The other day I was looking for a local restaurant to take my family to dinner. Like most people, I turned to the internet and began my search. Because I write about and consult on technology, I always assumed that every business out there knows how important it is to have a strong web presence, but apparently they don’t! So let’s talk about the importance of a website and five must-have’s when building a website for your small business.
Of ten local restaurants that came up in my search, only five had websites and of those only three had their menu, pictures and other valuable information I needed to decide where to dine. Can you guess which of the ten local restaurants got our business? Now it’s not to say that any of the other seven restaurants that didn’t have complete online information were not good or places to honestly consider, but because they failed to provide that information to me, they lost out. While I am specifically talking about local restaurants in my example, the fact is that all small businesses should have a solid online presence and offer a good-looking, feature rich and easy to use website (and make it MOBILE, too!!) so consumers can ‘check them out’ when looking for options within their category.
Brad Smith, Founder and CEO of Virb – an online DIY website builder with restaurant-centric features like an OpenTable widget and improved menu pages, shared with us the five must-have items every restaurant needs on their website to attract and retain customers. Again, while this is specific to restaurants, the tips transfer to almost all small businesses (just sub in ‘products’ or ‘services’ for ‘menu’). Here they are:
- Contact info: The most important information you can provide on your website, if nothing else, is your address and basic contact information. That part might be obvious, but, nowadays, you also need to take into consideration how this information might be accessed (hint: It’s not always from a computer with a high-speed internet connection). Your address should either link directly to a map or have one embedded in the page, and all of this should be easily readable from a phone. Google has made mapping incredibly easy—and free—so there’s no reason your location should ever be difficult to find.
- Menu: What’s the most important part of your restaurant business? Probably what’s on your menu. Listing a full menu online makes it easier for new customers to see if you fit with their budget and taste, and it’s also wonderfully helpful for anyone with dietary preferences or allergies. You should avoid the temptation to add a PDF or image file of your menu online. Aside from being tough to read on a phone or slow Internet connection, your food items won’t get picked up by Google, which can really hurt your site’s SEO. A text-based menu gives potential customers and search engines the simple, clear information they seek.
- Online Tools: There’s an ever-growing number of digital tools and software, paid and free, which can help make operating your food business even easier. From LCD-screen menus to iPad order placing, restaurants and customers alike are embracing high-tech solutions. For your website, a seating reservation tool like OpenTable is a must, if you offer reservations. There are even tools that let customers order food online or set up delivery right from your website, if your staff is set up for it. Adding simple tools and plugins to your website can help boost your business among young and old generations alike in this increasingly digital world.
- Social media: Keep in touch with customers well beyond the walls of your restaurant by utilizing social media. Set your business up with a Facebook Page and possibly a Twitter account to keep fans engaged and boost your SEO. Then, link to those accounts on your website by adding features like a Twitter feed or Facebook Like Box to attract new followers. You might also consider adding buttons to let visitors share your site on their own social networks to spread the word even further. Tying social media into your website gives you a simple way to keep customers updated with your latest news or specials across multiple channels.
- Photos: You can’t underestimate the power of professional photography when it comes to your business—and that applies twofold for your business’ website. Food photography, used to show off a few of your favorite plates or drinks, can help entice visitors and start a craving before they walk in the door. A couple professional shots of your exterior and interior can also encourage new customers to stop in, especially if you offer something unique like a great patio or modern architecture. Photos help establish trust with your online visitors by showing them exactly what to expect when they arrive. Great photography is one of the fastest ways to make your website look professional and polished, but beware: Poor photography is one of the fastest ways to turn customers away. Spend some extra time to adjust your color and lighting (or hire a professional, if possible) to nail this important website component.
If you’d like to see an example of a small cafe and coffee shop that has gotten it right, check out Main Street Cafe and Coffee, a trendy delicatessen in Virginia. Their mobile-friendly (again – can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be mobile friendly!!) site shows who they are, what they offer, where they are located and examples of their products in a simple, easy to use design. The clear, text based menu shows description and pricing, which is important for reaching people searching for your items. For instance, anyone who searches for ‘chicken cordon bleu Altavista’ is going to be directed to their site and just might walk through their doors.
Creating a website for your small business is easier today than it ever was. With great DIY solutions, like Virb or Wix, anyone can create a simple, aesthetically pleasing site that gets their business in front of potential customers. Build that site, impart these five must-have items, and you might quickly see your seats filling up and your sales reaching new heights!