Wake-up call for websites

In the digital world, out of date signals out of business

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. So goes the proverb, and for proof, we need look no further than many winery websites on the information highway. We’ve all seen the litter spoiling what should be a scenic route: news pages “looking forward to vintage 2008,” awards listings that mysteriously stop in 2009, and blogs that die after two or three entries – all examples of good intentions paving the way to, if not hell, then at least online limbo.

Many New Zealand wineries have not updated their sites since 2009/10 for obvious reasons: a river of wine to sell, staff cutbacks, next to no allocated  budget – and not enough hours in a day. Often built at a local “one-size-fits-all” shop with no apparent strategy for the brand, some sites are now in dire need of a total makeover, which is not an inexpensive proposition.

In an environment where freshness is key, an outdated website can undermine your sales and marketing efforts as effectively as bad wine. That’s because it remains the primary online source for customers, the press, sommeliers, potential distributors, for anyone who wants to know more about you and your wine. And nothing is worse than “old news” – it leaves website visitors with the impression your company went out of business around the time of the last update.

Belinda Jackson, a veteran wine marketer based in Renwick, recently tweeted her dismay at the current state of affairs: “I am gob-smacked at how many websites are not up to date. Looking at lots of them… and am really disappointed!”

Jackson’s concern is shared by others. Helen Milner, creative director at Tardis Design & Advertising in Wellington, believes that wineries have been slow to recognise the value of a well-designed and maintained website – or the damage that can be done by its opposite.

winestuff

Jules Taylor (Marlborough) – Launched in 2011: designed by DNA, Wellington and Auckland. http://www.julestaylor.com/

“When people are intrigued about something, one of the first things we do is to ‘Google’ the website, and we largely base our impressions on what the site does – or doesn’t – offer,” Milner says. “Many wineries don’t connect that behaviour to what their own sites are telling people.”

David Cox, New Zealand Winegrowers’ director of marketing for Europe, agrees: “I would challenge you to click on anyone’s website – I cringe at most of them.”

So what are the cringe factors and what can you do about them? Ironically, the cheapest fix applies to the very area where most sites disappoint – keeping things up to date. Freshness is the only way to guarantee return visits, and the rule of thumb for winery website maintenance is monthly, at a minimum, with prompt annual updates for vintage/tasting information and awards. If you have more web pages than you can handle, consider “unpublishing” some until you can add new content. The cost of hiring a copywriter  or web editor is minimal: for as little as $100 to $200 a month, your site can receive basic updates as well as short news items to post on the home page.

Another example

Black Estate (Waipara) – Launched in 2008 and still fresh: designed by Sons&co, Christchurch. www.blackestate.co.nz.

Unfortunately, many older websites were built without a content management system (CMS) to make instant updates possible.

Paying a fee for each revision creates a psychological barrier to regular maintenance, which often means that timeliness goes out the window. It is also a clear signal that, at the very least, the site needs to be rebuilt. The cost of switching to CMS can be surprisingly low – provided your site still has effective branding and design, and most of the copy remains useful. WordPress, for example, started as a platform for blogging, but now offers complete website functionality, including e-sales. Its basic version is free. Realistically, however, you’re likely to require at least some help with converting the site, which means costs could run somewhere between $1,000 to $2,000.

Those are two “quick fixes” to stop the cringe. For many wineries, however, the budget is unlikely to stop there. Today, the best websites incorporate sophisticated design with online shopping and social media – and we’re not talking about a hopeful “like us on Facebook” link. Although an existing site may have the capacity to handle extra functions, if it’s more than a couple of years old it probably lacks the strategy and visual “space” to comfortably accommodate a Twitter feed, YouTube channel, and an easily navigated cellar database. If that’s the case, then it’s time to revisit your branding, hire some expert help for the content and design, and engage a web developer for the construction.

Escarpment (Martinborough) – Launched in 2011: designed by Tardis, developed by Thinkbox, Wellington. http://www.escarpment.co.nz/

Now the costs will start to mount.

Even if you can provide all the content yourself, you are still looking at a minimum price tag of $10,000 for a premium site. The maximum? Let’s just say that some winery websites have cost the same as a brand-new supercharged Range Rover. Typically, half your spend will be on design, and half on web development.

Sam Cooke, a web developer and the founder of Thinkbox, a new media company based in Wellington and Wairarapa, observes that many of us initially assumed our website would only need to be built once – like a house. “You have to make an ongoing investment in this area simply to keep up with the changing technology,” he advises.

Before making any changes, it’s worth seeking advice. Many websites credit the designers and developers involved, and annual awards programmes like Qantas Media and the ONYAs list nominees and prize winners. As Cooke notes, “I always say advice is free, but you pay for the work.”

[Note: A slightly different version of this article first appeared in the June issue of Winepress. ]

 

 

 

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6 Comments

  1. John
    Posted July 20, 2011 at 12:41 am | Permalink

    Not just wine sites Ruby . . .goes for all websites eh. (cringeing a little as I look at ours)

  2. Phil Reedman
    Posted July 20, 2011 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Great work Ruby, timely advice for us all…….must have a look at my website…yikes…now you’ve put the cat among the pigeons. Keep up the good work.

  3. jane skilton
    Posted July 21, 2011 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    Great Post!
    Personally, winery websites that play music (most French ones) drive me nuts as do one with hugely complex graphics or Flash. But the one that takes the biscuit is a nz winery site – the side bar continually scrolls upwards as you scroll down. I felt seasick trying to read it.
    Wise words for us all – off to update my site!
    Jane

  4. Vaughn Bell
    Posted July 21, 2011 at 1:59 am | Permalink

    Well done Ruby. Although much of my blog reading is currently limited to those of a political flavour, I’ll be sure to add your site to my list of favourites. Best wishes for the future.

  5. Hana Deavoll
    Posted July 21, 2011 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

    Hi Ruby,
    I agree that many sites are outdated, but not about the $10 000 price tag needed for upgrading. WordPress sites are a cheaper alternative for any wineries (or businesses in general) wanting to swap their website over to a Web 2.0 platform. Some very professional themes out there and wineries could do the updating themselves.
    Also, when evaluating your website, a growing amount of people access the web from smartphones, so your site needs to be compatible for them (no Flash!).

    • Posted July 22, 2011 at 12:19 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Hana. Yes, websites (especially on WordPress) can be developed at no or very, very low cost (as I mentioned in the post). Often, however, a winery also needs branding or re-branding for its site, and that will involve bringing in a graphic designer. When that’s the case, a free template simply isn’t enough.

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