront to anyone, the same applies for your virtual e-store.