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3 Ways to Get the Most
Out of Your Website

Posted May 16, 2016 by the RezPlus Marketing Team

For many of you, your website is seen as a business necessity. It’s simply the way for you to get online reservations.

The purpose of this blog is to take a fresh look at how you can get the most out of your website. We will discuss three ways for you to use your website to help attract more new and repeat guests.

  1. Our starting point is to examine what your website is doing for you now.
  2. Next, we will put the spotlight on the potential role your website can play.
  3. And, finally, we will identify the steps where you can be proactive and turn your website into a dynamic part of your marketing program.

1. Starting point

To understand what your website is doing for you now, let’s start by taking a look at your guests. Diners always have choices. Take a moment to think through how they decide which restaurant they will go to tonight. To make their decision, diners want to see your menus and image gallery and, if they like what they see, they want to make a reservation.

For diners who have never eaten with you, their decision process often consists of scanning the websites of you and your competitors. Diners, who are as impatient as you are, will spend just a couple of seconds looking at your website. Ask yourself, does your website home page immediately communicate the following five essentials?

  1. Your name, logo and location
  2. What your concept or niche is (local farm-to-table, ethnic, fine dining?)
  3. What your image is (lively and fun, warm and cozy, elegant and sedate?)
  4. Overall, will your restaurant meet the diner’s specific needs (a fun outing, a date or an anniversary dinner?)
  5. Your reservation widget.

If your website doesn’t accomplish all these things in a few seconds, then your prospective guest will not click to see your menus and photos but will instead click ahead to their next possibility. You just can’t expect them to navigate through your website to figure out whether you are basic or fancy, feature seafood or steak or are geared to families or millennials.

For diners who have enjoyed a meal with you, you want to increase the frequency that they return, say, from once a month to once every 2 or 3 weeks. Does your website help stimulate them to make an extra reservation? For example, do you have the capability -- through your database of guest information -- to send them periodic promotional emails that can remind them that you deliver a terrific evening?

The reality is that many restaurant websites - maybe even the majority - do not do as good a job as they might to either a) trigger the interest of potential new guests or b) give reminders to their regulars. The design of many restaurant websites often reflects a lack of understanding of diner behavior.

2. Role of your website

To understand the potential role your website might play in growing your business, it might help to view it as a communication hub and the key to establishing a personal relationship with your guests. This simply means that your personal contact with your guests does not have to begin and end with their meal.

Here is what we mean. Ideally, you would like to have your restaurant name and logo in front of your guests as often as possible:

  • When they make a reservation they should receive 3 emails: a confirmation, a reminder and a thank you, all with a note from you.
  • When they receive an alert from you about your new menu, your next promotion or a tip for booking early for the holidays.
  • When they purchase a gift certificate so they can share their dining experience with others.

Your website, therefore, has the potential of working hand-in-hand with all of your other efforts to reach out to your current and potential guests. You are likely becoming more active with social media. You can ensure that your website design, your emails and other communications all share the same design and messaging. As a result, you will be constantly reinforcing your brand image and reminding your guests of your distinctive dining experience.

Rather than separate efforts, your advertising, website-based communications and social media efforts can be combined into a single marketing program. The goal of this marketing program is to increase your visibility, motivate diners to visit your website and to make a reservation.

A special note for owners of 2 or more restaurants: You will want the websites for your restaurants to be capable of identifying and cross-promoting each other.

3. The next steps

Here are the two steps you can take to make sure you are getting the most out of your website.

First, assess your current website.

This involves finding the data to answer some key questions and combining the data with your judgment. Here are the questions:

  • How many people (“unique visitors”) are looking at my website each month?
  • Which website pages do they look at the most when they visit and how long do they stay on a particular page?
  • Where are my site visitors coming from?
    • From a search engine (called “organic” search)?
    • From a direct entry of my website address?
    • From a directory?
    • From “referral” links, such as ____ ?
  • How many visitors actually make a reservation during their visit and how many covers does this represent?

Google Analytics reports contain the data to answer these questions.

