By Ginger Johnson
In this age of technological communication, a website is a big part of doing business. And for brand building, it’s a must. If people can find you, then your business can grow, your brand has the opportunity to differentiate itself from others, and you can communicate with your customers.
When determining the effectiveness of your website, the first thing to keep in mind is that the website is about your customers, not you. Yes, your brand personality should shine through. But your brewery website is FTI: For Their Information, not yours. When done well, a website will drive business and consumers to your products and services. When done poorly, you turn off the interest flow faster than beer can skunk in the sunlight.
Based on research, input from others, and experience, here are five things to consider when developing and managing your site.
Beer Websites 101
- Have one. If you don’t, you stand to frustrate people wanting to find you, therefore cutting off opportunity for sales and brand engagement.
- Full contact information. Make sure you have all the basic contact information people are looking for: Company name, full street address (with zip code), phone number, and at least one name of someone who works at the business.
- Full online contact information. Face it—if you don’t have a current email address on there, you’re making the customer work way harder than they should have to. Even though most people want at least an “info@XYZ.com,” a fill-in-the-blanks contact form is better than nothing (although marginally so).
- Basic business info. Include a clear lineup of what your products are, where consumers can find them, and a bit of history.
- Readability and clarity. Straightforward information is best. This is not the time to be clever to the detriment of the reader. Remember: the site is about and for them, not you.
Recent focus group input echoes these points. “Make it easy, make it fun, make it fast,” stated one online savvy consumer. If it ain’t easy, then why should they try? One way to help you in the process of solid website development is to invite a group of folks who will help review it in progress. Pick people who will give you intelligent, unvarnished feedback—and make sure you welcome it all. Criticism is offered so you can improve. Keep your mind open and your mouth shut. Do you have to agree with all the feedback you get or act on any of it? No—but then why ask for it if you’re not going to heed it? Select people who are vested in your success and are online with some regularity. Having a panel of mixed ages and genders with a range of skills will only help you. They’ll be way more likely to be honest and up front with their valuable input. Plus you can “hire” them with beer.
Beyond the Basics
Now that you’ve got the basics covered, it’s time to go even deeper.
- Know your audience. Who are you communicating with or who do you think you want to communicate with? Know this before developing the personality of your brand, and for sure know it for website development.
- Home on the page. Make all the home page info fit on one page with no scrolling or major maneuvering necessary. Keep it easy.
- Make it easy to share. Twitter, Facebook, and the like are in the business of sharing data ad nauseam. Making your tools easy to share serves you by serving them first.
- What’s in a URL? The URL you choose should be obvious and directly related to your brand name. Use .com and remember that it has to makes sense to those searching for you. Some oddball connection to your brand as URL choice will be useless.
- Have an editor. Get the right person either from in-house or out-of-house to edit all your content and pages. This will project a professional, we-know-what-we’re-doing image. Spelling and grammar errors are unacceptable.
- Map and directions are important to include, as are images that help solidify the brand.
How are you doing so far? Hopefully your head is nodding “yes” to these suggestions. Regardless of where your website development is, having a proofreader and editor is a wise investment. Weekly if not daily review of your site by the right person is well worth the dollars spent.
“The web has and will continue to change and improve. Hopefully, sites on the web will also improve,” shares online expert Mike Sansone of ConverStations.com. He tells us “a “wow” site will have contact info on every page. Not a form, not “email@example.com”—real contact information. “The reality is, a large portion of website visitors are simply looking for contact information. So give it to them.”
One thing Sansone extols often is to create eye rests: stops via bolded words (periodic, not constant), bullet or number points (emphasizing select info), and images (pictures or graphics). If the pages are simply text, text, text, you’re sending the consumer to what’s next, next, next! Give them reasons to stick around your site and also to return to it.
Joy Henkle of Henkle Communications shares that a website “should be easy to navigate and then to get back to where you were on the site.” “Easy to navigate” came up over and over again from other people as well. In fact, one focus group attendee said it a different way. “For a lot of websites, I’m pretty sure no one from the company has ever tried to navigate.” Bingo. That outside voice will provide satisfaction and return traffic in spades.
