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"I want the family farm - the backbone of our country's heritage - to thrive and survive for future generations."

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Weaving Your Website, Part One

By Jane Eckert - Eckert AgriMarketing

(This is a 3 part series. Use the menu at the right to skip forward to part 2 or 3 if you have read this article.)

First, it’s a fact that 75% of all Americans have Internet access, and surveys indicate that 94% of them use the Internet to find travel information. So with three quarters of the nation using the Internet to find their entertainment, day trips, hunting trips, local attractions, or products-there is no doubt that every agritourism property needs to be there!

In this article, we discuss a few of the basics of this new frontier, starting with what the web is and why a farm or ranch needs a website, and then working our way through the planning, development, and maintenance of an effective website.

Planning

The first step is to understand the purpose of your website. You want a presence on the internet to:

  • Build awareness of your business
  • Bring more bring more people to your business
  • Promote special activities or events
  • Sell products online

You also need to think about your audience, who you want to look at your website. Since your purpose is to attract visitors to the farm, you need to give serious thought as to who would be interested. Where do they live? What are they like? Think about their demographics: age, gender, economic level, marital status, with kids, with grandparents, etc.

Who would be looking for a fun day at the farm? Who would be looking for a great week of hunting? Different audiences require a different approach.

The next step in planning is where too many businesses go wrong. The next step is to ask “what do your customer’s want to know about your business?

Please note that this is not the same as asking “What do you want them to know?”

You must plan your website to answer their questions and needs. For example, you may want them to buy lots of apples, several jars of this year’s jams, pay to run the corn maze, and buy several cups of cider. But they are not looking for a place to spend their money. They are looking for a family outing, something different, a chance to be outdoors, a chance to see life at a difference pace, and a special moment of family bonding. If they need to pay you for that experience, no problem, but what they are looking for is an experience, not a farm product.

The Technical Side

The technology of the Internet is perhaps complex, but not too complex if you take it one step at a time. Even if you intend to contract someone to build your website for you, it will help to understand some of the basic terms before you call them.

Domain name- This is the unique name of your website, such as www.kuhrtranch.com. There is a world-wide registry for domain names so that no two websites in the whole world may have exactly the same name. Companies such as www.godaddy.com and www.register.com allow you to create and register your domain name for about $9 per year. (The domain name is sometimes referred to as the URL- Universal Resource Locator.)

WebHost- A website runs on a web server, a computer that is connected to the internet at all times and “serves” up your information anytime someone types in your domain name. Companies that provide and maintain these Internet servers are called WebHosts.

For a monthly or annual fee, they store and “serve” your website. Most commercial webhosts provide a great deal more: they have backup equipment, and backup copies of your website in case there is an equipment failure, they protect your website from computer viruses and hackers, they offer 24-hour toll free phone support, and they offer a variety of softwares that help make your website more functional and interesting.

Software-If you are planning to build a website yourself, you need to have the right software.

For example, you need the ability to convert a photograph to a digital image, and then the ability to lighten or darken the photo, crop it, resize the image, and change the resolution of the image. Adobe Photoshop® and Macromedia Fireworks® are two such software products.

You also need software to layout the web pages, converting your design and text to the code language of the World Wide Web, which is called html (hypertext markup language.) The two leading providers that write universal code are Macromedia’s Dreamweaver MX 2004®, and Adobe’s GoLive®.

Building your own website is not for everyone, but if you are a person who learns new software easily, and you have the time to educate yourself, you can purchase the photo editing and web design software you need for approximately $800 to $1,000, and in a matter of several weeks, begin developing a basic website.

There are lots and lots of books, online tutorials, classes at community colleges, and other resources to help you learn. There are also a number of places where you can obtain free or inexpensive templates to start from, although these severely restrict your ability to make the website match your agritourism business and the needs of your audience.

In part two of this article, we discuss what should be on your website, and how you custom fit the design and content to match your particular audience. We look at:

  • basic elements of your website
  • the masthead
  • the navigation buttons
  • what must be on every page
  • how to be found by the search engines
  • how to keep your website fresh and interesting.

Continue to Weaving Your Website- Part Two, click here.

Jane Eckert is the founder of Eckert AgriMarketing (www.eckertagrimarketing.com), a full-service marketing and public relations firm that helps farmers to sell directly to consumers, diversify operations and become tourist destinations. She is also CEO of www.RuralBounty.com, a search directory for agritourism farms and ranches in North America. Jane can be reached at 314-862-6288 or you may email her directly.