Mitchell says the expanded plans, which are available on Unix or Windows, will be a better fit for small businesses than Image Cafe, its existing template-based site creator. “Image Cafe is frequently a good place for those folks to start, but does not offer a robust enough platform,” said Mitchell. “Now we can host them on a platform that’s more expandable.”
Lower hosting prices have been driven by advances in automation, which allow customers to manage their own web sites through web-based control panels, reducing support costs for providers. Mitchell believes that while price matters, customer service is the critical issue for his target audience of late-adopter small businesses. “One of the big reasons they haven’t gone online before is that they’re smart people, but they’re not technologists,” said Mitchell. “They require a lot more personal attention.”
Like its competitors, Network Solutions is rounding out its offerings to serve as a one-stop source for hosting, domain and e-commerce support for small businesses. “The hosting business isn’t that attractive as a stand-alone business,” said Mitchell. “But given the needs of our small business customers, we felt we had to own the platform and the customer relationship.”
In the domain business, staying competitive has meant acknowledging pricing trends, if not copying them. Network Solutions has offered $9.99 a year rates for transfers from other registrars, an example of its focus on customer acquisition.
“We’re doing offers that are price-competitive,” said Mitchell. “That’s reduced the margin on domains by a little bit, but it’s brought in a lot of business. Our margins are at least twice the industry average. In the domain name industry, lots of companies have squeezed their margins to the point where they’re not going to be around for too much longer.”