From time to time I’ll check out places to eat in cities where I’m heading. Of course I use the review sites as a first source of recommendations. Inevitably if a few places seem to be of comparable quality and hold potential I’ll go to the establishment’s website to do a deeper dive on the menu. This is where things begin to break down in a couple of ways and there are some broader points which come out of the experience.
Many of the sites are beautiful. Clearly, someone spent many hours creating a multimedia site complete with music that plays while you experience the site, flash movies that auto-play, and dozens of pictures of happy customers. Unfortunately, most of these sites are painful to use and are a huge waste of money. I’ll go even further to say that they do more harm than good. In the case of restaurant sites, no one cares how the site looks. Visitors want information, not to be entertained. They’re pretty and useless.
Think about it. Why do you visit the site? Probably, first and foremost, to check out the menu. Many of the sites I visit force a download (it’s easier to update one file than several pages of the site) and some of those downloads are huge. Next, I may want to make a reservation so I need to know where the place (Google Maps link!) is and some means of doing so – a phone number or a direct link to Open Table or whatever service the place uses. Finally, the hours they’re serving and maybe a listing of the specials would be good. That’s it. Designers need to focus on the business goals and not on “pretty.” The most important factor in the design of a website is that the website makes it easy for users to find what they want.
The problem isn’t restricted to restaurants. If you’ve built a site and not had a discussion with the design and coding team about business goals for the site, target audiences, analytics you’ll be using to measure activity and success, or how you’ll be marketing (SEO implications), you’ve missed the mark. Unlike the restaurants with crappy sites, there probably aren’t lots of review sites driving people to your business (most review sites contain a modicum of the critical information). Maybe now is a good time to take a look at your site through a visitor’s eyes?