Building an effective website is a challenging and time-consuming task no matter what the budget. In addition to fiscal pressures, there are also time constraints and sometimes a lack of familiarity with the process or technology involved. Wineries often rush to “get something out there” without first developing a strategy.
As a brand manager who has worked on website projects ranging from the simple to the simply daunting, I’ve developed a series of best practices for small winery website creation. The following are my ten steps to creating a better web presence:
1. Begin at… the beginning. Do you have a strong brand identity, including look, message and story? If not, it’s worth your time and budget to complete or reassess this area as the problem will not solve itself online. If so, you’ll need to have a clear vision of your brand to best portray it online. Also, make sure to have your visual asset files (labels, logo, bottleshots, etc.) on hand and in the proper format.
2. Assess your goals, strengths and weaknesses. What do you want your website to do for you? Will it be a place to learn about the brand and help potential accounts find distributors? A portal for direct purchase? A destination? All of the above? How much time are you willing to spend maintaining it? Are you comfortable overseeing it, or will you seek professional expertise? If it’s the latter, what areas will you outsource? (Begin to research experts if you’ll be outsourcing.) And start working on a budget.
Design is the primary expense for most wineries as hosting is relatively inexpensive given the number of providers and technological advances. A word of caution here: be wary of website design “favors”. More often than not I’ve seen these seemingly good gestures produce sites that look nothing like the winery brand and do little to assert the wine’s quality. In the branding world, you get what you pay for.
3. Develop your site’s information architecture. First, outline the site’s shell. The shell designates and organizes pages and type of content. Think about the purpose of each page and how it will relate to the others. Determine which pages are most important and which might be sub- or linked pages. Next, determine how users will navigate your site. Will a menu appear on the sidebar, or across the top or bottom? Determine whether you will have a landing page or if the URL will go straight to the main homepage. Common menu items include “About”, “Our Wines”, “Vineyards”, “Store/Purchase”, “Wine Club”, “News/Events” and “Contact/Visit”.
Finally, think about which areas of the shell will be stagnate versus dynamic when the page changes. For example, you may want your logo to always appear at the top but have a different picture on each page. Will each page have a link to another (a best practice for search engines)? How will purchasing instructions be made evident on each page?
4. Brainstorm on copy outline. This is not the time to wordsmith and edit; instead, create a bullet point list of the ideas you’d like conveyed on each page of the site. Think about how you’ll tell your story in a succinct and compelling manner and what visuals you’ll use to support your message.
5. If needed, meet with marketing and/or web design professionals to establish project parameters and timeline. If you approach these service providers with an architecture and copy outline, you’ll likely get a better deal on consulting services. While the outputs may change or become more refined as the project unfolds, the initial work you contribute will ensure a better return on your investment. Come prepared with a brief detailing scope of work (what you’re looking to outsource), assess capabilities and seek estimates.
If you’re taking the project on by yourself, this is a great time to begin researching web hosts and domain registration. There are numerous good choices out there and the best fit for your site will depend on a number of factors such as plans for e-commerce, number of pages and amount of file storage needed. I’ve been very impressed with http://www.godaddy.com/, a low-cost, high-service, efficient purveyor of a range of web services. GoDaddy offers one stop shopping for domain registration, web hosting, email and more. And the customer service is nothing short of fantastic.
6. Cover the admin. Be sure to register your domain if you haven’t already. Set up your email and web hosting accounts (if needed), and any auxiliary services such as online file back up or shopping carts for direct sale. Publish a simple “coming soon” or “releasing in 200X” page as a placeholder with your logo and contact information. If you’re planning to or thinking about linking a blog to your site, make sure your desired URL is available and set up the account.
7. Select the look and begin copy writing. If you’re working with a firm, you’ll have multiple rounds of edits for the layout. And if you’re doing it yourself, you’ll likely be working with a web host that offers templates. Once you’ve figured out the look, it’s time to begin deploying copy to the site. Be sure to follow the “less is more” rule, avoiding a lot of competing visuals, scrolling and wordy diatribes. Make how to purchase wine, sign up for your e-newsletter (see my “Effective E-Marketing paper”) and contact the winery very obvious and easy to do.
8. Gather a group of trusted editors. Once you’ve created design and content, select a trusted group of advisers and email them a link to the site for comment and suggestion. (A bottle of wine as a “thank you” offered to those who get back to you within the week works wonders here.) Self test to make sure that all links work, and that your graphics are displaying properly. Read the copy on each page aloud to make sure it sounds like your brand speaking. Spell check every page. Twice.
9. Officially launch your site. Announce the launch of your winery’s site to every key audience – press (media with whom you have a good relationship), trade, wine club members, colleagues, employees, service providers and vendors. Consider offering a purchase discount or free shipping in the announcement to those who act within the first month of the launch. Do your back end due diligence. Make sure to optimize the site by writing keywords and tags for each page and submitting it to the major search engines, or have your contracted firm do so.
10. Incorporate continuous update and improvement into your website management process. There may be more bugs or edits in the first few months. Be sure to correct them and thank anyone who offers you suggestions. Be sure to keep the site relevant as you release new or run out of old wines. Update it at least monthly with press reviews, price changes, special offers, events, etc. Keeping your site updated and relevant is a crucial part of effectively managing your winery’s online presence. While doing so is easier and decidedly less time consuming than the creation process, this final step is easily overlooked. An out of date site is a less compelling and therefore less visited site, decreasing your chances of repeat sales.
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