WEB SITE SEARCH ENGINES
Unfortunately, trying to find something on the Net can be like looking for a needle in a haystack: There is plenty of information out there, but as anyone who has tried to find something knows, how do you get to it? Many Web sites are little more than elephantine filing cabinets floating in cyberspace.
On-site search engines help solve this problem by fetching very specific data. If you have had any experience at all on the Net, you are probably familiar with the search engines Yahoo or Excite. Web site search engines perform similar functions but generally limit the search area to the company Web site for which they have been designed.
When visiting a site, always look for an on-site search engine. Chances are, such a tool will help you find what you are looking for much more quickly. DHDHealthcare (www.dhd.com), a designer, manufacturer, and marketer of respiratory care products, for example, offers a search engine on its site that can be used to look for dealers in the United States and worldwide.
SPECIAL INTEREST DATA DOMAINS
Web site designers frequently create special interest areas for visitors. For example, visitors to North American Drager (NAD), a manufacturer of respiratory care products (www.nad.com), can check a special interest area of the site devoted to continuous updates on the Y2K compliancy of various NAD products.
Tri-anim (www.trianim.com), an on-line reseller of medical-related products, offers a comprehensive Internet catalog for more than 10,0000 respiratory, anesthesia, and critical care products from more than 145 manufacturers.
Some sites enable visitors to jumpstart the selling process by offering them easy ways to obtain quotes on products. Medical Solutions (www.medical solutions.com), for example, enables visitors to quickly request a price quote on any product featured
Request for More Information forms
A fundamental facet of any interactive Web site, formalized Request for More Information forms, enables companies to provide initial background information to visitors, then update them on new developments and products via follow-up newsletters. DHDHealthcare, for example, invites visitors to request additional company data via a dedicated interactive form. Visitors generally receive an answer within a few days.
Online bulletin boards and messaging
Many manufacturers offer visitors a forum to comment on their products: customer bulletin boards. Visitors can post their opinions on the board and review other visitors’ ideas and suggestions.
SensorMedics (www.sensormedics.com), a company that manufactures diagnostic and therapeutic respiratory care products, and Siemens (www.siemens.vents.com) offer a messaging area for the medical professionals interested in the respiratory ventilator field. Typical messages include queries about specific operating facets of various products.
Ask the expert
One of the easiest ways to obtain detailed information about any company’s goods and services is communicating with its on-site expert. Several companies offer such a service on their Web site. SensorMedics, for example, offers an Ask the Specialist service. The resident expert will offer email answers to technical or clinical questions about a company product. Turnaround time for responses is approximately 48 hours, according to a company spokesperson.
Besides the obvious online helpers, some firms have come up with innovative tools to aid weary Web cruisers. ResMed (www.resmed.com) is a case in point: The company offers an on-site search engine that brings back all ResMed-related Security and Exchange Commission filings from the EDGAR database. Have an ax to grind with the US tobacco industry? At Nobutz (www.nobutz.com), an antismoking advocacy Web site, cruisers can quickly personalize and email antismoking advocacy letter templates to key US Senators and Congresspeople.
Text-based mailing lists are beginning to proliferate on the Web. Essentially an online newsletter that everyone can contribute to–and everyone can read–mailing lists are currently being used by thousands of commercial firms to foster a sense of community on their Web sites. Via mailing lists, businesses can stay in immediate touch with their customers’ needs and concerns while simultaneously maintaining the promotional drumbeat for their services.
For the latest on mailing lists, check out Liszt (www.liszt.com). The free service currently tracks more than 90,000 mailing lists circulating the Net, and includes a search engine that can be used to find mailing lists specifically targeted to the respiratory care industry.
Also, be prepared to see more text-only option buttons as the Net becomes ever more populated. This is an offering where less is definitely more. Although too many Web sites seem to feature every technological bell and whistle known to man, savvier Web site builders realize that many people cruise the Net with low-power 28.8K modems and low-power PCs. Smart Web site builders accommodate these cruisers by enabling them to click on text-only versions of their sites. The result: You are able to get to the data you want without having to endure interminable download times for the fancy graphics, frames, and the like that you do not want anyway.
Meanwhile, RCPs interested in shopping online will also begin to see more opportunities to engage in online ordering as we approach the millennium and more Net cruisers gain confidence in the latest security measures online marketers are installing on their Web sites.
Another helpful Internet tool is newer search engines such as Ask Jeeves (www.askjeeves.com). Unlike Yahoo and Excite, Ask Jeeves enables cruisers to type in a request using everyday language rather than complicated subject categories.
Also increasing in appearance will be over-the-Net job applications. Some sites allow prospective employees to apply via free-form email. Others offer highly detailed interactive job application forms, which enable the business to begin screening potential employees right on the Web.
It appears next-generation Web sites, rooted in interactivity, will soon be considered de rigueur across the Web. In the process, the Web will be transformed into something eminently more useful.
Joe Dysart is an Internet business consultant based in Thousand Oaks, Calif.