I’ve previously mentioned my love for the Never Said About Restaurant Websites tumblr which delivers ironic praise for poorly designed restaurant websites. And more recently, Andrew Jefford published a similar opinion about poorly designed winery websites. And The Oatmeal made a comic about bad restaurant websites too.
And I’ve slowly but surely been working on this problem in my spare time. What is the perfect winery website? What should be on the landing page? And how should the rest of the page be structured?
Keep it simple
“If at any time you find yourself tying the ring to a dog’s collar, stop”.
–Oscar’s advice on how to propose marriage, The Office
Never Said About Restaurant Websites doesn’t only offer chuckles. It also offers a guide to making less horrible restaurant websites. Their perfect site has all the key information on the landing page. The site should preferably be tiny. The key information includes location, opening hours, reservation policy, and a downloadable menu.
Keep it simple. Any time restauranteurs think they should include a short flash animation, blaring music, a winding manifesto about why the chef became a chef, or anything like that, just stop. Count backwards from 10 and walk away. Almost everybody who googles a restaurant’s website will specifically be looking for location, opening hours, reservation policy and a copy of the menu. If that’s not on the landing page, you lose.
But here’s the rub. What is the perfect information for winery websites?
The most crucial information
As far as I can tell, the most crucial information for every winery website is:
- Contact information
- A list of wines (with photos of bottles or labels)
- History (about us section)
I think from here, a visitor should also be able to access detailed information about each wine including varietal composition and a description (and from there, information about each vintage).
Also from here, the visitor should be able to access more information about where the grapes come from. Describe the vineyard, climate, geology, and culture.
History is a place where you can talk about yourself. Try to keep it short.
If you ever find yourself making a flash animation, stop. 😀
This will create a tiny, simple website full of useful information. Now, how to layer that information?
People who want more specific, deeper information are generally more willing to click around the website for a minute in order to find that info. But don’t bury the information too deeply or they will lose patience.
Jefford writes, “If you’ve just spent €700 on a bottle of Clos du Mesnil and have made the effort to look at the website, you may want to know the history and geology of the vineyard, you will probably want to understand why fermentation in wood makes this wine different from its peers, and you may be intrigued to hear why a company which always claimed that ‘blending was all’ now produces not one but two single-vineyard Champagnes.”
Of course, this is true. Even my 28 Euro Reserve is priced high enough that people might want to know exactly why it’s 28 euros and not 10. But that’s deep information. It shouldn’t be landing page info. People who want this level of depth are willing to click around a bit to find out more about the Reserve. In my current design, from the landing page, they can get the basic varietal composition of the reserve and a picture of the bottle in one click (the “wines” tab). They can get detailed description of the fermentation process, aging, and tasting notes with a second click.
Similarly, professionals tend to be slightly more patient. It’s their job, so they’ll stick with you longer.
So hopefully this gives you some guidelines about how deep to bury information. The more specific a piece of information or the more “in-depth” it is, the deeper you can bury it in the site. Basic, common information should be on the landing page or one click away. More indepth info can be two clicks away. Really specific info can be three or four clicks away. And so on.
All that said, there are several reasons why you might want to deviate from this model.
Make some choices
There are several potential audiences for a winery website. You can’t cater to all of them at the same time. You’ll have to choose who your website is designed for.
Types of people visiting my site (sort of in order of popularity):
- A drinker who is just surfing the net
- A journalist who is looking for additional information
- A fan who is just checking in
- A tourist who is trying to visit you IRL
- A supplier trying to sell you a service or product
- A drinker who wants more information before purchasing
- A drinker who wants more information before consuming.
- A sales person looking for promotional material / tech sheets
- A retailer or restaurant trying to find your wine
- An importer or sales agent trying to contact you
Now when I look at that list, I feel like there are vastly different goals. Pretty much everybody is seeking information. But the nature of that info varies a lot.
Obviously, you can ignore some people straight away. I don’t need to think about suppliers trying to sell me new barrels and stuff. They’ll find a way to contact me even if its buried in the most remote part of the website imaginable. And it’s their job to find that information so they’ll persist.
There’s an instinct to cater to the most common visitors while ignoring the less frequent visitors. However, while importers only visit the site rarely, those are very important visitors. So you can’t just ignore the less frequent visitor types.
Ultimately, you have to make some choices. Make your own list with your own priorities. I’ve made this list based on my experiences online so it’s a bit idiosyncratic. For example, tourism is an important part of our business because of our proximity to Carcassonne, our ability to speak English, and our personalities. While tourism is a priority of ours, most winemakers will not value it as much. So make your own list and it will be easier to make choices, especially about the landing page.
Archetypes of Winery Websites
I think there are several models that can serve as archetypes of winery websites. Ideals or extremes. Some of these work better than others, in my opinion.
E-Commerce winery website
This winery website operates like any other e-commerce site. It is owned and operated by a winery, but it feels like amazon.com. Every page reminds you to take advantage of a special offer available for a limited time only, free shipping for orders over a certain amount. Every part of this site is designed to push visitors toward the credit card confirmation page.
I’m not a huge fan. It’s especially difficult for small wineries to make it this way. For a successful e-store, you really should have a whole range of products. But there are some people who like it this way. And obviously, this model ignores most of the rules of good site design that I talk about above.
Trade site, All business
Some wineries have a site that is clearly designed for people from the trade. There might be a beautiful page set up to show who distributes their wine in each country (or in the case of the USA, each state). This is exceptionally practical for restaurants and retailers that wish to carry the wine.
There will be tech sheets for every wine. A different sheet for every vintage. There are downloadable and printable shelf-talkers in multiple languages.
Sometimes these sites even require login information which the winery will only hand out to paying wholesale customers.
Winery: The Movie
Wineries will very commonly make websites that are more about “expanding the brand” than about informing visitors. You’ll sit through a long flash animation and then have to wrangle with an unexplainable interface to find even basic information.
This is generally annoying. In rare cases, it can be executed very well. In those rare cases, it’s still an acquired taste. For example, I like the Bonny Doon website despite its reliance on Flash and its whimsical nature. It strikes a good balance. And it offers all the information I eventually want in a format that’s novel without being tooooo contrived. But even good sites like this get poor ratings from some web surfers because they are a little trying if you’re not in the mood.
The blog you’ve never tasted
A lot of winery websites (like this one) are more famous than their corresponding wines. Many of the people who visit this website have never tasted my wine. They just assume it’s good because a lot of people say so, and I seem like a nice guy.
A website that knows some readers are there for the blog and not for the wine can take liberties about what it displays on the landing page. Many of my visitors don’t actually care where I’m located are what my labels look like (because they just read this blog while they’re bored at work or because they’re wine professionals that read technical articles like this one).
On the other hand, a customer who has already bought and is on the verge of consuming wants more practical information like pairing suggestions and tasting notes (caveat: don’t bore them to tears with generic tasting notes that have so many nouns and adjectives they could actually be describing every wine on the planet mixed together)
That’s just the first two people on my list. They’re fairly similar and yet they already have different information demands. Do you put it all on the landing page? I don’t think so. You have to make some choices.