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10 Great B2B Sites: American Express OPEN Forum

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Company: American Express Corp. URL: www.openforum.com Target audience: Small-business owners and entrepreneurs Key Web executive: Scott Roen, VP-digital marketing and innovation at OPEN Forum No. of people working on the site: N/A Last major redesign: May 2011 No. of pages on the site: At least 50,000 Web developer: In-house and Crispin Porter+Bogusky, Boulder, Colo. The American Express OPEN Forum debuted in 2007 and went through a fairly significant redesign in 2009 before its latest overhaul this spring. One of the lessons the company learned over the past four years: “We can't wait 18 months to make fundamental changes to the site,” said Scott Roen, VP-digital marketing and innovation at OPEN Forum. “We now use the agile development process, which allows us to roll out new features and functions on an ongoing basis.” The company is updating the site every month or so, rolling out new elements. The OPEN Forum also updated the social aspect of its site. The company saw a significant amount of traffic coming from social networks with people sharing stories and links via Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networking sites. So the OPEN team made it easier to share content on the site. “People can log in via Facebook and Twitter and comment on our articles,” Roen said. Share buttons for Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Twitter and email are now prominently displayed at the top of each article as well. Since traffic from mobile was also picking up, OPEN Forum is now optimized for mobile and tablets, with the company introducing an iPhone app last year and planning to launch an Android app later this year. The site's design changed, going for a “cleaner and fresher” look that's still familiar enough so frequent and longtime visitors feel comfortable. Navigation also got an overhaul. Since many of the site's visitors came through what Roen called “the side door,” OPEN Forum needed a way to get people deeper into the site. The left-side navigation was removed, and visitors are always just a click away from the home page. They can also navigate by topic or interest using top navigation. “They may have come in for a specific article and we want them to be able to go deeper rather than have to [only] navigate the seven categories we had [highlighted] today,” Roen said. A new feature, called Crash Courses, was also introduced. Billed as “a new way to learn,” the courses are free online tutorials that help people learn in a social manner. Expert commentary: “OPENForum.com lures people to the site with large amounts of business-focused content. This is a good strategy for b-to-b sites in general: Focus on giving visitors content they'll find useful in their daily lives, not just product pitches. From a global perspective, the site clearly displays country-specific options right at the top of the page. Also, when you click on those options, most of the names of the countries are displayed in-language,” said Ben Sargent, senior analyst at Common Sense Advisory.
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