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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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Your Website Design Choices Made Simple

By Jane Eckert

We have had some phone calls recently inquiring about WordPress websites and what they are and how they may differ from other web design.  While WordPress software and others like it (e.g. Drupal, Joomla, Php-Nuke) have been around for many years, the recent proliferation of optional templates has helped a lot people see that this software does much more than mere blog formats.  But the calls also reminded me that most farmers are unaware of their options, and may just assume a website is a website.  Not so!  You have choices!

To help you find the right website for your needs, I’d like to review some of the current options for website design.  In this article, I’ll discuss these options and a few of the pros and cons of each, and then you can decide what format best suits the needs for your farm or market. All of these terms should be familiar to your current or prospective website designer, although some designers may have more expertise in some areas than others.  That’s another reason you should know your options.

  1. A Full Service Web Design is when your designer does it all for you!  They become your marketing partner to create the look of your website using your logo, pictures and ideas that you provide them.  They will determine the navigation of the site – how to move from page to page.  They will write the copy and both size and place your photographs on the pages to enhance the look and brand of your farm.

A full service designer should not only have the know-how to write effective copy but also understand the programming necessary to get your website ranking higher with the search engines.  This is now called Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and truly a critical factor in the selection of your designer and choice of website format. Your goal should always to have your website come up on the first page of a search.

Future updates and photo additions are done by the web designer as you request them.  For many farms, updates are done once or twice a year depending on the length of your season.

  1. Full Service Web Design plus select Content Management includes all of the above with the addition of a “content management system” (CMS).  The CMS allows the client to update selected blocks of copy and photographs within the context of the established website design. 

Typically, a CMS system might add a box on the home page for the farm to update as what’s happening today on the farm.  The Pick Your Own page and Events Calendar are also pages where frequent updates might be needed.  Therefore the client can have access to these pages through a password-secure administrative page to create new text and post it directly to the website. This saves you the time of contacting your web designer, and allows you to get the information posted immediately at any time of day.

A CMS system does not totally replace the need for your website designer to provide some maintenance but it does allow the client some flexibility to react quickly to news and events on the farm.

  1. A Complete Content Management System Website will allow the client to add, delete or replace text and images, or even add or delete whole pages of the website.  This is achieved through special CMS purchased software, and the most common of these providers is called WordPress.  Originally designed for blogs, WordPress allows the client to log into their own control panel and make the changes in a WYSIWYG (jargon for: “what you see is what you get”, pronounced “wizee-wig”) format.  The software bypasses the html, php and programming code as used in options 1 and 2 to create pages much like you would to create a word document.

Your web designer can create the website using WordPress or similar software and then turn it over to the client for full maintenance.  WordPress has literally thousands of templates that can be purchased (some are free) to match the look and format that you desire, or most designers can customize the WordPress software for a look of your very own.

This is a format that is growing in popularity as a means to reduce ongoing operating expenses; however, it does have its shortcomings. The farm personnel need to be skilled in writing for the web and understanding the requirements of good SEO content to continue to get first page rankings. Of course, you can learn more by reading Word Press Web Design for Dummies to see if this is really a good option for you.

“Going WordPress” doesn’t necessarily mean going it alone.  Talk with your web designer about your options—will she/he be available to help you with ongoing design and layout, special online registration forms, etc.?  Ask too about the turn-around time for such services, and, of course, the costs.  If your web designer is willing to provide ongoing, hourly and timely support, this gives you a combination of having the flexibility to make routine changes on your own, with the ongoing assistance for special forms and good SEO.

If you are just selecting your web designer, I encourage you to have this discussion up front, particularly if you are looking for a complete CMS site using WordPress or a similar software. Some design agencies specializing in this type of site are not staffed for providing ongoing support once the website has been created.

  1. A Responsive Website is often referred to in reference to mobile site design, however, it all begins with the design of your primary website. The responsive website allows for the site to “respond” to the size of the screen on which it is viewed—the configuration, font size and image sizes all change when viewed on a tablet or a smartphone.  The same information is seen on the smartphone that you would see on a full screen on your desk, but for the phone, the page may be one long column instead of 3 columns side by side.  The responsive site adjusts the font size, image sizes, and total layout based on the screen size you are using.

The easiest way for you to understand this is to go to the website of the Boston Globe www.bostonglobe.com and view on your desktop computer and also on your Smartphone.

You will see how the three column design on the desktop shrinks to a one column on your Smartphone.  This type of fluid design requires more time and cost upfront but once completed you will also have a mobile site.  The site is able to respond due to extensive programming and design planning by your website designer, who must program and test every page to adjust to different screen sizes.  When you think of the variety of screen sizes—desktops, tablets, and various smartphone screens—you can perhaps appreciate the programming required.

While this type of design certainly works for a newspaper, it doesn’t seem to me to work for our type of farm businesses that are looking into design of a mobile website.  Next month, I will spend more time discussing the features of a good mobile website and what you should know about them.  The mobile website is a special marketing tool, and our data suggests that more farms should be adding this service for their customers.

A good website is still your most important tool to reach a broad audience of not only your customers but prospective customers as well. Therefore, making a sound website design choice that is right for you and your farm is essential.  The Internet tools keep changing, and it is important for you to keep up with the new technology. If you have any questions after reading this article please don’t hesitate to give me a call.

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.