The last time you went to look up a restaurant or; say, an auto body shop,what did you do? You went to your computer and typed something in to the subject line of a search engine. In seconds you had an address, a phone number, and probably a lot more, such as menus, testimonials, reviews, all of which subtly convinced you to pick up the phone and call that business.

Incidentally, do you remember the last time you used the Yellow Pages to track down a business location? Any idea how long it's been since you used the phone book? Not everyone has abandoned the phone book, but statistics show that if people are trying to find a company or find out about one, they are going to the Internet ? the ultimate research tool ? to do it. The wealthier and more educated the consumer, the more likely he or she is to get information online.

Homeowners in need of a contractor have one big fear: paying too much for a job that turns out to be shoddy orinferior. A well-designed Web site lays that fear to rest.

That said, and assuming your business has an Internet presence, what does your Web site say about your company? Your site may not be producing a quarter or more of your leads ? though some home improvement companies have accomplished that ?but does it effectively describe what you do and how well you do it?

And how easy is it to find your site? If someone came looking for your company on the Internet, would a link turn up on the first page of organic search results or on the twenty-first? Because if you're not on the first or at least the second page of a Google search, a lot of business is passing you by.

Two more questions. Well, three,actually. Is your Web site at the center of your company's marketing efforts,with customers regularly checking out the site before calling your office or speaking with a salesperson? Or is it off on the margins, old and unattended?

In the last two or three years, a strong Web presence and a site optimized to draw traffic have become essential marketing tools for home improvement companies. In a few more years, companies lacking that presence will simply cease to exist for most potential customers.

A great Web site can qualify leads, cut rescission, and make your $2 million company look like a $20 million company in the eyes of prospects. Yeah, it will take time, money, energy, and attention. But wouldn't that be worth it?

Jim Cory, Editor