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Pretty Smart: Our Cisco.com Home Page

January 17, 2009
at 12:00 pm PST

There’s a strange tendency companies have to create more web sites than they really should. The idea of creating little “microsites” certainly sounds logical: If I had a really special product, or message, or promotional campaign, I’d probably want my own web site for it. Sometimes this is perfect, because I’d just be looking for a very small, self-contained experience. But after I got done drawing up the main landing page, often I’d realize that I needed 15 or 20 (or 100) other pages or scrolling text in flash modules (ugh) to provide information on my product… and these would need to link to other places (like support content or commerce or online services)… and pretty soon my small self-contained web site would balloon into a giant duplication of part of my main company’s web sites. In these common cases, the microsite wouldn’t be a win; instead it would be an expensive albatross that’s confusing for customers to use and expensive to maintain. This is why at almost every company I know, microsites are the bane of the web teams’ existence.At Cisco, we certainly do some small, targeted microsites and landing pages for specific purposes. But we’ve also adopted a strategy of looking at the whole experience a visitor will have on the site during the session. If the experience involves the user exploring any of the rest of Cisco.com, or ties into related content that exists on the main site, we won’t create a microsite. Instead, we produce something within the context of our regular site so that customers gets an integrated experience as they’re reading, watching, and navigating. In my experience, this is the right recipe 98% of the time.An interesting adaption of this strategy is our new home page, where we wanted to create immersive experiences but also make sure that visitors could link to supporting information without getting lost or disoriented. We also wanted to make sure we could support traffic from ads we might be running, whose visitors we wanted to integrate into the same experience.What we came up with was a notion of a “microsite within a site” that can serve as a landing area, but is also part of the home page structure. Here is an example of how it works. Say you’re browsing the web, and you see this ad that talks about meeting “face to face without traveling place to place.” image This ad actually leads to a page with a delightful video about an Italian businessman who using Cisco Telepresence in one morning to meet with people around the globe. And here’s what’s special: The page is a actually a “microsite” within the Cisco.com home page — as the visitor, you’re brought into an immersive experience featuring produced videos. While the visual focus is the video for the ad campaign, visitors can navigate throughout Cisco.com because this “microsite” landing area is really part of the home page and features all Cisco’s navigation and product showcases. image If you click the “Reduce Window” button, the page morphs itself into to the normal Cisco.com home page layout:imageBy the way, as you’ve noticed if you’ve visited our home page directly (not from an ad), you’ll see an animated splash that showcases the stories, and can often “expand to learn more” to get the full experience that you would see when coming from the ad. (Expanding the button makes the picture and animation expand down to reveal the same experience that an ad would point to.)An Outside Analysts’ ViewWeb analysts SiteIQ, who produce hard-nosed and comprehensive reviews of web sites as their core business, recently put together a video explaining their view of Cisco.com’s new home page, which they’ve graciously allowed us to include in this blog. Marty Gruhn of SiteIQ calls the home page “an interesting new best practice worth a very close second look” which “ups the ante on the static banners and inline videos that are staples across the web,” and goes on to make some of the same points that I do above about microsites. (Note that she’s an expert at analyzing marketing and sales sites, so some of the descriptive language may sound strange to your ears if you’re a technology person… but it’s a great video demo of the home page capabilities):Source: Marty Gruhn (narrator), SiteIQBy the way, I should point out that SiteIQ’s Inside Track blog is an pretty interesting read that covers enterprise IT web sites.Enjoy!

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