"The most common thing I see is that a company will come to me and say, 'We want a home page.' But they don't think of using the [World Wide Web] for anything more than that."
Even a novice's foray into the Web reveals that a lot of companies have done just that. They've spent their money designing their cyber-shingle, hung it out, added a company mission statement and a press release or two, and left it at that. But Arndt explains that while the Web can serve as a colorful, interactive bulletin board for press releases, product catalogs and annual reports, it also can be a whole lot more -- it's a whole new medium. Content is King.
"What most businesses fail to realize is that the real power of the Web is in distributing information at a very low cost," Arndt says. "What they also fail to realize is that the highest costs involved are not design and development but maintenance."
Our contemporary era, after all, is called the Information Age not the Hot Graphics Age. And while hot graphics have their place in a visual medium, in the end it's the value of the content and the service provided by a Web site that will draw customers and increase a company's revenues.
Arndt's company, Creative Internet Solutions (CIS), Minneapolis, MN, makes the easy management of content its focal point, but he's competing in a crowded field. The rise of the Internet in popular consciousness has given birth to countless organizations seeking to capitalize on the computerized world's latest, possibly greatest, love affair. But Arndt says his company's central tenet is: Content is king.
"Sure, there are lots of companies out there [offering Internet services]," he acknowledges. "But most of them are coming at it from an advertising, marketing or public relations angle -- their background is in exposure." Although the graphics, user interface and overall look and feel of a Web site are all important elements that come into play, the key is to approach going on-line like a software design company with an emphasis on information management, Arndt says.
A Case in Point (and Click)
Linda Peterson is Webmaster for the Hazelden Foundation, a chemical dependency counseling center also in Minneapolis. "[My title] makes me laugh, because I'm such a non-computer person," she says, and then laughs to show that it's true. "My work is really about editorial content."
Peterson and the Hazelden Foundation worked with CIS and the software tools it designs to manage Web sites to improve its on-line presence. "When we started out, we just wanted a Web presence, and we found that the site we set up was much more limiting than we wanted it to be," she explains. "It was harder than we expected to add new material; we couldn't work with it freely."
Over a four-month period, Peterson worked with CIS to redefine what Hazelden wanted in a Web presence, and to make it happen. "The reason it took [so long] is because we have so much information on our site," Peterson adds. "It's a very information-intensive project."
But now that it's set up, Peterson has full control of it; she can easily access the site, add and edit material, all while remaining the self-proclaimed non-computer person that she claims to be.
Hazelden's Web visitors tell Peterson they particularly appreciate that the site is not heavily graphic -- which means it loads to a user's computer faster and is easier to use -- and that the site is fully searchable.
Enter the Webmaster
A company can save a lot of time and expense by outsourcing the development of its Web site or any advanced features it may need to manage the information it provides, Arndt says. It also prevents a company from incurring the expense of an in-house technical staff. But self-sufficiency should be the ultimate objective. "When a company controls the database and the ongoing maintenance itself, it keeps its costs way down," he explains.
The very fact that such a job title as Webmaster has entered the common business lexicon is a sign of the future. "There's no doubt that the Internet is going to become more important, especially in business-to-business communications," Arndt points out. "It hasn't happened on a huge scale yet, because people are still getting used to it and because we're still in the process of getting everyone Net access."
Who's going to be poised to take advantage of it when it does happen? Those companies whose Web sites provide real information to customers and vendors. Those companies whose Web sites provide good services at a low cost.