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IBM Makeover Pursues Personalization In Revamped Site

The company used fundamental techniques for improving the navigation of what is sometimes viewed as an opaque, 3 million page site.

On June 11, IBM launched a revamped Web presence, trying to improve the navigation and personalization of what is sometimes viewed as an opaque, 3 million page site.

The new site appears simpler and cleaner to look at, and to a user, it's soon obvious there's more navigational assistance under the hood. Doing a mouse rollover of the three main topics shown on the home page brings each one into the dominant window rather than clicking through three pages.

What IBM does with its Web site is heeded by other companies. It's pioneered several fundamental user navigation techniques and it ranked number seven worldwide on the FT Bowen Craggs Index of Web sites. Bowen Craggs & Co. is a Web site consulting company in London, which released its first site ranking in May. Only IBM and General Electric of U.S.-based companies made it into its top ten, with GE ranking tenth. The list was otherwise dominated by European companies.

In May, the Compass Intelligence report, a market access consulting company, ranked Web sites by ease of use for small and medium-sized businesses. IBM led that list, followed by Microsoft, second;, fifth; HP, sixth, and Dell, seventh.

In a recent interview, Lee Dierdorff, IBM's vice president of global Web strategy, said ease of user site navigation and interaction are key to IBM's future; 11% of IBM's revenue is now generated on the Web site and that number is expected to grow.

"The whole Web environment is going through a fundamental redesign," said Dierdorff. "It's no longer inside out, how do I tell my story to the outside world? Now it's outside in," he said, meaning how do outsiders find and get what they want as they come to company's home site.

IBM is using reversed domain name service look up, attempting to determine where its visitors come from and who they work for, such as a domain with the automaker, Ford, in it. IBM wants to discern what it can about its visitors in order to guess at why they are on the site and what information they're going to be looking for.

In a more structured sense, IBM offers visitors the chance to register and sign on at the top of the home page, establishing identity as soon as they arrive. That registration then amounts to a single sign-on and grants them appropriate access privileges across IBM's 3 million pages. Only seven percent of IBM's customers have registered so far "but now that registration is on the home page, we hope to have more. It's a tremendous opportunity to connect."

For a registered visitor from, for example, "We know automotive content may be relevant to you. Once you come in, we know the pages you've visited and have the means of knowing something about you." A visitor profile is built up for registered users.

Knowing that the visitor from a small business is "a finance guy helps me [IBM] talk to you," Dierdorff said. If the visitor goes to what's known as the Red Book technical support library, that title is added to their profile as a resource they are likely to want to consult again. "We don't want to force them to fill out a three-page form to have a profile with us," he said. Instead, the site is building it dynamically, based on site visits.

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