Well it’s that time of year again. You know, the time when we announce the 23 finalists on the 2014 siteIQ eBusiness Index — and then see what makes them tick.

This year we shook up the Index to reflect the radically changing times we live in. We added and deleted a couple of industry categories — struck 5 Websites from the list — and replaced them with players that are likely to have a big effect on this year’s rankings.

Once we were done, we ended up with 23 sites that give us the opportunity to answer three very important questions:

    1. Usability: fact or fiction? Are all of these snappy short-form content designs really more usable  —  or are they just a new form of pretty face? Do they do a better job of achieving core B2B buyer objectives? If so, who does it best?
    2. What’s the story with content? At first glance, these new designs look like they’ve gone on a serious content diet. But have they? What types of B2B content marketing assets are missing? What types (if any) are being added to the mix?
    3. What’s the payoff? Almost half of the companies on this year’s eBusiness Index launched brand new sites in 2013 – while the rest either fiddled around the edges or sat on their hands. Which begs the question: which approach paid off? Will last year’s innovators rank higher on this year’s Index — or will sites that saved their time and treasure prove that current trends are actually a tempest in a teapot?

It’s time to find the answers

These are the questions that set the stage for our 2014 evaluations of the sites on this year’s Index. As we’re speaking, we’re evaluating every one of them based on the 1,200+ criteria on our best practice benchmarks — and putting them through 142 usability paces.

When we’re done, we’ll rank them and rate them – and show you which sites are leaders — laggers — and who should be at the top of your best practices list. Results will start rolling out in March in the Library.

While we’re waiting, let’s take a look at this year’s eBusiness Index Roster.

Where they’ve been —

where they are –

and what we expect to happen this year.

Business Software & Services | Adobe.com, Citrix.com, Microsoft.com, Symantec.com

We’ve been looking to round out the business software category for some time and decided to add Citrix.com to this year’s Index. It will compete with Index regulars Adobe.com, Microsoft.com, and Symantec.com for top rankings.

Within this group, Symantec.com is the only site that didn’t get a full-dress reface last year – and it’ll be interesting to see if it can retain its 10th place position against sites such as Adobe.com, who jumped on the new design bandwagon with both feet.

The other question is whether or not Microsoft.com’s half-baked update will reverse its three-year slide down the rankings.

Our bet? It’s likely to be a rough year for the Symantec.com and Microsoft.com teams.

Symantec.com is the only site in the group that didn't get a full-dress reface in 2013. We expect this to cost it dearly on the Index this year.

Enterprise Software | CA.com, IBM Software Group, Oracle.com, SAP.com (HP Software delisted)

The 2014 Enterprise Software category is lighter by one entry: HP.com’s enterprise software site which, despite a new design, debuted at the bottom of last year’s Index (ranked 23rd). Just goes to show you that it’s not enough to ace product marketing (ranked 7th) and allow the rest of the site to miss the mark.

This year, we’ll be evaluating our usual suspects: Oracle.com, SAP.com, IBM Software Group, and CA.com – who all placed in the top ten last year.

Results should be interesting. CA.com launched a new site to mixed reviews, Oracle.com changed the rules for role-based content, and SAP.com rolled out the finishing touches on its design. IBM Software Group, on the other hand, seems to have slammed its innovation train into reverse. Within this group, Oracle.com is the one to watch this year.

This year, we’ll be evaluating our usual suspects: Oracle.com, SAP.com, IBM Software Group, and CA.com – who all placed in the top ten last year. Within the group, Oracle.com is the one to watch.

Enterprise Systems | Dell.com, HP.com, IBM.com (Intel.com delisted and EMC.com moved)

We decided to shake up the Enterprise Systems roster this year in a couple of ways.

    1. First, we moved EMC.com into a new Enterprise Storage category and put it up against Netapp.com (more about this later).
    2. Then we took a close look at Intel.com, considered its 20th place finish last year – and voted to drop this “brand demand” site from the Index roster.

This leaves us with three sites that have been staples on the Index since it was launched in 2000: IBM.com, HP.com, and Dell.com.

We expect this year’s results to shake up the status quo.

    • IBM.com’s innovation tear pooped out around the middle of last year and some of its zones are reverting to old behaviors.
    • Meanwhile, HP.com has finally come out of its coma and is doing a good job of cleaning up the sins of the past.
    • Dell.com, once one of the industry’s liveliest innovators, has translated its new life inside a private company into a sober, cut-to-the-chase focus on selling lots of iron.

