Project: Lil’s Cafe website update
Services: Photography and copywriting
Length of project: One week
I’ll categorize this project as “styling” because it was multi-layered and didn’t involve just photography.
The Lil’s Cafe and Bakery website was designed in 2013 by Be Better Studios. All the photography and copy included at that time was template content—starter material that would allow Lil’s to have a functional web presence when the cafe opened, but most of it was generic because no one knew yet what the cafe would one day become.
Three years later, the photography and copy was still virtually the same, even though much of it was no longer relevant. I was recruited to improve the photography, and after looking at the written content, I asked to take that on, as well.
Here are the changes I made, page by page:
Lil’s Cafe Homepage
The homepage of any website is like the first handshake at an interview—you’re either pulled in immediately or you want to get out as quickly as possible.
The Lil’s homepage was probably modestly compelling when the cafe first opened and word was getting out into the community. Be Better Studios put together a well-branded design, and the photography was crisp and cohesive.
However, the photos on the homepage were all taken so early on that if I had to guess, I’d say two out of three were shot when the cafe wasn’t actually open yet. The images on the original homepage include: a plate of the famous crullers, the street side sign, and a lineup of brand new mugs along the top of a pristine La Marzocco espresso machine. No people, no atmosphere.
Where the topmost photo before had been a plate of the famous crullers, I placed a photo of one of the delightful baristas holding two trays of crullers. In the background we are able to see the historic, arched, brick-framed windows, through which light streams into the cafe, and we also see some of the other pastries on display.
This to me communicates much more of the Lil’s experience than the simple plate of crullers—though the original photo is beautiful and the food looks delicious. Adding a human element in business photography is always a good idea, and offering a first impression of the atmosphere extends an invitation to participate more fully.
Other notes: I kept a plate of crullers on the homepage, but made it one of the lower, smaller images, and I updated the street side sign image, as the street side sign was changed from metal to wood two years in. I also noticed that neither the images nor headers for "Story" and "Menu" were links to other pages on the Lil's site, so I took care of that.
Lil’s Cafe Page One: Menu
This was actually the first page I updated, as to me it was the lowest-hanging fruit in terms of opportunity.
Lil’s Cafe “Menu” page had been updated a handful of times since the cafe opened, but mostly to omit obsolete content. By the time I got to it the page was basically blank, linking to a PDF of the current menu, and boasting a large gray content block with almost nothing in it—I could tell this was clearly intended to be addressed later but never got followed up on; all that was in it was a photo of coffee bags and a nonspecific allusion to beverages offered.
I removed the photo of the coffee bags (all of the coffees shown were out of season, anyway), and replaced it with a photo of one of the baristas holding a latte complete with art. This image did two things—first, it added a human element to the page, and two, it told a story about the experience at Lil’s. “We pay so much attention to craft and detail, you even get professional latte art in every cup.”
With this new image, I changed the description of what is offered for beverages at Lil’s Cafe. Where before we read a list of basic drink names, I added in some life, describing locally-sourced milk, locally-roasted coffee, and some ideas on how to personalize a drink to your specific taste—all things that reflect the values of Lil’s barista team.
Under this new photography and copy, I added a section to the same block to talk about the food. Lil’s Cafe works hard to put forth the highest quality product and not cut corners. Some of their products are very local, so I talked a bit about that, and added images of production in the kitchen. (I am still waiting to hear about getting a photo of a local farmer, Rick Greenlaw, who supplies produce to Lil’s.) Lots of human elements, and a much more resonating message for the eat-local, live-sustainable crowd.
Lil’s Cafe Page Two: Our Story
The big kahuna. “Our Story” on the Lil’s site is sort of like the “about” page on a non-restaurant website—and the “about” page on any website is the most oft-visited page, the one that makes or breaks the deal. (Strangers want to know: Why should I share my time and money with you? If your “why” is good enough, then they’ll show up. If not, they’ll bounce.)
Strangely, the “Our Story” on the Lil’s Cafe site wasn’t a story when I got to it. It was basically a list of values, a set of directions, and a short explanation of where the name Lil’s came from. I pointed this out to the owner, and his exact words were, “That’s terrible.”
Another oddity of this page? The photo at the top wasn’t of anything. There are two people in the image, both facing the other way; the pastry and salad display, encased in glass, is reflecting too much light for the viewer to see what’s inside from the angle at which the photo was taken; and there’s no clear subject matter.
First things first, I got rid of the photo. No use incorporating photos unless they draw people in and compel them in some way. I replaced it with an image from Bob’s Clam Hut—a painting of Lil the in-window cashier, for whom Lil’s Cafe was named.
I got rid of the summary of the “story” at the top, also, and replaced it with a summary of an actual story once I gathered the right information to write one.
And I wrote the story of Lil’s Cafe. Insodoing I made sure not to lose the bits of information that would have been valuable to first-time visitors before—like landmarks to find the cafe, where to park, and confirmation that there was free Wi-Fi inside the cafe. But the new copy included a beginning (the inspiration for the cafe), a middle (conflict: opening a restaurant in a high-risk space), and a happy ending (the community rallying around the business and allowing it to be successful and to grow for three years and beyond). This structure will better ensure reader attention straight through to the end, unlike the previous copy.
The Vinyl Vault
The very last detail was the bottom of the homepage, which needed an update in two places: First, the Vinyl Vault image, which included an unfinished, unpainted vault; and second, old social icons that weren't relevant. Although Lil's uses Facebook regularly, they hardly ever implement Twitter and do use Instagram, which was not listed on the site.
The new image includes a human element (a hand pulling a record out of its sleeve), and the icons now reflect the social platforms Lil's actually uses.
This project turned one business’s website from a mere web presence to a strategic business tool. An update of photography and copywriting to an existing design made the Lil’s website more relevant and compelling for first-time visitors. A relevant and compelling website will be much more powerful to convert prospectors to customers—and furthermore, the right kind of customers for the business. It can also provide intrigue and a solid of foundation of information for media and press opportunities.
See the finished product: lilscafe.com
Credits: Be Better Studios, original web design