Restaurant Web Design Done Right

A Minnesota based web development firm has come up with the best solution to restaurant web design that I’ve seen to date.

Backing up for a second, what’s are the biggest problems with restaurant websites?

– Flash introductions
– No menu
– Can’t find the hours
– Can’t find location information
– Poor usability because it’s entirely in Flash
– Sound!
– Can’t find the site in Google
– Not enough pictures
– Site is never updated (probably because it wasn’t built using an easy to use CMS)

While there are many ways to build a good restaurant website, they hardly ever seem to end up in the hands of restaurateurs. Instead, they’re sold Flash intensive sites that don’t answer the very basic questions people have about their businesses. While the sites may look good, they don’t put people in seats.

What Five Technology has done is create a platform called Taste Trend that makes it easy for restaurants to create – and more importantly, maintain – a site they can be proud of and prospective diners find useful.

This should be on the short list of web platforms for restaurants considering a website refresh.

By the way, this is not a paid review. I know one of Five Technology’s founders but have written this out of frustration with the vast majority of restaurant websites I visit. If they used Five Technology’s solution, they could make my life slightly better.

How Non-Mobile is Too Non-Mobile These Days?

There are many reasons why a site can’t be entirely mobile friendly, but it sure would be nice if sites were at least partially mobile. For example, here’s what the Baby Bjorn website looks like from my Treo:

Baby Bjorn Website Fail

In order to get the best possible experience out of our website you need to have Macromedia Flash installed and JavaScript enabled.

Perhaps that should read: While you may be out on the town discussing our products at this time, we’re not particularly interested in letting you share information about our products using anything but a full fledged computer. Go find a pen and a napkin so your friend can write down our website’s address.

An Online Data Entry Pet Peeve

Am I the only one who runs into this problem online?

I’m asked to enter a number into a form. In this case, I entered 20,000.

Picture 7

I submit the form, and am told this:

Form Data Entry Error Message

Since when is 20,000 not a number?

This is a common example of what happens when programmers forget that humans are their customers. If you don’t want a comma in the number, say so in advance. If you’re a good programmer who cares about your customer just remove the comma automatically.

I also see this a lot with phone number fields. Some sites want dashes. Some don’t. Some limit the field to 10 digits so you find out the hard way that dashes aren’t accepted when you hit a brick wall with two digits to go.

Every site has to deal with issues like this, so you think there would be a better forms for human use by 2008.

Also, “1 error prevented this client from being saved” should not be a public facing error message. Who is that message addressing? Me? I don’t think so.

Flash: The Rubik's Cube of Website Design

Quick question: What could you do faster? Teach someone how to win a game of solitaire:

IMG_0682.JPG

Or solve a Rubik’s Cube?

Yellow Rubiks Cube

Clearly, solitaire is a much easier game to comprehend since the rules are almost immediately obvious. A Rubik’s Cube, by comparison, is much more complicated and takes more advanced problem solving strategies to master.

To me, this is similar to the difference between serving websites using HTML vs Flash. HTML is to Flash what Solitaire is to the Rubik’s cube. In this case, the person who needs to understand the game isn’t a person at all, but a search engine.

If you think it may be valuable for search engines to be able to read the content of your site, understand the navigation, and rank it competitively, do you think you’re better off building a site with a solitaire styled structure or a Rubik’s Cube? The same information could be presented in either form. But which one will be easier for search engines to comprehend?

Search engines, including Google, have made some recent progress in their ability to index Flash sites. That’s a good thing for people trying to find content that web designers have chosen – largely unintentionally – to hide. But it’s not nearly as powerful as what they can do with more traditional presentations of data on the web.

Rand Fishkin has more on why Flash remains problematic for web design on SEOMoz.

When Free Isn't Cheap Enough

Farhad Manjoo has put together an outline of how you can access the online version of the Wall Street Journal without a paid subscription.

As Manjoo explains, the WSJ allows public access to paid content when visitors arrive through Google News or Digg. Using a Firefox plugin, you can spoof the referral the WSJ sees and thus gain access to the entire site.

This makes me wonder, “I can do that, but is it worth it?” Or, put another way, is free cheap enough?

This trick, of course, isn’t entirely free since it takes time to install and set up the plugin. And then it will only work on one computer using one specific browser.

At a higher level, this is something every website owner should consider: Is my website good enough to get people to use it for free?

Why would someone choose NOT to use a free website?

– The navigation may be frustrating.

– The site may be slow to respond.

– The content may not be valuable enough to warrant an investment of time.

– It doesn’t blast music at people sitting in cubes, I hope.

There are 40 billion other things they could be reading, watching or listening to online, and they’re only a click away.

Is your site competitive in that environment?

How Fairness Hurts Company Sites

Have you ever looked at the profiles of employees within the salesperson section of a company website and come away disappointed? I know I have, and I’m tryign to figure out how to make that a better experience.

Generally, here’s what I encounter when looking at sites for law firms, real estate brokers, car dealerships, and other companies who are trying to build sales relationships through their sites:

1. An alphabetical list of employees.

2. Who have put little effort into describing themselves online.

3. And the site does little to help differentiate between those who have been working for 10 years vs 10 days.

As a consumer, I’m trying to figure out which salesperson is most appropriate for me to contact. I need better sorting options and more information about the person I’m trying to form a business relationship with.

So, what should companies do? Should they rank employees by performance? Mandate that employees fill out extensive profiles?

The problem here isn’t technical but political. Many business websites are built with the idea of treating every employee fairly. It’s actually a pretty strange concept when applied to salespeople since fairness isn’t measured by equal treatment in sales as much as it is by performance. Perform, get rewarded.

One idea I have is to create a LinkedIn style recommendation engine that would allow colleagues to endorse each other. Those with the most endorsements from their coworkers would rank the highest. Again, it’s more of a political issue than a technical challenge.

What have you seen work?

Printable Webpages Should be Print-Friendly

One may think the title of this post is self-evident, but there are enough exceptions to the rule to warrant an explanation.

Today’s example comes from The New York Sun’s website where printable versions are less than print friendly.

Here is an example story from their site:

NY Sun Article

The story has 1266 words, and the NY Sun has decided that an article that long should be chopped up into 4 pages for our reading pleasure their ad impressions.

When faced with situations like there, there is generally an easy trick for people who’s rather continue scrolling as they read rather than clicking and waiting for more ads. That trick is the “Print” icon on the page. Most of the time, clicking the print button will take readers to a single-page version of the previously multi-page story with a smaller logo and no ads.

But what happens at the NY Sun:

NY Sun Printable

They provide a printable version with a color logo and ads intact. Here is what it looks like once printed:

NY Sun Printed

Luckily, the color ads don’t end up printing and wasting toner, but the ad’s placeholders remain intact causing the story to run 3 pages rather than two.

I get the impression that the NY Sun noticed a significant amount of their site’s traffic hitting the printable pages – probably to avoid reading stories broken up into multiple pages – and chased them with ads, defeating their reader’s interests.

If NYSun.com is convinced that advertising on printable pages is the right thing to do, why not provide relevant ads: ads for toner.