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Verisign's key to change

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Verisign has just launched a major redesign of its Web site.

While for most companies this would be a big step, for the Mountain View, Calif.-based company, this is Internet business as usualÅ"and its fourth major redesign since it was created in 1995.

Despite the annual changes, this state-of-the-art site continues to have a singular mission, says Anil Pereira, director of marketing for Verisign.

"The biggest thing we've learned is we run a complex business and, as we evolve, we want the site to evolve in real time," he says.

"So we'll highlight key features and stories on the home page, for which we'll develop graphics in-house. . . . That keeps the look of the site but lets us change things as news happens."

For Verisign, each Web site redesign marks a significant change in its business focus.

The company, which was spun out from RSA Data Security in 1995 and recently went public, sells personal encryption keys, or "Digital IDs," used by servers and individuals in electronic commerce to decode messages.

Moving to the enterprise side

While more fast-growing companies are depending on outsiders to design and manage their Web sites, the new Verisign site is an inside job.

Michael Coleman, a four-year veteran of the Internet Shopping Network, joined Verisign seven months ago and directed the redesign.

"We're now heading more to the enterprise side," he said. "Before that we were into the consumer side. We're also changing the scope of the company. . . . We have a Japanese division. There's a lot we're trying to reach.

"A lot of the information on the old page is buried at the bottom of the page. We're trying to put more daily news at the top. We're also trying to include all our audience areas and a lot more product promotions," Mr. Coleman said.

Mr. Pereira, who came to Veri-sign from American Express, says, "When the site launched [in 1995], it was to act as a business-to-business store," selling keys to servers that would let them encrypt credit card numbers under Netscape's Secure Sockets Layer standard.

By 1996, the company was pushing its "Digital ID Center," where consumers would get keys to encrypt their e-mail.

Last year, Verisign's target shifted again, to the Fortune 1,000. Verisign's OnSite product was designed to let companies issue their own digital keys to employees, to control access to their intranets, says Mr. Pereira.

The target market is shifting yet again. Verisign affiliates with key-authority companies around the world.

Last month, the Internal Revenue Service signed up Verisign to conduct a pilot of digital keys for use in tax filing. The company has expanded its relationship with Microsoft and Netscape to hand out keys to them.

Understanding the products

To develop the new site, Mr. Coleman "had to learn the Verisign products, and learn what information each group in the company needed." He started with pen and paper, breaking down the site's main functional areas.

He then used a design visualization program called Visio Professional to create a functional specification for each area.

Mr. Coleman also conducted usability testing, having people try out an early version of the site, and he surveyed customers to make sure the site would include the features they wanted.

"Not all of this had been done before," he says. "We generally did usability tests on the product side, so people understand how to service and use our products. We're now doing usability on the flow of the site, and the home page designs, to see if people understand how to get the information they need."

The finished site then went into the hands of Verisign's information systems group, to be put online and managed. This was due for completion in late September.

Customer input

Mr. Pereira says input from customers will be key to the new site's success.

"Because a significant part of the site is a processing service," handling applications for digital keys, "we need engineering input from both a usability and database standpoint," he says. "We need customer service input, because they get the feedback immediately."

Also to consult for approval of the site are new constituencies, including the investor relations department for the newly public company, and departments such as human resources and sales.

Site messages and graphics

Essentially, Mr. Pereira and Mr. Coleman are retooling the look and feel of the business. Mr. Pereira is unfazed by the challenge.

"The technology is no longer new," he says. And big business and software developers know they need to manage digital keys.

The Verisign site "will be table based," Mr. Pereira says. "The notion will be you won't see three to four calls to action on a page. You'll see more traditional marketing messages on each page," and one message per page, along with navigation tools in case a visitor is getting the wrong message.

As for the graphic elements, Mr. Pereira says, "You'll see a more corporate design in terms of elegance, things like jewel tones, and very clean fonts on beveled edges. You'll also see more layering, things that give the site depth, so customers' eyes are attracted to different things at different times."

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