Building a Useful Winery Website
Whether I’m gearing up to work with a winery startup or helping a 10+ year old winery re-brand or update their brand, I see wide variations in what people think they need for their winery website.
Some wineries want features that are way too big (think expensive) for their immediate plans while others aren’t thinking big enough. And every now and then, I run into people who questions whether or not they even need a website (short answer, YOU DO. Read my long answer here.)
In any of these cases, I like to get people to think about their website in a few different ways so we can work together towards appropriate goals and plan to move forward. The questions I ask clients are:
Your website is a tool that works for you, 24/7 (think constant marketing). What’s the most important thing your website should do?
You’re busy, presumably you’ve got a winery to run. What can this website do to make your life, your employees’ lives, and your customers’ lives easier? How can we save time, automate processes, minimize downtime and mistakes, and convert on other goals?
Once we work through these questions, we can begin to discuss the overall scope and features of your winery website. There are several common content and functionality requests I receive as a winery website designer. Here’s my thoughts on whether or not they’re valuable for your particular winery concept.
COMMON WINERY WEBSITE CONTENT
First up are non-negotiable items that belong on the barest of single landing page websites and the most feature-rich websites.
Clearly list your hours
Whether you’re 21+ only or family friendly
Dog friendly or not (and maybe cat friendly? Just kidding.)
Whether or not your serve food, and if you don’t, can people bring food to your winery
Don’t forget to set your 404 page (error page) to redirect as needed. Where will you send someone if they’re not 21 years old? Or if one of your links break, messing up someone’s search? This can be a fun way of connecting with your fans.
Here’s an example of Kat Collins Design’s 404 page. Go ahead, click on it. It’s amusing.
If you’re a new winery starting out, you can create a temporary landing page to build your newsletter signup list and recruit employees while you build out your larger site. This single page can contain all the necessary boilerplate info.
Here’s where you can tell your brand story and connect with people. When it comes to wine, it’s not just about the product, but also about the experience they can have at your winery. They want to get to know you and have a reason beyond just good tasting wine to buy into your product. It’s a great place to answer the following questions:
Why did you found your winery?
What does your name mean?
What type of wine do you make, and why?
What role do you play in your community?
Give people as much information as you can to bring them into your brand, your team, and your wine.
Obviously, beyond the boilerplate stuff, this is likely the biggest reason people visit your site. Your broader brand strategy and messaging should drive how you describe and present your wine. If you’re tasting room focused, a simple list may be best. If you focus on off-premise/distribution, showing people your packaging itself along with specs about each wine can be a great way to help them know what to look for in retail stores.
Oh, and bonus points for you (especially for local wineries who don’t distribute) if you can effectively track and share what wine is in stock, what’s running low, and what you’re out of on your website. I hate driving all the way to a local winery only to find out you’re out of a particular wine when your website says otherwise. And if I’m doing it, you know others are, too. Incredibly frustrating, my friends!
COMMON WINERY WEBSITE FUNCTIONALITY REQUESTS
A lot of wineries are interested in E-commerce functionality right off the bat. While a solid online shopping program can be a great way of building brand loyalty while increasing cash flow, I’ve seen it take three to five years for some wineries to gain enough traction to execute it properly.
There are a significant amount of things to consider for winery e-commerce. It’s not as simple as pop up a product and sell it. The majority of the time, you’re going to have to ship the wine. And if anyone has had any glimpse into the winery shipping world, you know it can be a nightmare if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Every state’s requirements are different and you must abide by all of them when shipping wine. Several states require you to have a winery shipping permit from their state which can cost nothing to upwards of $500 per year. Not to mention paying gallon taxes to each state AND your own state on shipping wine plus more.
If you do have any questions about shipping wine in the state of Pennsylvania, feel free to drop me an email. I have significant experience dealing with the Pennsylvania winery shipping laws and requirements.
Beyond the legal requirements, if you want your e-commerce ‘storefront’ to look good, it’s extra design and development time which translates to a higher price tag. You also need to account for the extra time needed to manage the program (keeping items in stock, shipping, exchanges & returns, integrating with your winery POS system, etc.). While all this can be valuable, I’ve found again and again that it’s usually a good idea to phase it in two or three years after opening.
I consider an events calendar a must for wineries with consistent events. I also recommend that wineries use social media to broadcast this info.
The problem is if you are a winery that has a few sparsely programmed events throughout the year. If a website visitor checks out the calendar at that time, it may send a bad signal to your customers that you’ve got nothing going on. You can prevent this problem by creating a list-view for your calendar that stays up all year round instead of only when the event is occurring.
This option you need to be careful with depending on what your state alcohol advertising laws are. But having a list on your website of where people can purchase your wine (if it’s places other than the winery itself) is a great way to get others to notice your brand. Plus, it can boost purchases from those retail locations as often people will choose to purchase the wine at their closest location.
If you’re working with a distributor, you can have a link to your distributor’s website that will list where people can find your wine.
Not all wineries will serve food and that’s perfectly okay. Even if you don’t have food, you should give people a lay of the land. Do you have snacks people can purchase? Can people bring in outside food? If you do have food, include your menu on the site.
As a random side note, please, please have some sort of plain cracker (no seasoning at all...changes the flavor of the wine) available to snack on during tastings. You need something to cleanse your palate between tastes of different wines or they all end up blending together (and not in a good way).
While this should be driven by your communication strategy, your blog can become a home base for all of your communication. You can share info on new wine releases, stories behind the names, travel, collaborations, awards, behind the scenes at the winery/vineyard - basically anything you do that your fans would be interested in hearing.
Yes, it can be hard to maintain a blog while you have a million other things to do during the day, but this is a powerful way to connect with people and tell your story. It also shows Google that your site is frequently updated which can help you rank higher in search results.
And if you can’t do it for whatever reason (you’re not a write, you hate writing, you don’t have time...take your pick), find someone who can do it for you!
Many of the wineries I work with complain about the amount of donation requests they receive. Not because they don’t want to support local non-profits, but because of the additional admin work it requires and the fact that they can only give to so many non-profits before it starts hurting their bottom line.
A simple way to mitigate this is to create a form on your site to handle donation requests along with an automated response to let them know you’ve received the email and will follow-up soon.
How you handle it from there is up to your team but this approach allows you to batch the work, say in an admin meeting, one morning per month. This can often be nested on the Contact page. While you can hide it even deeper within the website, I recommend keeping it visible as the people are going to contact you one way or another. If anything, they are persistent!
If you’re big enough that you go to multiple events per year, sponsor multiple outings/programs, and are distributed in multiple states (or even just all over your own state), a page with all your brand information and brand assets can go a long way to keeping your look consistent.
You can’t control what people do with your logo but you can gird against as much stretching and morphing and tilting and color changing nonsense as possible by giving people access to the correct native brand identity files.
Listing your distributor partner(s) on your site can be good info to include for retailers who may want to carry your product.
This can be a stand alone repository for your press releases. Though, depending on your sitemap, these could also end up living on your blog/news section.
Are you hiring? Let people know!
I’ve found that this list, or at least parts of it, will be enough for the majority of wineries out there. If you think about what you want your website to do for you, and how it can make your life easier, you’re already on your way to making something that’s useful for your team and your fans.
Do you have any questions about what should be on a winery website? What would you recommend for a winery website? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!