Making great wine takes a lot of care and attention. It demands thought, planning, dedication and diligence. So why is all that effort simply chucked down the drain when it comes to promoting the fruits of these labours online? In other words, why are there so many awful websites behind so many nice wines?
It’s like putting the Mona Lisa in an cheap clip frame – and then shoving it up on eBay. Any good wine website should be made with the same care and attention as a quality wine. Just as a complex wine doesn’t need a fancy label, it doesn’t need a fancy website. Yes, looks are important – but not as important as good design and useful content. The heat is currently on winemakers to do more with social media. I’d argue that this starts with a good web presence. Here are my top ten tips on what makes a good wine website.
1. Avoid building the whole site in Flash. While it’s a very powerful tool that can be used to create beautiful sites, it can be frustrating to sit through, slow to load – and not at all user-friendly on iPhones and iPads. Especially those elaborate front pages you need to ‘enter’ to get to the home page. I’m not saying don’t use Flash within a site if there is a good reason. (While I’m focusing on producers rather than retailers, it’s worth taking a look at online wine merchants Find Wine, a lovely site that’s easy to use – and they’ve thought about iPhones.) But there are alternative ways to bring simple movement to a site design. Remember that less is often more when it comes to good site design – although Donnhoff has gone a little too far!
2. Avoid music. It’s irritating, unnecessary and rarely to anyone’s taste.
3. Make the wines the centre of the site. I like reading about the history of the chateau, or how the winemaker can trace their family back to the Inca’s. I really do. But I’d mainly love to read up about the wine, if that’s ok.
4. Clear, easy-to-read tasting notes are vital. Preferably ones I don’t have to download (though I don’t mind). Or are written in flowery language. Just a straightforward outline of what I might expect from each wine.
5. Consider using light boxes. They look good and are easy to install for pictures, galleries, videos and tasting notes summaries.
6. If the range is big, incorporate a decent search engine within the site. You can even put Google across your site (or just on some of your pages – it’s very easy to customise) with very little effort (http://www.google.com/cse/).
7. Make clear and simple navigation your mantra. Before a designer picks up a pencil, or a developer writes a line of code, organise your data and focus on one clear and simple navigation that makes it easy to move through the site without getting lost down a rabbit hole or stuck in an endless loop. Whether it’s a one-page site featuring a single wine or a huge site that must incorporate a host of wine brands and lines, one simple clear navigation is key to happy users gliding effortlessly through the site, quickly finding what they’re looking for. So that’s clear and simple navigation. Got it?
8. Make sure search engines can read and index your site and your content. These days, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a key part of your business – not an afterthought that can be tacked on, or left out if the budget’s tight. Make sure SEO is part of your site’s DNA. Meta Titles and Meta Descriptions are now more important than wine related keywords.
9. Incorporate social media. Allow people to comment on the wines (but either regularly police the comments, weeding out anything offensive or pre-moderate them so you have to approve them before they appear on your site).
10. Ensure the site is future proof . Make certain your website hasn’t been designed and coded in such a way that adding an additional page is a major piece of work. Even if you only currently produce one wine, a site can grow with you and still retain it’s great design, clear and simple navigation, perfect SEO and overall usability.
So, those are my guidelines. But is there a winemaker’s website that ticks all these boxes? I haven’t found one yet – but would love to be sent examples. I have seen some that tick most of the boxes though. One of my favourites is Black Estate Vineyard. Nice looking, easy to navigate, good wine tasting notes (and simple PDF downloads) – and no flash.
And the bad ones? I really didn’t want to name and shame, but I have to include the site that inspired me to write these tips. Henri Bourgeois – I love your wine, but PLEASE put this site out of its misery soon.