What can you do when you’ve invested in Web initiatives and it looks like the investment isn’t paying off? For some industries, embracing the Web as a way to increase business has been a long, slow road. The good news is that every day, companies are pushing the envelope to create online tools and features that move their industry forward in search of the revenue-altering effect of a successful Web presence. Zyloware is one of those companies.

Founded in 1923, Zyloware is a family-owned-and-operated business that manufactures brand-name fashion eyewear frames. Recently the company made a significant investment in its website. They changed the site from an online catalog to a full e-commerce site so that eyecare professionals could keep their inventory full by ordering online. Zyloware is known as an innovator in the optical industry, and developing this functionality was an innovation over what their competitors are doing online. But are they ahead of their time?

While several Zyloware customers are using the new Zyloware.com website to place orders online, the adoption rates have grown more slowly than anticipated. Marketing manager for Zyloware, Jodie Hirsch, contacted us to see if a little makeover magic could help solve the problem. She suspected that the new capabilities available to users aren’t obvious and that is the prime reason why the system isn’t getting used as much as expected.

After looking over the site, I have to agree that much of the functionality is being hidden, but overall, the issues are much bigger. I’ve said before that sometimes you can take an existing site and make dramatic performance improvements without changing the overall design very much – this is not one of those cases. Zyloware’s existing home page could definitely benefit from a complete visual overhaul.

First, these guys work with some top-notch brands. That isn’t fully communicated on their home page. Next, the company’s business is producing frames, yet they don’t show more than one on the home page. Rule No. 1: If you are selling a product, feature that product as prominently as possible on your home page.

Zyloware only sells directly to eyecare professionals, so a secondary goal that Hirsch mentioned was to make Zyloware. com a consumer-friendly site and a valuable resource in selecting eyewear. They developed an advanced frame search engine so consumers could find eyewear products on the site and then purchase the products from the partner retail locations. The problem is that most consumers have never heard of Zyloware and with the existing home page, it’s not clear what the company does or why consumers should look any deeper into the site.

So our first order of business is to rework the navigation. Well-designed navigation does more than just help users find their way around on your site; it also communicates what the site has to offer and which areas are most important. The current site has most of the options hidden in drop-down menus. We pulled out the most important links and displayed them in a standard horizontal navigation. This will make it easy for users – both consumers and eyewear professionals – to see what the site offers and to get to those areas quickly.

Next, the original design shows one brand at a time and displays the rest in small text links below. We chose to prominently feature five of their nine brands front and center on the home page. This immediately exposes users to a good breadth of Zyloware’s eyewear offerings before they dig deeper into the site. With this type of setup, Zyloware could choose to feature its best-selling brands, its newest additions or just a good cross section of their full product line.

Our next step was to expose the frame search functionality. This is something that both consumers and eyecare professionals could use, so keeping it hidden in a drop-down menu was not giving it the attention it deserved. Also, we added some information about the company so that users who don’t have previous experience with Zyloware can learn a little bit about what they do.

Finally, we made the site wider. This is a nuance that is lost when the images are reproduced in print, but the original width of the site is about 810 pixels. That is a nonstandard size and it doesn’t really make any sense. Allow me to get technical for a bit here.

Website widths should be based on expected user screen resolutions. Users with screen resolutions of 800×600, which used to be the Web standard until about two years ago, can fit 770 pixels on their screen without having to scroll horizontally. The current Web standard is 1024×768, which can fit approximately 990 pixels before a horizontal scrollbar is introduced.

Because the site was 810 pixels wide, it was effectively too big for low-resolution users, but still too small for larger-resolution users. We increased the width to a size more suited for users with higher screen resolutions, which allowed us to expose more real estate to the site visitors.

In the end, a successful home page must communicate the value of your company to your users. It must also quickly and almost subconsciously educate them about what they can do on your site. Accomplish those goals and your users will reward you by visiting your site more and utilizing the tools you have created for them more frequently.

Would you like your website to be the topic of a future edition of By Design Makeover? Send your name, company, contact information (phone, email, etc.), a brief description of your business and its goals, and, of course, your URL to bydesign@sostreassoc.com. Please put “Revenue’s By Design Makeover” in the subject line.

PEDRO SOSTRE is pioneering Conversion Design and its ability to turn online shoppers into online buyers. He is the co-author of Web Analytics for Dummies and serves as CEO of Sostre & Associates, an Internet consulting, design and development firm, which also promotes affiliate programs on its network of websites. Visit www.sostreassoc.com to learn more.