Our website continues to be that anchor point to a successful marketing campaign. Guests need a place to go to get detailed information about your business. You may use things like Social Media, paper coupons, digital billboards, email campaigns, and more to get the word out about your business but nearly all of your marketing efforts will be done with the intention of driving that traffic back to your website where they can get all the information they need. It is critical that your website have some key design elements to make the user experience the best it can be and to effectively communicate what your business is all about.
Website design is not cheap so at the end of this post we will give you our recommendations based on your budget.
1. Responsive Web Design
With the sales of laptops and desktops decreasing and more people surfing the web from their smart phones and tablets this element has become critical to your web design. A responsive web design provides a great viewing and interaction experience across a wide range of devices from your standard computer monitor right down to your smart phone. If you were to grab a smartphone tablet right now and go to your website and you find yourself zooming in or having to scroll left or right to see content, your site has not been designed with an effective responsive design.
A good example of a responsive web design would be Saunders Farm’s website (who we interviewed on Podcast Episode #8) www.saundersfarm.com. If you pull that up on your smartphone, you will see a great example of a responsive design.
An example of a site that has not implemented a responsive web design would be www.farms.com as you will see you need to zoom in and scroll to be able to read and navigate.
If your website is not setup to be responsive, you should strongly consider that re-design.
2. Fast Loading
There is an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) term called “Bounce Rate”. Basically, that is the term used for those that come to your home page and leave without exploring your site or clicking on any content. One of the things that will make your bounce rate higher is a slow loading page. Our society is used to everything fast - instant gratification. It has come to the point where many won’t even wait a few seconds for a website page to load.
A fast loading page is more important than you may realize and adds to the user experience. Most people won’t even notice or appreciate a fast loading website but they definitely will notice and may get frustrated by one that is slow.
The biggest thing that will cause webpages to load slow are images that are not optimized. We all want high quality images on our sites and think the higher resolution and larger the file size the better. Optimized images are reduced to their smallest file size without losing any quality. The smaller the file sizes of the images on your site, the faster your page will load.
The other things that will impact page loading are more technical aspects such as HTTP compression, image caching, and domain sharding which are typically handled by your hosting provider or website designer.
Bottom line is, even if you don’t understand why, if your site loads slow, it is something you should have your web designer investigate and address.
3. Great Pictures that Tell a Story
Pictures are a key to a great looking and interesting website. Be sure to include some high quality pictures (optimized J) on your site. Whenever possible, have the pictures tell a story. Instead of having a picture of a pony advertising your pony rides, have a young child on the pony grinning ear-to-ear while his Dad is taking a picture. Instead of having a picture of your party area with nobody in it, have a picture with your party area filled with guests having a great time maybe blowing out candles on a cake or opening presents.
You want to have your guests not just get information through your pictures but be able to connect on an emotional level with what that picture is representing. You aren’t selling pony rides; you are selling a great time with the people they love and memories for years to come.
4. Good Clean Visual Design
Today’s recommended “look and feel” of a website has changed drastically over the last 5 years. Clean & minimalistic are now the industry standard. White space is your friend. Use modern web fonts. Carry the theme of your home page throughout your entire site. Say what you need to say in as few words as possible. Break your text up into easy to read chunks.
This has also become easier than ever before by using the myriad of themes offered by all the different website theme design companies. They give you the framework of everything we mention above and as long as you follow their templates, you will have a great looking design when you are done. More to come on those options at the end of this article.
Break up relevant details under their own pages and place a navigation bar at the top or the sides. Unless you have a very simple operation, you never want to try to put everything on your home page. Typically, you will break up your content into their own relevant pages and use your home page to give a brief high-level overview. Don’t get carried away though. Your navigation bar is intended to have limited options. Instead of having a page listed on your navigation bar for field trips, one for birthday parties, one for corporate outings, you should have one page for your groups and then create other sub-pages from that point if necessary. Best practice is for your navigation bar on your home page to have no more than 5 options.
6. Contact Information
Even though we do our best to give the visitors of our website all the information they need, sometimes they have other questions. Make it easy for your guests to be able to get in touch with you by phone and email. In my opinion, both are necessary and both should be responded to in a very timely manner as part of providing outstanding customer service.
Your contact information should be in your footer on every page to make it really easy for your guests to find and/or on a “contact us” page.
7. Specific Details
Many people would prefer to get all the details they need from your site and not have to inquire for more information. Be sure to be detailed on things like:
All package deals.
Any senior, military or other discounts and what they need to do to qualify.
Group pricing should also be listed based on groups size and not something they have to call to talk to someone about. Even if it is a price range based on options they select.
Any extras that are not included in the entrance fee (if that is your pricing model)
Hours of operation. Including special hours on Holidays or for special events. All on the same page and easy to find.
Directions. There are many of our locations that are still not able to be found using a GPS. If you are one of those sites, have clear directions to your location coming from all directions. Don’t assume your guests know local landmarks. Be sure to state whether or not your address will work in a GPS as that will save many phone calls for those that are lost trying to use GPS.
Activities offered including:
Any age restrictions
Any additional costs
Length of time to complete if applicable
Hours of operation of that activity if different than general hours
Anything they should bring or wear or prepare for (mud boots if it has rained, their own saw to cut down a Christmas tree, their own picking containers, etc.
What food or snacks do you sell?
Can they bring their own food?
Do you allow them to bring alcohol on the property?
Do you have a general store, bakery, or produce stand offering things they can purchase for home?
8. Social Media Buttons
Connect with your guests with social media. We will cover this topic in depth in another blog post but your web page should also have buttons for your guests to connect with you on social media. Social media has become THE major marketing tool for Agritourism and your website should give your guests a way to link back to your social media platforms.
9. Updated Content
Out-dated content is an easy trap to fall-into. If your guests are still seeing last year’s information 3 months after your year has ended, that reflects poorly on your professionalism as a company. Be sure to keep your website updated. At the end of the season, simply put up a graphic that you are closed for the season telling them when to check back for next season’s info and thanking them for visiting.
Don’t put up a calendar, blog, or other date specific information if you are not finding the time to keep it updated. If you find yourself in this situation, hide that page or remove that data until a time that you can have the time to keep it updated.
Since websites are the anchor to our marketing efforts, we really need to make sure it is getting the attention it needs. Whenever possible, hire a professional web designer with a proven track record to design and maintain your site. This can be costly at between $5K - $10K for the initial design plus yearly maintenance/update costs, but for those venues that have the room in their budget, this is definitely the best way to go.
For those just starting out, this may not be a realistic option. I know that was the case when I first started out. I bought a copy of Microsoft FrontPage, did some research, and was able to put up a website that was good (not great).
Today, we have many more DIY options when it comes to web design. If you are just starting out and/or don’t have the budget to have your website done by a professional, you have some options:
WordPress. WordPress is the cheapest option available. If you are very tech savvy and even know some code, WordPress can be a great option for you. I have found it to be too great a learning curve for many people, even those that consider themselves good with technology.
Drag & Drop type website creation sites such as Squarespace or Wix. I have played around a little bit on Squarespace and it appears to be a good option but have used Wix extensively to create numerous websites. Extremely easy to use and I highly recommend it.
My challenge to you is to have someone take an objective look at your website and give you feedback on the criteria we mention above. Don’t neglect this anchor of your marketing efforts. You need to effectively communicate the awesome things you have to offer. A great website results in better overall customer experience and a higher conversion rate of those that visit your website ending up as guests at your venue.
You can get more information on Wix by clicking here.
Feel free to reach out to us with any website questions or if you would like us to provide feedback on your current website (as time permits). firstname.lastname@example.org