2011 November: Online & On Track

Call up the Web site owned by Vito’s Pizza and Beer in York, Pennsylvania, (www.vitospizzaandbeer.com) and immerse yourself in the ambiance of a family-owned, honest-
to-goodness, Italian-American restaurant.

You can almost hear “mangia!” just by staring at the photos –– from the historically-restored 60-year-old wall murals, to the familiarity of cozily-lined bar stools ––– signifying this is a place where everyone knows everyone’s name. The site was designed to introduce potential customers to a restaurant oozing neighborhood warmth, says co-Owner Nick Spagnola. Vito’s has been in the family since 1961.

The company’s Web site wasn’t always this way –– for years, it hadn’t been touched. This summer, Nick’s brother and co-owner, Lennie, redesigned it after noticing a lot of people using iPhones and other gadgetry at the bar.

The former site “was primitive, very-early-in-the-Internet age,” Nick says. “The time we first did it, we got something up just to get it up.” Lennie hired a photographer and a Web designer in Pittsburgh to painstakingly improve it.

Has business increased? It’s too early to tell, Nick says, but customers have taken notice. Area sports teams use the online menu for after-match dinners, and regulars have raved. Nick and Lennie hit on an important understanding of today’s high-tech environment: the entrance to your physical building is important, but your virtual “front of the house” is just as crucial.

“Think of your site like the front door of the business: What do you want people to see when you walk in? What do you want people to do when they come to the site? Call? Download coupons? This is about a combination of giving people what they want and knowing what you want them to do,” says Lorrie Thomas Ross, CEO of Web Marketing Therapy, a marketing agency and training company in Santa Barbara, California.

How can your site have the Vito’s edge? Here are four mistakes to avoid and tips to move the customer from the Internet to your front door:

Mistake No. 1: Hidden Information. “It boils down to the navigation,” says Matt Vaughan, owner/principal of Final Piece Consulting in Holly Springs, North Carolina. He creates marketing plans based around easy-to-navigate Web sites and social media.

Operators “go to godaddy.com, but they don’t think of the hierarchy of the navigation,” Vaughan says. Look at your site through the eyes of a fifth grader or a 70-year-old, he says. “Those are the two sides of the spectrum where they might not be familiar with getting online. Both of those groups of people type something, and if they see what they’re looking for, they can easily get to it.”

Study your site statistics, suggests Thomas Ross. Google analytics, which is free, allows you to see what people are clicking. If people frequently click “Contact Us,” and it’s at the bottom of your home page, bring it to the top.

u Mistake No. 2: Too much information. Focus on imagery and aesthetic appeal as opposed to cumbersome text, Vaughan says. For example, link to your menu from the home page.

“You want the user not to be aggravated,” he adds. “Entice, show the offerings; then get them to call you. If they have additional questions, you make that sale and connection then.” And to make your site personable, include a bio. However, keep it to a photograph and a sentence about each individual.

u Mistake No. 3: “No trust” indicators. Don’t do anything that makes people question whether they should do business with you, Vaughan says. That translates into asking people for personal information (primarily e-mail addresses, because people are concerned with receiving spam). You shouldn’t ask for e-mail unless offering receipts for pizza orders. Asking for e-mail is allowable if offering coupons, but don’t make it a requirement.

“And always put a disclaimer that if they click or unclick, they won’t be added to a newsletter list. It means the world to people,” Vaughan says.

Mistake No. 4: Non-Standard formatting: You’ve heard of KISS (keep it simple stupid)? Apply it to your site. “Standard” formatting entails simple formatting, with information about who you are, what you do, who you serve and contact information, Thomas Ross says. Don’t launch your site with anything outside-of-the-box, like a complicated video application.

“Start with the basics. Focus on healthy Web marketing first. If you want to go fancy with mobile sites and videos as extensions after you’ve laid the foundation, fine. But start small and snowball from there,” she says.

Complicated formats that are not user-friendly also may raise questions about your credibility, casting you in “car salesmanship” light, she adds. “Your site is more than a promotional tool. It’s a customer service tool. It’s not just saying, ‘Buy our pizza.’ Remember, you’re serving people.” u

Heidi Rissell specializes in writing about the issues that affect small business owners. She is a regular contributor to Pizza Today and lives in Kentucky.