A Web site seemed a natural for Home-to-Home's national expansion: The company could promote its services, collect order forms and allow customers to buy services online. But Zisek found it difficult to nab a good Web designer who would devote a lot of time to the project. He finally found a big-name Web designer with a good reputation through a contact, but because Home-to-Home was a small client, it still didn't get the attention it needed. "We always ended up second or third on their list," recalls Zisek.
As a result, Home-to-Home's very first Web site was less than stellar. It took six months to put up, cost about $1,000 and was, according to Zisek, "overly verbose, unorganized and without much content. In addition, some of the pages were slow and clunky."
In mid-1999, Zisek tried again. This time, he found a Del Mar, California-based company called TheNETrep (http://www.thenetrep.com), which specializes in upgrading Web sites. Among other services, TheNETrep critiques sites for $100 using 12 criteria, including overall look, message, speed, text readability and mistakes.
Zisek commissioned a critique under advice from his company's chief technical officer, Dave Horoschak, and, at first, tried to redo his site internally. However, last August, Zisek signed up TheNETrep to do more work and "generally give us a more professional look," he says.
Now the site has cleaner graphics, more content, a quicker load time and a better all-around image, which, Zisek says, will boost investors' confidence in the company. In addition, he says the upgrade has contributed to Home-to-Home's increased online sales recently, which hit nearly $2 million last year.
TheNETrep has also put together an affiliate program for the company, where other businesses place banners on their Web sites to refer their own customers to Home-to-Home. The whole enhancement process took less than five months to complete and cost Home-to-Home about $4,000.
TheNETrep president Bruce Lawrence sees many poorly designed Web sites that could profit from a little simplification. "The words on the site have to be clear and simple, graphics have to do no more than elaborate on the words, and the site has to be quick," Lawrence says.
According to Lawrence, a complete Web overhaul typically costs between $2,500 and $5,000, and can include basic Web enhancements such as a reworking of words and graphics. It may also include add-ons, such as affiliate programs and weekly newsletters.
After making cosmetic changes, improving the download speed and adding content areas, it's important to consider the next phase of Web-site enhancements--upgrading back-end operations. This process is much more expensive because it often means integrating a Web site with a database and accounting system or creating an intranet for suppliers. The cost for these improvements can top $50,000.
Melissa Campanelli is a technology writer in Brooklyn, New York, who has covered technology for Mobile Computing & Communications and Sales & Marketing Management magazines. You can reach her at email@example.com.