Yahoo!, Excite, Lycos and other major web crossroads are called 'portal sites' because each seeks to become the 'home-base' for hordes of users by collecting a wide variety of information and services in one handy location. Enterprises seeking to build customer loyalty to their own web sites should visit these portals to learn three hard lessons.
First, corporate sites should not try to compete by offering generic lifestyle content, since such content is costly and generally outclassed by portal offerings. Companies that initially attempted their own portal plays (Toyota, for example) have retrenched to focus on what visitors want from them: product information.
Second, observe the collective wisdom all these portals display regarding content architecture: gone are splashy, playful graphics that slow download time, they're replaced by ultra-efficient text links and useful personalised services.
Third, note how all portal sites are almost indistinguishable from one another, a harbinger of the coming era of copycat customer service online, in which any advance by one competitor can immediately be copied and commoditised by the rest. Parity erodes loyalty. Surveys suggest that 22 million customers - more than half of all web users - have no loyalty to any of the portals.
So, how will you distinguish your brand?
Hunter Madsen, firstname.lastname@example.org.