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CATTLE TODAY

WEBSITES OFFER PRODUCERS MARKETING ADVANTAGES

by: Dana Stewart
Director of Member Services, American Gelbvieh Assoc.

(Reprinted with permission form the January 2007 Gelbvieh World.)

A BREEDER'S WEBSITE is a powerful tool. By using the Internet, potential customers can search for Gelbvieh breeders and find seedstock providers both near and far. Hundreds, even thousands of people can get a true look at your program with just a few clicks of a mouse.

Websites allow their creators many advantages over traditional print advertising: Distribution is virtually unlimited, customers can easily respond through email links and feedback forms, and the cost of publishing a website can be much more economical than print advertising for large audiences.

On the other hand, a website can also be a powerful tool to drive business away. That's right, the same tool that can draw interest in your program and genetics can also turn interest away. An outdated or cluttered site can give visitors a negative impression, thus limiting repeat visitors and actual responses from the site.

It's important to remember the purpose of a website: to draw attention to your farm or ranch, and your genetics. As you take this time to study your website and other websites, think about what the purpose is as well as the goals that should be set to maximize the time and investment of websites.

There are a few basic rules to follow to ensure that your website reaches its greatest potential. By potential, I mean reaching the greatest audience that is most likely to take action from your site. By doing so, it will only be a matter of time before your site pays for itself and more.

Rules to Follow

1. The site must be easy to read.

2. The site must be easy to navigate.

3. The site must have a consistent look and feel.

4. The site must download quickly for all visitors.

5. The site must be updated regularly!

Easy to Read

The first rule is that the web site must be easy to read. The human eye is naturally trained to read in a specific way.

Here are a few things to do:

1. All caps text should be avoided because it doesn't flow well and takes longer to read.

2. Lines of text that stretch all the way across the page because, again, it creates more work for the eyes and takes longer to read. Don't forget to create paragraphs and watch out for bad line breaks.

3. Light colored text on a light background or dark colored text on a dark background. Contrast is the key.

4. Large type can make a site look unsophisticated. It's difficult to read because the eye isn't able to see whole phrases at a time.

Easy to Navigate

Next, a site must be easy to navigate. Let's face it - in our industry, our audience is composed of varying ages, varying education, and varying Internet comfort levels. So, one must assume when developing a website for a cattle operation, you're not going to attract the most Internet savvy users.

It must be clear how your site is structured. It's a good idea when developing a site to sketch out how you want the pages of the site to be linked together. With a small site, it might be easiest to simply link all the pages together and provide a menu on each page, so that users can get to any page from where they are currently browsing. Of course, it isn't that easy for larger sites with dozens of pages. To guide browsers through the site, a navigation scheme can simply be linked text or buttons the browser clicks. If using buttons, however, again make sure they are properly sized, as large buttons and text look unprofessional.

Less complex than diagramming how pages should link together, one must also make sure that all pages provide at least a link back to the home page. Pages without links are dead ends and prevent browsers from experiencing all that your site can offer.

Consistent, Look & Feel

Consistency is important because it builds an image that browsers can associate with you. Consistency is easy to achieve with color schemes, text, and graphics. For example, all pages of the site should have the same background color. Colorizing text can be used to divide information on the page, such as using one color for section names, another color for text in a section, and another color for captions. Also, be repetitive with things such as the navigation bar. Placing the navigation bar repeatedly in the same location makes it easy and quicker for users to get where they want to go within the site.

Quick Download Speed

Long download speeds can really drive an audience away from a site. We've all been there, sitting, waiting for picture to download. You go get a drink, come back to the computer and it's still not finished. So, you go find a snack to go with your drink. A few hundred unnecessary calories later and if you're lucky, it's finished downloading.

Again, think about your audience. Most people visiting a site to find more information about your cattle are probably going to live in rural areas where high speed Internet isn't an option. Dial up users will have a difficult time loading a site that is graphic heavy; so don't go over the top with graphics. If you a feature several animals on one page, provide a thumbnail or smaller image that is linked to a larger image. This will make the page download quickly.

When taking pictures, you're camera should always be set around 300 dpi (dots per inch). This will ensure that the picture you take will be crisp and clear when developed. But, as a general rule of thumb, images for a website only need to be 72 dpi. You could set your camera for a lower resolution picture at 72 dpi when taking shots for your website. However, what if that once in a lifetime photo opportunity presents itself - you're then stuck with a photo too small to use in print advertising or to make a hard copy print. And if that photo happened to be the perfect shot of your herd bull, then that's tough luck because it will be too small to feature in your next ad.

To remedy this problem, after you download the pictures taken with your digital camera, spend a few minutes resizing the photos you plan to use for your website. Most basic photo applications like Photoshop Elements or Microsoft Picture Manager can easily resize photos to the resolution that you need. The visitors to your site will greatly appreciate it.

Keep it Current

Updates are one of the most critical components of a good website. Keeping your site updated will keep visitors coming back for more. First, set a goal for how often you plan to update your site: monthly, bimonthly, etc. Of course, the more you keep updating your site, your visitors will continue to come back to see the latest news.

While you may not always have new items to add to the site, it's important to remove outdated items to let visitors know that the site is current. If the sale catalog from your bull sale three years ago is still on the home page, visitors are likely to discredit the information they see. If you believe that outdated information is valuable and would still like for it to appear on the site, consider creating an archives section for past newsletters, sale catalogs, etc.

Links are another aspect of updating a site. Always make sure that all the links within the site are working properly. This includes links to outside sites as well. If you have linked to another organization, check it periodically to make sure the site is still up and working or that the address hasn't changed.

Getting Visitors to your Website

To ensure that your site gets as much as exposure as possible there are a few steps that can be taken so that web surfers will find your site. Submit your website address to popular search engines such as Google or Yahoo.

Other steps include ensuring that all pages of the site have a title and including meta tags like keywords and description in the website properties. Automatic search engines use the keywords and descriptions you provide when potential visitors use the search tool.

Don't forget to advertise your site on all direct mail pieces, print advertising and business cards. The American Gelbvieh Association offers a free website link service to members. Each year when members receive the Member Preferences list mailed with the annual herd assessments, simply mark responses accordingly and provide a website address.. That information will then be linked on the AGA member locator tool.

One final tip: Make sure that your site gets your message across. It's a good idea to look through a few websites and find what you like and don't like. Keep notes and use them as a guide.

Now that you've read the preceding tips, use them to analyze your current website. Is your website maximizing your investment? If not, it's worth the time to spruce it up, give it a new look, or update content. If you don't have a website or are just thinking about one, keep these ideas in mind when you decide it's time to jump on the information super highway.

Suggested pages for your site:

About Us or History: Tell the story of your operation so that your visitors will connect with you.

Contact Us: Provide contact information such as a phone number or email address.

Herd sires and/or Donors: Feature the foundation of your breeding program. Provide pictures, pedigree information, and how the animal is used in your program.

For Sale: Take advantage of the opportunity to make a sell when visitors come to the site. This can apply to private treaty sales or posting your sale catalog.

Success: Feature show champions or high selling lots from your program.

Links: Provide links to other websites like the American Gelbvieh Association

Archives: A place to store past newsletters, catalogs, etc.

Feedback Form: Allows for immediate response from visitors.

Editor's Note: Some information for this article was taken from "The Non Designer's Web Book: 2nd Edition" by Robin Williams and John Tollett. Dana Stewart is the American Gelbvieh Association Director of Member Services. She can be reached at danas@gelbvieh.org.

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