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Local Wineries Weak on the Web

Originally Posted: May 10, 2007

Lenn Thompson

You might only know me as the writer of Corks of the Forks, but Monday through Friday, I play a very different role — that of an Internet marketing manager in the high technology industry. The two roles rarely converge, but my experience with the local wine industry's Internet marketing initiatives (or lack there of) often drives me to consider our wine region as a Web marketing professional and not just a journalist.

Overall, the Long Island wine industry deserves good grades for its wine— maybe a B or B- — but when it comes to using the Internet to promote itself and these wines, it gets an F.

Don't get me wrong. That is a bit of a generalization because there are a few websites that do a better-than-average job of telling their story, enticing visitors and—I imagine—selling wine. But those website are few and far between. More often than not, winery websites are poorly designed, offer no interactivity and get updated once every year—if we, as visitors, are lucky.

I can recognize that most local wineries don't have the money to hire a full-time marketing manager, let alone a Webmaster, but there are some simple things every winery owner and general manager can (and should) do to improve their websites and email marketing. They require very little effort in the grand scheme of things and can bring big returns — particularly now that the rest of the country is being introduced to Long Island wine for the first time as shipping laws evolve. Your website is your number two way to build brand and customer loyalty (your wine being the first one).

Take Advantage of State Funding. You can't get much of a website for $1000 but New York State is offering $1000 grants to help wineries upgrade their websites. This is actually the second round of funding. I think the previous round was for $2,000 or more. Just remember, you can spend $25,000 on a website for your winery, but if you have a "build it and they will come" attitude that is a huge waste of money, which leads me to…

Update at Least Once a Month. There is nothing worse than a website that is obviously out of date. Some Long Island winery websites list wines from vintages that have been sold out for months (if not longer) and feature events calendars that highlight events from last summer, but offer no information on upcoming ones. This information doesn't do any visitor any good and it makes you look like you just don't care.

If You Offer an Email Newsletter, Actually Send One Out. As a local wine writer and lover of our wine region, I've signed up for every email list I can sign up for. How many emails do I get every month? One or two tops. People sign up for your email list because they are interested in your winery and its happenings. Take advantage of that and talk to them — again, at least once a month — and make them feel a part of your winery's family.

Make Buying Wine Easy. Most existing winery websites offer some sort of ordering functionality, but most are antiquated and so convoluted and tedious that people are going to give up long before their credit card gets charged. Upgrade your eCommerce system and make it easier to use. This may not be as important to local customers, but if someone from the Bay Area reads about your wines in the San Francisco Chronicle and wants to buy some — don't make it difficult. If you do, they'll just buy from someone else who does.

Check Your Email Every Day. We all have busy lives and the life of a winemaker or general manager is no different. But, potential customers are probably sending you email to the address published on your website, so you should check it every single day. Again, this about building relationships with your customers. They are important to your success — treat them that way. The same is true for "Contact Us" forms. It's annoying to fill out a form and click "submit" only to never hear from anyone at the winery again. This is a particularly frustrating thing for me as someone who moonlights as a journalist. I'd like to be able to get in touch with you as well.

Like with so many things, the local wine industry is constantly evolving and improving, but this is one area that seems somewhat stagnant, which is a shame. It's not that hard to use the Internet to your advantage.