By Colleen Reese, content strategy director, Netplus
A beacon of light for most restaurant marketers, the homepage is where restaurants can simultaneously showcase their brand and highlight limited-edition menu items, flash sales and the latest offers. Considering the fact that it's often one of the most heavily trafficked pages on a restaurant's website, it seems only natural to pack everything you can into one beautiful, noteworthy page.
However, what most marketers miss is the true goal of the website homepage. Diners shouldn't necessarily be spending more time on your website; rather, the website should be giving your guests the information they need and just the right amount of temptation to walk through your restaurant's doors. Offer online ordering? The same idea is there except instead of directions, you're sending them to your menu.
In short, when it comes to your guests, both returning and new, the homepage is more of a launchpad. A perfect utility to get from A to B.
As we enter the throes of creating a marketing plan for 2018, I'd encourage you to give your website homepage some serious thought. Does it provide a utility for visitors? Is there a clear path to follow? Can customers walk away with what you need?
These are especially important considerations for restaurants that are introducing new delivery, online ordering or menu options to their patrons, as there are a ton of new messages to prioritize.
Forget the formula
Over the past five years, the website homepage has become almost formulaic. Big header image. Single column content modules. Maybe a few pinboards. A footer. And sliders, all of the sliders.
It often looks something like this:
Diagram by Radynee Joshi, Design Intern at Netplus
This should look familiar to you. And, truthfully, there is nothing wrong about this approach. This widely adopted homepage structure is the culmination of years of learning and stabilization in digital design and information architecture. We continue to rely on this approach because it meets many challenges, including displaying a significant amount of content in a clean, beautiful way.
But it can be made exponentially more effective by a few simple updates:
- Ditch the automated sliders. Sliders (or “carousels”) often go ignored by visitors and cause unnecessary tension by taking control away from the user. Even more, automated sliders can hinder your website's ability to reach and engage users who have low literacy or motor skills issues, who might be unable to read or click through the animation quick enough.
- Leverage action-oriented navigation that gets users to where they need to go.For most restaurant websites, that means clean and simple navigation to menu, locations and online ordering options on your site.
- Test. Test. Test. It can be tempting to adopt a set it and forget it mentality when it comes to your website — especially after an exhausting and laborious redesign. But testing is absolutely imperative to making the most of your homepage. Find out which content areas are most valuable to your customers and elevate that content!
In the end, designing a homepage that works for you and for your customers is all about striking a delicate balance, so a one-size-fits-all approach does not apply.
Listen to your customers
Here's the great news: there has never been a better time to be a restaurant brand! We're officially a food-obsessed culture—just look to the sushi burgers, unicorn drinks and rainbow bagels of the world. Food has truly captured the imagination of the American consumer. Even further, marketers have never had more direct access to a deep wealth of information about how restaurant-goers consume and engage with restaurant brands than they do right now.
This information should be your north star when it comes to developing a truly human and useful homepage experience. And it starts with listening.
Start with quantitative analysis
Leverage free tools like Google Analytics to start quantifying the most valuable sections of your website. Do your patrons go straight to the menu? Are most of them new or returning visitors? Do they tend to drop off at certain points?
Perhaps indirectly, your customers are telling you a story as they navigate your website. Your homepage should reflect that in terms of how and where navigation appears, as well as how messages are prioritized.
Talk to them
Pick up the phone or pick up the tab. Nothing beats a real conversation with your customers. Try a 5-to-6 minute survey about the kinds of apps, websites and brands your customers love. This will help you (and your website team) build a richer profile of your customers' web behaviors so you can tailor the experience to mirror the features and functionality your customers are already accustomed to engaging with.
Finally, leverage social media
Still not sure if your customers find value in your homepage content? Dedicate some time to monitoring your social media stream during peak marketing periods. It's likely that diners and loyal customers are discussing your restaurant's web features online during this time, especially if you are introducing a new service like delivery or online ordering.
Pay special attention to qualitative feedback like, “I didn't know you could order online,” as it might be an indication that your messaging priority or calls to action are off.
Your homepage isn't really dead
While the traditional homepage may have one nail in its proverbial coffin, your restaurant homepage can still provide immense value to diners. Consider this:
"When it comes down to it, your homepage audience is your most loyal audience, so give them reasons to visit your site frequently and stay for a while; keep content fresh, intelligently curated, and streamlined design-wise. And remember: though they've changed, homepages are still (irrefutably) alive." — Sachin Kamdar, Huffington Post
So, yes. Kill the homepage; just be sure to replace it with something truly human, simple and useful.
Cover photo: Igor Miske