Although Netscape, which created the user-friendly Navigator browser that made Internet access a household idea, has some obvious technological advantages when it comes to creating a Web site, the general lessons it has learned can be applied to any business looking to set up shop in cyberspace.
INTEGRATED BUSINESS STRATEGY
"The goal [of the Web site] is to be Netscape's primary communications vehicle, serving customers, developers, business partners and anyone interested in becoming one of the above," said Hugh Dubberly, creative director of Netscape's Web site.
However, he added, "The most effective sites on the Net go beyond being communications vehicles. They become integrated into a company's business strategy."
For Netscape, which bases its entire business on the Internet, the integration is natural. For other companies, it may require some work. But regardless of the business, here are some tips from the top:
If you're building your Web site in-house, you'll need lots of people, or a few multitalented people, to create and maintain the site. Netscape has at least 40 people directly involved with its Web site, although it won't be specific about how many are full-time. Nor will it disclose its Web budget.
If you're farming out development to a service provider or other Web development company, make sure your business goals are clearly defined, that you have a comprehensive creative strategy, and that senior people buy into the plan, says Eliot Bergson, editor in chief of the Netscape site.
When designing your site, make it easy to find information, particularly if the site is large. To help solve this problem, Netscape, which has 3,000 HTML pages on its site, recently created a pop-up product list in the upper right-hand corner of its home page, which allows users to download or purchase products.
The benefit, says Mr. Dubberly, is that it allows Netscape to pull more material from inside the site to the top, letting users get at information more quickly.
Beyond initial construction, staffing and design issues, perhaps the most important ongoing issue surrounding Web development is providing compelling, useful content that will benefit existing customers and help draw new ones.
One of the most effective devices that Netscape has implemented on its site is free software distribution, allowing it to grow its market share. Of the 40 million copies of Navigator software now in use worldwide, the bulk has been downloaded from the Web site, said Mr. Bergson.
The lesson: If you can give a product or service away to gain effective market share, do it.
STRONG CONTENT AREAS
Another strong content area is Netscape Destinations, an information source for business users with links to more than 400 Web sites, including those by Business Week, CNN Interactive, and other business service providers.
To provide specific product information to a targeted group of business users, Netscape recently announced AppFoundry Online, a community for information systems professionals building corporate intranets, or internal networks utilizing Internet technologies.
"Collaboration is really the place where I think there will be the most growth on the Web," said Mr. Dubberly. Netscape uses the Internet to collaborate with its advertising agency, Euro RSCG Dahlin Smith White in Salt Lake City, by proofing and editing creative material online now instead of meeting face-to-face.
"The lesson for non-technical companies is to think of the Web as a place of doing business," said Mr. Dubberly.