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Weaving Your Website, Part Two

By Jane Eckert - Eckert AgriMarketing

(This is a 3 part series. Use the menu at the right to review part 1 or advance to part 3.)

In part one of this topic, "Weaving Your Website", we discussed the importance of defining your purpose and audience for your website; giving some very careful thought to who your website is directed to, what they want to know about your farm or ranch, and finally, what you want them to do, having seen your information.

We also defined a lot of the terms you should know before starting a website or having one built for you. And finally, we talked about the type of software you might need to design a website on your own, and where you might find help in learning to use the software.

Now, we can consider the actual development of the website - what goes into your website, and how you present your farm or ranch online.

Gather your information and best photos, organize them in categories, and create your masthead and navigation buttons. (You can click on this image to see how the website comes together...courtesy C & W Ranch.)

Gather Your Information
The first step is to gather together all of the relevant information you can about the business. Collect all of your brochures, advertising, promotional articles, radio copy, and everything else you have that describes your offerings. Gathering all this information is particularly helpful if you do different activities at different times of the year.

Now organize the information as best you can. One strategy is to group the information chronologically, starting with your spring season. In some cases, it may work better to organize your materials by "product line", that is, a stack for your Hunting business, another for the Bed & Breakfast, and a third for the Fall Season activities.

Finally, make some notes on what you think you want on your website. Jot down two or three outlines of different ways your information might be presented, and define for yourself what is the most important for your customers.

Gather All the Photos You Can
The World Wide Web (WWW) is a very visual medium, and the more you can let photos tell your story, the better. While the articles and your notes help you decide what you want to say, the photos will help you say it in the most effective way. You know that your customers are coming to your agritourism destination for entertainment, rural scenery, and to experience something different. Find photos of typical customers enjoying these activities - let your website visitors see the activities they want to experience.

Basic Components of a Website
Almost every website has the same design components:

What does this masthead tell the visitor about the farm? Pumpkins, animals, sunflowers, strawberries, and kids. (Click on this example to visit this website and see it full size...courtesy Sugartown Strawberries.)

Masthead - The most prominent feature is the masthead, which gets its name from the masthead of the newspaper. The masthead is the top portion (usually) of the website where you put the name of your business and the information on how people can contact you. Since the web is a visual medium, the masthead often includes photographs or graphics that tell you more about the business, and the experience you might find through their products. The masthead "sets the stage" for what the website visitor should expect.

Navigation Buttons - A website uses "links" to move from one piece of information to another piece of information. A "link" is a word or phrase that has been programmed so that when you click on that word or phrase, the information you have selected comes up on the screen. Often, the links are designed to look like buttons, so people know to click on them. If not buttons, links are usually highlighted, underlined, or colored differently so that the web visitor knows that they can click on it to navigate to the information.

This basic navigation menu provides links within the page, and within the website. (Click this menu to visit the site and test the links...courtesy of Kuhrt Ranch.)

When you plan your website, you determine what are the most important categories of information, and these become your principal "navigation buttons." For example, on a typical agritourism farm, these categories might be "Spring Plants", "Fresh Vegetables", "Fall Season", "About Us", "Directions", and a button called "Home", which has become universally accepted as the starting point for visiting a website.

We recommend that you have no more than 6 to 8 navigation buttons. The intent is to make it easy for people to find information on your website, and too many items in the list becomes confusing. If your initial list of categories is much larger, see if you can cluster related information. For example, if you have several snack shops, a restaurant, a bakery, and a candy store all on your list, create one navigation button for "Time to Eat," and then add submenus that appear beneath that category.

Contact Information - Probably the most important information on your website is the contact information. Every single page should tell your visitor your address, city, state, zip, telephone number, and email address. Let me say that again- every page should contain your contact information.

We are amazed how often we find websites, even major newspapers (supposedly experts in communication), that don't tell us where they are located or how to contact them. Why would you have a website if you don't tell people where you are, how to contact you, and how to find you? Make your email address a link, so they need only to click on the link, and it opens their email box to send you a message. (If you have an electronic newsletter, also provide a link that will allow them to subscribe quickly and easily.)

Master Template
Together, the Masthead, the Navigation Buttons, and your Contact Information comprise your master template, literally, and on most softwares, figuratively. Once the master template is designed, you can drop your content and photographs into each page, knowing it will be easy and accessible for all your website visitors.

There's still a lot more we can talk about in terms of creating your website. In our next article, we'll talk about the content of your pages, and specifically about writing short, crisp copy; using bullet points; selecting and cropping photographs; use of colors and fonts; and about some gimmics of the web that you want to avoid.

Continue to Weaving Your Website- Part Three, 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.