I just realized that my long post about how to build the perfect winery website is really very very derivative of a post on the Top 10 Winery Website Mistakes from Catavino dating all the way back to 2007.
Catavino’s Top 10 Winery Website Mistakes:
- Hard to find email address
- No information about wines
- No logos
- No RSS
- No physical address
- Incomplete bio section
- No images/videos
- No English
- Inconsistent posting
So ya. On the one hand, my recent post was informed mostly by Never Said About Restaurant Websites, Jefford’s recent Decanter article on Missed Opportunities, and The Oatmeal’s recent comic about crappy restaurant websites. On the other hand, I obviously read Ryan Opaz’s post back in 2007 and it’s been floating around in my head since then.
While his top ten list has a few items focused on winery blogs (5 No RSS, 10 inconsistent posting), the majority can be applied to all winery websites.
What we have in common
And I agree a lot with him apparently.
My list of things every winery website needs:
- Contact information
- A list of wines (with photos of bottles or labels)
Strangely, our number 1’s and our number 3’s are actually identical. The most crucial thing is contact information. A simple email address. And not a jpg of an email address that is impossible to copy and paste. SPAM filters are really good, so there’s not a lot of risk in putting your email address online. And also make your physical address and location in the world available. Wine is extremely related to place and terroir. People who visit your website will usually want to know where you make your wine.
My number two is his number six. My number four is his number seven. But ultimately, Catavino said everything I said, and they did it like 4 years ago. Which goes a long way to explaining why they’re in such agreement with me. 😀
Again, it’s very safe to assume that I read this post in 2007 and forgot about it until now. So thanks for being ahead Catavino and Vrazon!
Where we differ
Use of logos – I basically forgot about this. I mostly agree with them. If you have a nice logo, you should feature it prominently on your website. How have I gone so long without featuring the O’Vineyards logo on our website? It used to be really prominent. But ever since the last major redesign in 2009, it’s almost nowhere on the site. What I did in that redesign though was put my face on every page of the site. One could argue that I’m more recognizable than the O’Vineyards logo. I’ll think on this. Will adding a logo make the site feel too commercial? Is it more effective to have people recognize my face or a logo? Good questions. Will consider more.
No English -While I personally choose to blog in English (and regularly receive flak for it), I think it’s more important to get people blogging at all than it is to make them blog in a specific language. There are advantages and disadvantages to blogging in English. But the most important thing I think I can do is get more people in the Languedoc Roussillon to blog at all. If they do that in English, French, Occitan, Catalan, or whatever is entirely up to them. But writing nothing is worse than writing in a rare language. To an extent, I actually encourage people to blog in more obscure languages. While the Vietnamese wine blog market seems pretty inconsequential today, if you really love writing about wine in Vietnamese, you will have very little competition and you’ll be able to create a community around your passion. If you force yourself to write in English, you might just struggle to post simple, forgettable stuff that can get lost in the mass of other english language content out there.
Inconsistent posting – I agree partially here. It’s better to post regularly. And it’s good to warn your audience if you’re taking a hiatus. But these are just good suggestions to improve your blog. What’s primordial is that you blog at all. Don’t get worried about posting too frequently. Don’t get caught up in the inertia of a dry spell. Sometimes you go two weeks or a month without posting and you think you have to make a really good post to do a comeback. Or draft an apology. Don’t. Just post something. Anything. Don’t worry if it’s too short, or not that good, or in a weird language. This is the Internet. People know that your winery blog is not a polished, edited magazine. They will forgive you. It is not your day job to post on a blog. So just do your best to post anything and get out of the rut. Don’t get too hung up on intermittent posting or you’ll psych yourself out all the time.
No RSS – I agree that every blog should have RSS tech. It’s just really useful, free, and unobtrusive. But whatever. It’s not a huge deal. And I don’t bring this up anymore because RSS confuses the hell out of farmers. And most Internet users for that matter.
