Web Sites That Work - InformationWeek

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Web Sites That Work

Certain sites have what it takes to succeed, even in this dot-bomb environment. What helps explain their winning ways? Take a look at our sampling of E-businesses that know how to meet or even beat their business goals, and see for yourself.

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Web Sites That Work:

eBay

Citibank

EnronOnline

IRS-The Digital Daily

Progressive

Covisint

Dell

Cisco Connection Online

GM BuyPower

Travelocity

if only Web sites were more like cars.

Every car operates the same way: Steering wheel in front turns the car, gas pedal on the floor revs the engine. Press the pedal, turn the wheel, and the car moves where you want to go. Yet cars manage to have distinct personalities, offer different experiences, and serve an incredible range of business and personal needs. The bottom line is, they work.

Not so for many Web sites. Most companies have some sort of Web presence, but whether they're selling sweaters, plane tickets, or 12-ton shipments of steel, many still haven't found the magic mix of usability, purpose, message, and business model to make their sites succeed.

InformationWeek editors have identified 10 examples of Web sites that work; five are profiled here and five at informationweek.com. Some, such as eBay and Travelocity, are well-known. Others, such as the Internal Revenue Service, may surprise. But fulfilling business goals, not showcasing whizbang technology, is the common thread. The IRS's site doesn't have the most impressive technology, yet it succeeds in making an unloved, complicated organization a bit easier to deal with. Travelocity uses some of the Web's most-polished technology, but also knows its customers well enough to make telephone operators available for buyers afraid to enter their credit-card numbers online. Enron has moved 60% of its trading online, where trades can be done cheaper and faster.

It's that kind of approach-the right technology, crafted to the needs of the customer and the business-that creates usability, which in turn draws traffic. "It's extremely difficult to build a popular Web site without good usability," says Ed Chi, a research scientist at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center in California.

Web users' expectations and standards are set by their experiences with the best sites they visit-consumer and business sites alike. Those expectations accompany them to work. That's why purchasing managers, business buyers, and employees who bargain-hunt on eBay and bank on Citibank.com expect the business-to-business sites they encounter to perform just as well. But most B-to-B sites fall short of that, says Jakob Nielsen, a principal at Nielsen Norman Group, which tracks usability. "They're afraid to disclose the specifics of what they offer," he says. "They're used to having a salesperson to describe things and deal with the customers, but that's just not the way of the Web."

Creating the right mix of usability, technical sophistication, and individuality that the customer wants is tricky. But as any good car designer knows, those are the factors that drive success.

10 Sites That Know How To Work The Web
Cisco Connection Online: Customers help themselves, to the tune of 235,000 self-service and interactive cases a month EnronOnline: First-year transactions of $340 billion dwarf commodities-trading company’s $50 billion expectations
Citibank: Financial site has signed up 9 million user accounts GM BuyPower: Site drives sales of some 450,000 vehicles a year
Covisint: Automakers reap savings as exchange manages billions in transactions IRS: Agency displays tax information, forms—and a new attitude
Dell: E-commerce machine rakes in bulk of company sales Progressive Insurance: More than 1 million visitors a month can get quotes, policies, or an insurance education
eBay: Profitable online auction collects 34 million registered users Travelocity: Travel site draws users looking for low prices, advice

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