How’s Your Portal Strategy?

It took your management team a considerable time to put together a workable business strategy for the company’s Web site but that finally got hammered out. Now other companies wanting portal arrangements are approaching your business managers. A couple of divisions are being heavily marketed by one of the original portals and are not sure how to jump. Your CEO wants a portal strategy developed for the company and you’re a co-chair on the committee tasked to come up with one. Time to look at a couple of the issues such a strategy will have to cover.

What are the Business Objectives?

No need to remind everybody about the money that was wasted on content and site design before the CFO turned off the tap on Web-site expenditures. Problem was, half the managers thought the Web site was some simple-minded marketing schtick they could throw a few bucks at and forget. The other managers saw it as some sort of business asset but didn’t work out a clear-headed scorecard on the results it was supposed to achieve for the money that they threw in the pot. When everybody had to sit down and shape a business strategy for the Web, it took a long time and no little blood on the floor to get them all to agree on the business objectives and the strategies to achieve those objectives.

Lesson learned: Not a penny is going to be spent and no partnerships are going to be struck until a very clear list of corporate business objectives and a budget have been worked out.

Portals and Portals

Some portals, like Yahoo, fulfill a Yellow Pages function. No big strategy required here. You join up and visitors can jump directly to your Web site. The portals that require a corporate strategy are those like, where companies with services related to buying or renting a home are organized. Is your pricing model competitive with other companies on your slice of the site? It better be, because everybody’s a comparison shopper these days. Are you going to be on the opening screen when a visitor jumps to your section of the site? What’s the history of the portal’s performance?

Lesson learned: What’s it going to cost to play on the site for six months? How much analysis of your hits will the portal company undertake and for how much? What can you find out about your percentage of hits related to visitor volumes in your sector? Did your competitors get more or less?

Who’s Sorry Now?

If your company is the fifteenth home-decorating company or shoe chain on the portal, do you really want to be there? If the portal owner decides that muffler companies and muffin companies should share the same portal real estate, where is your brand being taken? And what about the portal’s links policy? Do you have any say in who the site invites in or how it manages its linkages? Half your clients might enjoy an easy link to their favourite aroma-therapists or lingerie manufactures’ sites. But the other half may want to rethink their loyalty to your products and your brand.

Lesson learned: What are the values the company wants associated with its brands? How will these values be protected and respected in any portal arrangement you enter into? What is the portal’s policy on linkages and site juxtaposition?

Management Oversight

It’s one thing to have a portal strategy; it’s another to get the right management oversight in place to ensure that the results expected are achieved and that the policies developed to support the strategy are respected.

What parts of the portal strategy need to be centralized? Is there going to be one corporate OPI doing all the negotiating and measuring portal play results or does every brand manager get to write her own music? Who pays for portal placements?

Lesson learned: In the portal game, the company may be better off centralizing the procurement of portal real estate and ensuring company standards are met consistently across all portals. But the price of centralization should include undertaking the analysis and evaluation required to ensure that expected business results are being met and to inform the business managers of these outcomes on a routine basis.

Chuck Belford is president of Management Smarts Inc., a Nepean, Ont.-based management consulting and training company. He can be reached at