The Secret to Good Website Design

The Secret to Good Website DesignGood Website Design

Your bar’s website is a tool to increase business and help new customers find you—plain and simple.
I read a statistic a few years back that said by 2020 websites will be obsolete. Here in the latter part of 2018, we aren’t quite there yet, but we’re slowly closing in on this.

These days, almost everything the customer is looking for can be found on Google’s Knowledge Card—you know, that box to the right of a search that has all of your info in it? Pictures, contact info, reviews, menus, pretty much anything that your website offers is here as well. Only Google’s information is a bit better because it offers a non-biased view and includes user-generated pictures and reviews. Your website only shows the highlight reel of what you have cherry-picked for the public to see. You absolutely need a website though,
as Google needs a source to pull information from.

A website’s cost is all over the board, and just like a used car, it’s worth whatever someone is willing to pay.
The clients I’ve talked to have all for the most part either overpaid considerably or went entirely in the other direction and tried to pull it off themselves with results that look similar to a Myspace page circa 2003.

I’ve been in the web design business for a decade and am now retired for one reason: Trying to pry the content from
a client is next to impossible. The web designer’s job is to put the building blocks of a website together in an attractive and user-friendly way. When the client refuses (or forgets, or doesn’t have any content, or doesn’t understand) to give the designer these building blocks, one thing happens almost every single time. We wait. And wait. And then the client inevitably asks how the progress is going, and the designer replies with something like, “Well, I’ve been waiting for your content for a few months and have followed up
a few dozen times without a response.”

There are two different schools of thought when it comes to web design: The designer who needs to get the content from the restaurant owner before they can begin, and the guy who creates it themselves. The guy who creates it themselves usually has a photographer, a PR firm, a copywriter, and an Internet marketer on staff. What does this equal? Big bucks. If you have unlimited funds and zero content of your own, then this is a great option. Creating content isn’t cheap, and a full service firm like this may be your best bet. These guys will charge north of $10,000 so be ready for some sticker shock.

I’m the other guy for a reason.
My approach, which is also the most common approach by far, is realistic for almost any restaurant on any budget. A website these days should cost you about $1500, keeping in mind that the content is on you, the business owner. You need to hire the photographer. You need to supply the copy and the contact info. The $1500 designer is arranging the building blocks you provide. If you want a website designed for a new concept that doesn’t yet exist, keep this in mind when hiring a web designer. You can’t hand him or her building blocks that don’t yet exist, so manage expectations accordingly. A designer cannot give you a finished product when all he has to go off of is a logo and an empty building. In cases like this, the website is the final step, not the first step. You can by all means have a “coming soon” page with an email collection tool and some basic contact info at this point. Just remember to send an email out when you open as promised.

While in the planning stages of a website, business owners will inevitably do one thing 100% of the time: They look up their competition or similar concepts in bigger cities and say they want their site to mimic one of these examples. They aren’t looking at the architecture of the site or the readability. They definitely aren’t referring to how easy they are to find in an online search. Like a high school kid searching for a prom date, they are shopping looks and looks alone.   

A website should be attractive, yes. But remember your website is there to inform your customers and to drive business. The most important thing is definitely not looks. It’s visibility. You could have the most beautiful work-of-art website in the world, but if people can’t find you online, then you’ve created the online equivalent of an idiot supermodel. Online search visibility and search engine ranking is at an all-time high level of competition and only getting more intense moving into the future. 

These days, the undecided customer will find you through either Google, Yelp, or TripAdvisor. People don’t go to social media to search for a new restaurant or bar to visit when in unfamiliar territory. If your competition ranks higher than you do, then chances are the customer making a “right here, right now” search may not even see you as an option. In today’s world of attention spans equal to those of toddlers, ranking well in an online search is absolutely crucial. There’s an old joke that bears repeating. Where is the best place to bury a dead body? On page two of Google because nobody will ever look there!

When I refer to Google, I’m really referring to the map section and not the organic results. You want to be the restaurant or bar that shows up when the customer is zoomed way out. You will, of course, show up when you zoom way in on your exact location, but what consumer is going to do that? Very, very few of them. Your map pin marker has to be accurate. You must be easy for an Uber driver to find. You need to show up prominently in the GPS systems on the newest cars. Everywhere that the new, undecided customer is looking, you need to be there. This all comes from a website and online presence that is “correct” from a search engine perspective. This is all the stuff you can’t see on the surface.

Your regular customers likely won’t ever go to your website. The people who have been in the door before don’t really care either. Your social media followers have no reason to go there as they get all of the info they need from your posts or Google. Your website should be aimed at new customers and should be structured for these new customers to discover you before your competition.

Here is a quick list of website do’s:

1. Spend about $1500 on a website, no more.

2. Spend the majority of your budget on SEO (search engine optimization) and getting found (go to for more info on this).

3. Have a professional photo shoot done. This should cost about $300-$400.

4. Get all of your content together before hiring a web designer. The website is the last step, not the first step.

5. Supply all of your contact info, including your email address(es) and phone numbers. Don’t be afraid of being found.

6. Keep it simple. Four or five pages is all you need. Home, About, Menu, Events, Contact.

7. Keep your domain name and hosting account in your own account, not the web designers account. If (when) something goes south, you don’t want this info being held hostage.

Here is a list of don’ts:

1. Don’t focus on looks. Great photos are a necessity,
but when everything else goes out the window, your online presence will suffer.

2. Don’t spend a lot of money. Google will do the heavy lifting.

3. Don’t cheap out too bad and try to “learn as you go” with a cheap website builder. Certain elements have to be in certain places to appeal to Google.

4. Don’t get bad online reviews. Your star ratings will appear all over your search results. These days, your search ranking
is tied to your star ratings, so if your star ratings aren’t good, you won’t rank high either.

5. Don’t oversell yourself and create an unrealistic online presence.

6. Don’t use stock photos. Ever. Seriously.

We’ll see by 2020 if any of this still applies. In an online world that moves as fast as the one we’re in now, it may not. Google is not going anywhere, so we have to do everything in our power to try and influence Google’s ranking. The rule of thumb with Google is to be as thorough and accurate as possible. The guy doing the bare minimum gets ranked accordingly. The guy putting in the work and filling out every online profile as complete and thoroughly as possible will beat the competitors every time. Hire the right professionals and know your weaknesses. Your web designer probably can’t make a decent burger to save his life. Don’t attempt to design your own online presence.

Erik Shellenberger has been in the restaurant and bar industry since he was 13 years old and worked for his mother in the
food and beverage department at a ski resort. Since then,
he has held every position from dishwasher to bartender to marketing director and everything in between. With a decade of corporate marketing experience, he has gone from
student to teacher and now runs Bar Marketing Basics ( He has quickly grown his client
base from his hometown of Scottsdale, AZ to across the nation with clients as far away as Caldwell, NJ. His book,
& Bar Marketing, will be released on Amazon soon.

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