Put it all together and this could be the year of the once unthinkable: HP.com gets the innovation crown and reverses its slide down the Index. Stay tuned.

We expect this year's results to shake up the status quo -- and might just be the year when HP.com reverses its slide down the Index.


Networking Systems | Brocade.com, Cisco.com, Juniper.net (HP Networking delisted)

This is another category where an HP.com fledging lost its slot on the Index. Despite a new design, the HP Networking site placed 22nd last year, just head of its sibling, the HP enterprise software site. We’ve put HP Networking on our watch list, and will re-consider it for 2015.

This leaves us with sites that have anchored our networking roster for the past three years: Cisco.com and Juniper.net, who both ranked in the top ten last year – and (despite a search for a better alternative) Brocade.com, which ranked 16th overall.

All of these sites are notable for two important things: none of them executed a major reface in 2013 – and none have jumped on the short-form content, adaptive design bandwagon.

This makes them a perfect barometer to see where “business as usual” strategies end up in a changing world.

None of the networking sites on this year's Index executed a major reface in 2013. This makes them a perfect barometer to see where "business as usual" ends up in a changing world.


Enterprise Storage | EMC.com & Netapp.com

Just for fun, we decided to shake up the Index this year by moving EMC.com from the Enterprise Systems category and putting it up against a new entrant, Netapp.com, who is a top EMC competitor.

This is another place where new vs. old design battles are sure to play out. EMC.com, which ranked 13th last year, is the poster child for new short-form content, adaptive designs. Netapp.com has circa 2010 written all over it. Let the games begin.

This year we added a new category -- Enterprise Storage -- and will compare EMC.com to the Netapp.com site.

Software as Services | Salesforce.com & Netsuite.com

We’ve had a fair number of requests to evaluate sites that sell cloud software (software as services) from our custom evaluation clients over the past two years, but the results have always been pretty much the same. Nice home page. Simple landing pages with strong calls to action. Beyond that — not much.

Today it’s a different story. One look at Salesforce.com and you’ll see a site that has most of the requisite pieces and parts to woo and win B2B buyers. Netsuite.com is another example of this new, more robust generation.

To capture the moment – and see what it means — we decided to create a new category and add Salesforce.com and Netsuite.com to this year’s Index.

And then there’s the real hidden agenda. We want to see how SaaS sites stack up against traditional software sites. 

Our new SaaS category has a hidden agenda. We want to see how these sites stack up against their traditional software competitors.

Business & Technology Services | Accenture.com, CapGemini.com, Cognizant.com, IBM Global Services

Usually, the professional services category is a real snooze fest with everyone clumping together toward the bottom of the rankings. This year is sure to be different.

One reason is that we added CapGemini.com to the roster. We expect this stunning site to give Index regulars, Accenture.com and the IBM Global Services site, a real whack in the head.

The second reason is that we reversed our decision to cut Cognizant.com at the last minute after it pulled out what appears to be a groundbreaking design.

Add it all up and you have two sites creating new standards (Cognizant.com & CapGemini.com) and two sites (Accenture.com and IBM Global Services) that are the Rip Van Winkles of the professional services set. There won’t be a better place this year to see if business as usual will trump living large.

Weexpect CapGemini.com and Cognizant.com to give IBM and Accenture a real run for their money this year.


(RIP) Home/Home Office

We added the home/home office category in 2013 to see if HP’s and Dell’s home office zones had any lessons to teach. Beyond top ten finishes in ecommerce and support, the answer is nyet.

Thus, we bid a not so fond farewell to two sites that are certainly small, but not mighty enough to stay on the Index.

 And then there’s . . .

Of course, no Index year would be complete without including the site that started all of the current hoopla: Apple.com. The fact that Apple.com’s usability ranked 4th last year (and had a good shot at kicking IBM.com out of first place) is a testament to the power of this small but very mighty site.

But times are a changing and plenty of imitators hit the airwaves last year. How will Apple.com fare when others are stealing its thunder? That’s one of the big questions we’re looking to answer this year.

No Index year would be complete without the site that started it all. But times are changing. How will Apple fare in a world of fond imitations?

Now it’s time for a closer look . . .

So there you have it. The 23 eBusiness Index Websites we are evaluating this year – and the big stories they are sure to tell.

Of course the devil’s always in the details, which is why we’re publishing seven new new case studies that give you the details about every site on this year’s Index. How they ranked in 2013. What they’ve done since then. Where we expect them to rank this year — and why.


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