Some people say that adding your website to relevant directories will help Internet surfers find your website. Not only can they find you through the directory, the links can also help search engines figure out what your site is about. This second part is only true if you use really relevant directories.
I’ve previously written about regional directories. I might add a few wine specific directories.
Well curated directories like AllTop are divided into dozens of highly specialized blog categories. I’m really honored to be included in the top wine blogs. The directory has very few winery blogs and TWO of us are Languedoc producers (the other winemaker is Iris).
O’Vineyards was also featured in the World Wine category of TripBase’s blog directory. Another honor. A quick look at the other blogs mentioned makes me feel like I’m in very good company. This sort of well-curated blog directory or award listing is very helpful.
WineBlogger is a project that has very specific categories for different wine blogs. This sort of specific categorization means that search engines (and users) will know a lot more about your site. Not only is my site about wine, it is commonly associated with these other websites that use the same types of words (typically in a winemaker’s vocabulary).
Vinography tries to keep a list of all the wine blogs out there. You have to be running for a while with regularly updated content.
The Winery Website Report has a “complete list” of wineries, but their submission form requires you to put a US state so I guess it’s not for wineries outside of the US.
Of course, I also curate a listing of Languedoc Roussillon winemaker blogs.
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.
“I wish this website would devote a lot more space and effort to a ‘welcome to this website’ paragraph that no one will ever read instead of prominently listing their hours of operation.”
—ironic praise for bad restaurant websites, Not anyone
I criticize a lot of websites for having ugly landing pages with cheesy flash animations, loud music, and no useful information.
It’s easy to cut out the flash animation and loud music… but what constitutes useful information?
One important story that should be included in every winery website is a biographical history section. But how do you write that history? How do you convey the right information? And how much is too much?
Writing your history
People want to know about your history, but they will only remember things that are really unique and notable. You don’t need to put this information on the landing page of your website. It can be safely tucked away in a “Biography” section or “About” section.
And keep it short. You can include a manifesto hidden deep within your website, if you must. But there should be an easy to read, brief biography somewhere close to the landing page. If you have trouble keeping the bio short, visit ten other winery websites and delete anything in your history that also appears in their history.
The fact is almost all winery history sections fall into two categories “we’ve been making wine for x generations in the proud tradition of Lord Soandso of Somethingrather” or “I’m passionate about wine so I started making it y years ago and it’s been hard but worth it.” Unless you have something really special to say, this is the part of the website that people will forget ten minutes after reading it. So only say the special stuff.
And again, it doesn’t have to be on the first page. Even though you think your story is super interesting, people might be more interested in accessing basic information about your wines, where they’re available, and what food they go with. So writing a website is about balancing all this information and presenting it in a convenient way for the impatient Internet surfer.
How O’Vineyards handles it
I try to show our personality on every page of the website. The closest thing to a concrete biography is currently located in the “wines” section that talks about our winemaking. But you’ll also learn a bit about my philosophy on tourism by clicking on the “visit” section. There used to be a “Bio” section about our history, but I merged it into wine because it’s more useful there. Still debating this one internally and you might see me move it around more in the future. But it’s not very long and it’s certainly not the landing page.
After reading hilarious ironic praise for poorly designed restaurant websites, I feel inspired.
First, I’m going to start making blog posts for some of the restaurants around Aude. Some of them have no websites. A few have the sort of crappy, flash animation intro, easy listening muzak-laden, unreadable font colors, and generic sounding mission statements that we love to hate. And some of them actually have great websites. Anyway, I’m going to make short posts with the restaurant’s name, the opening hours, the reservation policy, address, and phone number. And I bet this will be exceptionally useful to all the foodies in Aude. Or maybe I’ll just be like a second rate tripadvisor. I don’t know. But it’s worth trying out.
Second, I’d like to mimic this tumblr’s “How to make a less horrible website” instructions. Let’s determine some guidelines to make a tiny winery website that actually answers the needs of an online visitor. It won’t be as simple as the restaurant since almost everybody visits restaurant websites for the same reason… But we could at least come up with some basic guidelines.