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More companies look to redesigns to drive Net leads

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For many companies, redesigning a Web site today means professionalizing it, transforming a first-generation hodgepodge into a coherent whole. If you think your World Wide Web site has lost its luster, or that your competitors' sites are a cut above yours, you're not alone.

Welcome to the volatile world of Web site redesign. As Web sites mature from static brochureware to marketing and electronic commerce channels, companies are starting to demand more.

The result is a flurry of site makeovers designed to capture more of the promise of the Net and provide some marketing pizzazz.

"Companies put up first-generation Web sites hoping the masses would come," says Stuart Park, president of I3, a Westport, Conn.-based new-media agency. "Now, nine months later, they are not getting the leads they want. They're not getting solid results of any measurable kind."

The solution? Bring in the Web site redesign team.

LAW FIRM REVAMPS TO ADD INFORMATION

At Robinson & Cole, a Hartford, Conn.-based law firm with 141 lawyers, its first-generation Web site was the typical "brochureware with generic people, men, women all in shadows so you couldn't tell anyone's age or ethnic group," says Linda O'Connell, the law firm's director of client relations.

Over the past four months the firm has completely revamped its site, making it "more information-rich and client-focused." The new site is expected to launchin mid-June.

At Lotus Development Corp., the computer software company is redesigning its Web site to better meet customer expectations and reinforce its corporate brand. To find out if its site is working, Lotus runs focus groups every four months with customers and business partners who evaluate both the Lotus site as well as other company sites.

PUSH INFORMATION IS AUTOMATIC

Based on customer feedback, Lotus is making its site easier to use and navigate. "Before, we got as much information to the customer as fast as possible," says Matthew Malloy, Lotus manager-Internet technologies. "Now we're creating an environment to let the customer get the most out of it."

For Lotus, that means, among other things, providing a consistent "application-like" user experience at its site -- regardless of the product, concepts or services being showcased -- and letting customers request the information they need, which the system then automatically pushes to them on a regular basis.

At the same time, Lotus is updating its site to further reflect its corporate message that it's a global company. To that end, it is even translating its graphics to meet regional language requirements.

For example, for the Japanese audience, to compensate for differences resulting from literal translation, Lotus' SmartSuite has been changed to SuperOffice.

ACHIEVING WEB SITE COHERENCY

For many companies, redesigning a Web site today means professionalizing it, transforming a first-generation hodgepodge into a coherent whole. Says I3's Mr. Park, this kind of overhaul starts at $7,500 to $12,500. Adding animation, audio, video and additional graphics can run the price as high as $30,000 (See this month's Web Price Index).

"Companies are moving to make 10 different sites developed by separate business units look like one site," says Melissa Moore, creative director of Neoglyphics Media Corp., a Chicago-based Web site developer. "They're putting in design guidelines to make sure everyone's on the same page."

On Lotus' redesigned site, for example, says Mr. Malloy, customers can be whisked from country to country and information category to information category without leaving the consistently designed, branded user interface.

At Anixter, a value-added provider of integrated networking and cabling solutions based in Skokie, Ill., its newly redesigned site is doing a better job meeting customers' needs. While the old site was more an online plug for Anixter, the new design is a business tool that links content to solutions.

TEST REDESIGNED WEB SITE FIRST

"The old site was structured the way we structure our business," says Jackie Drake, Anixter's director of communications. "The new site is structured the way customers and people come to the site and look for information."

Redoing a Web site doesn't end with a new design. Companies are finding it's equally important to test a site before letting it go live. "A whole science is starting to emerge to make sure what you build is usable," says Mr. Moore. "It's one thing to build a site and say, `Yes it looks good and has branding.' But it's another to ask, `Is it user-friendly?' "

While technology can help drive a redesign -- Lotus, for example, is including special profiling software in its new site -- it should be used cautiously, especially in business-to-business sites.

KEEP AUDIENCE IN MIND

"Business decisionmakers -- CIOs, CFOs, CEOs -- don't care about technology," says Tig Tillinghast, director of interactive for Anderson & Lembke's San Francisco office.

"They don't have ShockWave installed in their browser and don't care. They are difficult to impress with technology. On the other hand, a Web professional business-to-business audience is keenly aware of the technology used," she said.

Mr. Tillinghast's warning: "Determine who you're talking to and how they consume the media."

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