David Alpert is owner of Continuum Marketing Group LLC, a Great Falls, Va.-based company that specializes in working with remodeling contractors (www.continuum-mg.com).

REPLACEMENT CONTRACTOR: Why is it important for a home improvement company to have a Web site?

DAVID ALPERT: The Web site builds brand preference. It explains what you do, what you sell, and why a homeowner should want to do business with you.

RC: How would you go about creating, or updating, a Web site?

DA: You can go to a Web development company, an advertising agency, or, if you predominantly carry one product, your supplier might have satellite Web sites available. You can also go to a company like ours — a full service marketing/communications firm. You may have to go to more than one source. If you find a company that provides copy, design, and programming, then you have everything, except industry knowledge about what's being sold and how the consumer buys it.

RC: Should the business owner be involved in creating the site?

DA: Somebody will have to provide the Web developer with detailed knowledge of the market, the customer, and why people would want to buy from the company.

RC: What does it cost to create a Web site?

DA: If you have a more static Web site, with, say, 30 pages, you could expect to pay $5,000 or $6,000 — but it's more likely to cost $12,000, $15,000, or $20,000.

RC: Which is the more cost-effective way to get hits: search engine optimization or pay-per-click advertising?

DA: For most contractors, search engine optimization is unaffordable, and pay-per-click, by default, will be more cost effective. That's not to say that you shouldn't do some basic optimization, but don't expect it to bring your company to No. 1 or No. 2 in search listings. Also, you have great control over where your ads run, where postcards go, where your trucks are — and those are another way to get people to your Web site.

RC: How should I coordinate my Web site with the rest of my marketing?

DA: In today's marketing, you must be what we call “Web-centric” — the Web site becomes the hub of your advertising. Almost all the other advertising — job-site signs, postcards, mailers, coupons — becomes a marketing device directing people to the Web site, which in turn builds brand preference.

RC: Today many small companies — say, less than $5 million in sales — continue to get by without a Web site. Will they be able to do that in five years?

DA: If they don't develop a Web site, it's likely that their pool of prospects will be smaller because the people who are researching a purchase are probably going to be doing it on the Internet.