Perhaps more than any other sector, the hospitality industry needs to have a strong online presence. With search engines, online business maps and recommendation sites all able to push custom your way, not making the most of a website could leave you vulnerable to competitors.
Web technology is changing and competition for the top Google spots is getting tougher - if your website doesn't keep up, it will fail. Far too many website owners presume that, once their website goes live, users will automatically come. That's the same as assuming that all you have to do to get customers into a shop is to open the front door.
You must be clear about the purpose of your site. In most cases it should be to create a profit centre that drives interest, enquiries and sales. It needs to have fresh content, and include the right words to ensure those searching for a business like yours can find you.
Make sure it's well structured, with good use of headings and, above all, ensure there's a way that you can convert customers, either with contact information or by asking them to sign up for newsletters or further information.
Darren Langham and Matt Tullett are usability experts from web and graphic design firm Twelve20http://twelve20.co.uk
five ways to create the perfect web presence
1 Design It may sound obvious, but the first thing to consider is making sure your website reflects your brand. A contemporary restaurant needs a contemporary design scheme, a traditional pub needs a more classic design scheme, and a quirky boutique hotel needs a design that stands out. Maintaining brand consistency will give the impression that the rest of your business is dependable.
2 Words Think about what makes your business unique. If you're a restaurant, perhaps you specialise in a particular type of food such as vegetarian meals, fresh fish or wood-fired pizza; or maybe your B&B or hotel has a themed room; or perhaps you're ideally placed for business? Highlight why visitors should come and try you out, and be sure to keep your tone warm, friendly and accessible.
3 Pictures Illustrating your business online will offer peace of mind to potential customers who will want to know what to expect before they visit, so having a good selection of photographs on your website is a must. The key is to strike a balance between having bright, colourful and enticing images, and presenting your premises in a clear and honest way that won't leave your customers feeling cheated if you don't meet their expectations when they visit.
4 Location and accessibility It's surprising how many hospitality businesses don't include their full address and postcode on their website. In an age of satnavs, your postcode is the only way most customers will find you. This is particularly important for smaller businesses in a remote or isolated position. If you're not in an easy place to get to, provide clear, concise directions from local airports, train stations and motorways.