As part of our research for this month's cover story on marketing, Electrical Wholesaling's editors toured the Web sites of some electrical distributors and independent manufacturers reps. Some sites we visited had everything you would expect of a 21st century Web site: clear, intuitive navigation; easy-on-the-eyes layouts; judicious use of graphic images to speed downloads; and updated information. You could see that they were the online extension of the company's marketing strategy.

The best Web sites in the electrical industry can hold their own against best sites in any industry. But alas, all too few of the sites we visited would win any competition. An hour into our online electrical tour, we began to feel we had embarked on some hellish detour back in time to the early amateurish days of the Web. Some sites were crippled by microscopic or odd-ball (or both) typefaces barely visible on annoying backgrounds. Other sites looked like the result of some college intern's summer project — with out-of-date events, fuzzy photos and way-too-cool animation gizmos.

After surfing for an hour, I asked myself, “Is this the best we can do?” No, it isn't. We can all do better with our Web sites. The following tips can help you improve your online efforts.

If you can't do it well, don't do it at all

Few companies in the electrical industry can afford full-time webmasters who can devote 100 percent of their energies into designing and maintaining their Web sites. But with relatively little investment in basic Web design software or time spent updating your site, you can cover the basics. Tell existing and potential customers who you are and what products and services your company offers. Show how to get to your locations and what time they are open. Provide e-mail addresses for key salespeople and managers. List your key vendors.

Make sure your site is part of your company's overall marketing campaign

Your Web site should have the same look and feel as other marketing collateral that your company publishes. The Web site should supplement your other marketing efforts.

Keep your “Events” section updated

Photos of last year's counter days and other old events are a sure sign of a Web site that's left unattended. Don't let time-sensitive material linger on the site longer than a month.

Use readable fonts and backgrounds

Most people don't want to spend any more time than they have to staring at their computer screens. Poorly designed Web sites with type or backgrounds that don't enhance readability will drive people away from your site. If you use a dark background, make sure the type is big enough to punch through it. Be careful about using busy backgrounds — they almost always take away from the type or graphics.

Ditch the clever animation

Spinning logos, dancing cell phones and other animated elements are good for one laugh, but they look dated real fast. Avoid them.

Make sure all links work

Hot links do change; keeping them current will be one of your greatest challenges. It's important to check all links on a monthly basis, if not more often. This is especially important if you have lots of links to manufacturers' Web sites or other industry sites.

Play up partnerships with manufacturers

Because they invest so much in promoting their lines to your customers, it's a great idea to tie into your key vendors by using their logos on your site. However, it's important to keep any online line cards current to reflect any changes in the vendors you represent.

Don't be afraid to rethink and redesign your site

Even the savviest marketers are constantly retooling their Web sites. If you think your site needs a fresh look, go for it.

Over the past few years, many electrical distributors, independent reps and electrical manufacturers have come a long way in their use of the Internet to supplement their marketing campaigns. With a focused online strategy and regular site maintenance, your Web presence can reinforce your company's image as a professional marketer of electrical products and services.