A good website helps guide people to where you are, where they can engage in your brand, and activities surrounding your brands. Since beer is such a social product and given the fact that so many breweries are involved in festivals and celebrations, this reinforces the point. Even if your site is a simple and well done single page, you’re addressing your customers’ needs.
Websites are an incredibly versatile tool, economical to maintain, and are expected of any business nowadays. You have to be findable.
It’s All in the Details
- A few more things to think about regarding your site:
- Is the font a readable size? Too small? Too large?
- Does the site look like it’s up to date and not from the early 90s? Is the content up to date—especially events pages and blog posts? Why should someone come back if you still have “Happy New Year!” on the front page in August? The equation is that nobody’s home….it’s an easy thing to remedy and avoid.
- What does the consumer want to know? If you’re not sure, ask them. No excuses here.
- Legal guidelines. Are there any for your state or business type? A few bucks invested in an Internet lawyer will be worth it to avoid uneducated mistakes.
5. Is the design congruous throughout all the pages? Solid brand identity matters online just as it does live and in person.
- Are personal politics removed or involved? Yes, you’re entitled to exercise your rights. However, politics turns a lot of people off. If you feel you must include your causes, put it on a separate page.
Other things to include, based on consumer feedback, include a short history of the company as well as information on tours, if you offer them (when and how to sign up).
The ever important “About Us” section equals people wanting to know how/where/who started the whole shebang, so share your story. Women are particularly keen on knowing where the brand originated, where the whole idea comes from, who’s involved, and how it came to be. Customers want to know whom they are buying from. A caveat here is to keep the story relevant and succinct and not make it a personal dissertation. Keep the images simple and attractive and real. Be mindful that when you have a link-out that it should go to a new page altogether. When a click takes you off the site into another page that’s not your brand, then you have stacked the odds the user won’t come back. You have enough distraction competition as it is.
Keep it clean. A clean looking site devoid of clutter will keep interested parties there longer and will attract new people. “If there is text content, I like to see links to other possible points of interest,” shares Henkle. Others repeat this sentiment as well as another online user stating “information needs to be organized and sorted in a way that makes sense to users/customers.” The broken record repeats: know your audience.
An intuitive website may seem difficult, yet the group that we suggested earlier can help give you intelligent and useful feedback. Fans of your site want to be able to unhesitatingly recommend the site to others. And your users need to find it in an orderly and organized fashion that makes sense to them.
Angelo De Ieso of Brewpublic.com says, “Even with a site that offers a lot of content, the impression of simplicity is key.” The best sites are succinct and have space, are appropriately articulate, and don’t blather or ramble on. Having related links out to resources that reinforce the brand, expand on ideas, and otherwise serve the reader are an excellent thing to offer…in moderation. Ever seen a site that has a running and never-ending list down the right or left side? Avoid it. Scrolling forever is a drawback, not an enhancement.
Things to Avoid
- Too much jargon and overly technical verbiage. Yes, the hard-core beer geeks want to know IBUs and Lovibond rating. But hard-core folks are the minority—you need to also speak to the majority of potential and actual customers.
- Making people enter a full page of info just to *maybe* hear back from someone. If you state “Someone will get back to you soon,” mean it and set up a 24- to 48-hour time frame and person to do just that.
- Having the “contact us” button open its own mail program (vs. the one the user may already have open and in use). Offering a simple email address is better.
- Any -ism’s (racism, sexism, etc.) If material is at all questionable after running it by your review panel, ditch it. Find another way to share what you want to say or don’t include it. When it doubt, leave it out.
Last and certainly not least: consider all the platforms in which people get their electronic information. Do they use smart phones, iPads, or other constantly attended-to devices? Do they want to share the info you put out here and are they able to do so? Part of knowing your audience is knowing how to reach them and facilitating their sharing. It’s as pertinent as knowing what you share with them and how. Be mindful of how fast technology is moving and keep moving along with it.
Ginger Johnson is the founder of Women Enjoying Beer in Ashland, Ore. She specializes in marketing beer to women.