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Checklist for a winning restaurant website

Every restaurant needs an effective website to compete in an increasingly aggressive marketplace. A well-designed website will perform three tasks: develop a relationship with customers, encourage them to visit your establishment and help potential customers find you on the Internet.

Use this checklist to make sure that your website is accomplishing those three jobs as well as possible.

• Keep up with technology and then use it to your advantage. Make sure to watch what your competitors are doing and the technology they are using. But also look outside the food industry for new ideas. If you find technology interesting in any case you can get alerts and read the latest in technology magazines like Wired. If you want it already digested, refer to sites like Small Business Computing or Small Biz Technology. You can sign up for their newsletters and RSS feeds to have the information delivered to you.

• Create a customer-centric design. Make sure your website is easy to navigate. You’ll want to make sure that restaurant customers get all the information they need and want to engage with you. Put all the key information on your website, such as pricing, menus, events, pictures, and make it easy to use. Can you get to any page from all pages? Put your grandmother or an eight-year-old in front of your website. If they can’t get around it easily then you need to rethink the organization.

• Be aware of the most important website elements. The most effective websites position the three to four essential elements—the headline, the call to action, the email capture and testimonials—“above the line.” This means the customer will see this information immediately on opening the page and will not have to scroll to find it.

• Have useful content that serves a need. That means lots of enticing photos and a description of your restaurant, practical information (directions, where to park, hours, etc.), press and reviews, a consistently updated menu, events, a place to interact with you, the latest news, easy contact information, the chef’s biography, your story, your team’s background, etc.

• Use a simple design with a powerful headline for each page. Powerful headlines are not your logo or restaurant name. Website visitors have an amazing amount of information at their fingertips, and very little patience. If you do not seduce them and reassure them that you have what they are looking for in the first few seconds after they hit your website, then they will leave. Therefore make sure your headline speaks to a potential customer’s desires.

• When creating the content of your website, use text-based navigation and anchor text links. Text-based navigation is where any navigational information (links to other pages, etc.) appears in text format and not in an image so that search engines can read this information. Anchor text links are links in which the text itself functions as a hyperlink. These techniques allow search engines to find you better.

• Integrate all content that is intended for wide audiences. Testimonials about your restaurant, menu descriptions, information about your team, etc. fall into that category. Have everything possible in downloadable format (a text-based PDF of your menu, for example, is easy for visitors to download and use). This will help with both distributing information about your restaurant, as well as helping search engines find you by giving them more content on your site to crawl.

• Always have a prominent place to capture visitors’ email addresses. Those addresses will eventually wind up as a database. Try offering something free to intrigue the surfer enough to provide their contact information: downloadable coupons, a free e-cookbook, free offers, recipes, invitations, etc. Offer to send them a regular restaurant newsletter. Always capture names and email addresses when giving anything away.

• Once you have a restaurant website up and running, start a blog. Regularly update it with highly focused, timely and useful information (the chef’s favorite recipe, this week’s menu, etc). Have your staff participate during their down times.

Take advantage of Google

Take the time to get familiar with Google’s small business tools. They will enable you to use the internet to your company’s best advantage.

• Google Analytics: This free service provides statistics about how visitors arrive at and use your website.

• Google Alerts: These automatically sends you content that has been posted about any search terms you register (great for keeping up with the competition, market trends or finding new opportunities).

• Google+: This social networking and identity service provides more exposure on the web and will boost your search results.

• Google Website Optimizer: A tool to test different website content to see what is most effective for your goals.

• Google Places: This allows you to place your business on maps and embed maps.

• Google Adwords: A way to do targeted advertising on the web. Because you only pay for click-throughs, this is cost efficient and provides a good understanding of what works and what doesn’t.

• There are also Google applications such as document sharing, translation services, online calendars and more that can be very useful for startups and small businesses.

Remember, user-friendly navigation, useful content and customer engagement are the three pillars of a successful website strategy.

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