A portion of a sample Google Analytics report is shown below:

The report is not very user-friendly is it, at least for casual users? We suggest that you set up a simple spreadsheet where you can record, on a month-to-month basis, the key data related to the four questions we asked above.

Now for the judgment part. Drawing conclusions about the performance of your website from the data in the reports is not straightforward. The reason is simple. Restaurants are different, different in terms of size, location, concept and other ways. As a result, there are no rules of thumb for you to compare your results to your competitors. Sorry, but there are no targets for you to shoot for on such metrics as the number of site visitors per month or the percent of site visitors who make a reservation at the time of their visit.

Consider the differences between a new and rapidly growing restaurant in a downtown location compared to a mature, stable neighborhood restaurant. The first might have more visitors just checking it out. This would point to a relatively low number of actual reservations compared to the number of site visitors. The second, though, might have a loyal group of regulars, which would result in a high percentage of site visitors making a reservation (but not necessarily a relatively high number of visitors per month).

Here are some ranges, based on our customers’ experience, but they won’t be of much help because they are so broad.

Pretty amazing, isn’t it? Because these wide ranges don’t help much, the most important judgment call you can make is to look at the trends in your data. Here are some questions to ask and what we think your answers may indicate.

What is your year over year increase in the number of reservations from your website? The overall trend is 10-15% or more.

Do site visitors view more pages than the home page? If most view just the home page -- “one and done” -- you may not be grabbing their attention with clear communication of the 5 essentials listed in Section 1 above.

Are site visitors visiting several pages besides your home page? How long do they spend looking at menus and photos? Clearly, the more time they spend on your website, the stronger is the evidence that your website is working and the greater the likelihood that they will make a reservation.

Is an increasing percentage of your reservations originating from mobile devices? If not, your mobile interface may not be designed for optimal viewing or your mobile reservation widget may not be user-friendly.

Taking the time to understand where your site visitors are coming from is worth the effort. For example: Tracking the number and sources of your site visitors can give you insights into the effectiveness of your advertising and promotional efforts. Is there a bounce in the number of reservations after a promotion? As another example: Are more visitors originating from a direct search for your name which can indicate growing loyalty among your guests?

The payoff, of course, is the actual number of reservations being made by site visitors. The percentage of visitors who make a reservation typically varies by day of the week (increasing closer to the weekend) and time of year (increasing closer to holidays). But reviewing the trends is critical. If your percentage is flat or decreasing, this can indicate that your website is getting stale and needs updating.

A word of caution. Other factors can affect website performance besides its design. Factors that could influence your web traffic include changes in your advertising and promotion budget, introduction of a new menu or receiving a great review in your paper’s food section.

We hope you get the idea that evaluating the performance of your website is as much an art as it is a science. Like most management decisions, forming conclusions about the effectiveness of your website involves both the data generated by Google Analytics or other reports and what your experience tells you about how your website is working.

Second, set your objectives, expectations and strategy.

Some restaurateurs see the role of their website as simply being the vehicle for a reservation widget. If this is your objective, you may still need to look at the indicators of whether your website design is converting enough site visitors into reservation makers. Note that most websites need updating every few years to keep the design fresh and current.

Other restaurateurs are proactively looking for ways to attract more guests and keep them coming back. If this is you, you might benefit from viewing your website as a communication hub, providing the tools for maintaining visibility of your restaurant and guest preference for your unique dining experience. An up-to-date website design and a marketing plan that combines the strengths of social media with the functionality of an advanced website gives you the power to be proactive and take control of building your business.

RezPlus has taken reservation software to the next level. An integrated set of 5 services gives you the capability to deliver hospitality from the moment a guest arrives on your website through a carefully paced dining experience and continuing with follow-up communications. RezPlus combines an advanced reservation system with eGifts, eMarketing and a great mobile interface plus a new website at no added cost. RezPlus makes sure that all emails and other communications feature your restaurant's brand image as you attract more new guests and give your regulars reasons to return. And RezPlus' remarkably low price for the complete package of services means that RezPlus delivers outstanding value as it gives you the tools to enhance your reputation for hospitality and build your business.