The Electronic Gateway

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If you run an equine business, it’s vital in this day and age to have a Website. More and more horse people are using the Internet as a way to gather information about their hobby. Not only do they search the Net for breed information and health topics, but also for riding lessons and boarding facilities.

Just any old Website won’t do, however. Your site needs to effectively communicate what you are about. That’s easy enough to achieve if you understand the necessary elements to create an eye-pleasing and easy-to-use home on the Web.

Website Needed

There are countless reasons for having your farm or business on the Web, according to Scott Bailey, a Website designer with the Arabian Horse Network in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“The first of many benefits is that a well-designed Website allows your potential client to view and retain pertinent information on your business at their leisure, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, from anywhere in the world,” he says. “Another benefit is the time savings earned by displaying basic information to the public, allowing the business owner to concentrate on actually running the business.”

According to Bailey, the third most important benefit deals with the cost savings resulting from the effective use of advertising dollars. “You get your message to more potential customers for fewer dollars,” he says.

Although some horse people still spend a lot more time in the barn than at the computer, the horse industry is becoming very Web-savvy, according to Suzy Brown, lead designer and owner of Equine Originals in Klamath Falls, Ore.

“The Internet has been widely utilized for over 10 years and opens up opportunities all over the world for marketing,” she says. “It is often the first place a client will go when looking for the perfect stallion to breed their mare to, or find their next show prospect.” Brown also notes that a potential client may see an advertisement in a magazine and look up the farm’s Website before deciding to contact the breeder or trainer.

Making sure your Website has good design is vital, since a bad site isn’t going to do your business much good. “It’s really important to keep in mind that a Website is more than just an informational source, and it’s more than just a sales and marketing tool,” says Ken Lonsinger, a professional Website designer in Pittsburgh, Penn. “It’s a reflection of who you are and how you live your life.”

Lonsinger notes that until recently, people were willing to overlook poorly designed Websites because of the newness of the technology. “But the Web is now 10 years old and people are more demanding and more discerning of the sites they visit,” he says. “With so many competing products and services, if a site can’t be viewed, navigated and searched easily, people will quickly move on to another site.”

Making It Good

The elements that make a Website attractive and easy to use, according to Bailey, are:

• an eye-catching home page to get people interested

• clear contact information

• a purpose that is understandable

• clear navigation and easy-to-use buttons

• frequently updated content

“On average, people spend very little time on each Website,” Bailey says. “If the farm’s Website is not clear, easy to follow and interesting, potential clients will not spend the effort or time to look any further.”

Although many people focus on having a website that is pretty to look at, sites don’t have to be beautiful in order to be good, according to Lonsinger. “It’s easy to get caught up in making a site beautiful to look at, and people are indeed more likely to pause when they come across a well-designed site,” he says. “But although good design is still part of a well-packaged site, it isn’t the end-all anymore. People come to a site because they’re looking for something, and the easier you make it for them to find what they’re looking for, the more likely they are to do business with you.

“To accomplish that, a site has to have a logical structure, or architecture, and the major sections should be located in a navigation system that is consistent from page to page.” Lonsinger notes that your farm or barn’s name should also appear on all pages, usually larger on the home page than the others. Contact information should never be more than one click away.

“If your customers come from both near and far, consider getting an 800 number for added convenience,” he says. “Not only is it a nice thing to do for potential customers, it adds an air of professionalism and success that says, ‘I mean business.’”

It’s also important to focus on getting your site to the top of the search engines, which will help customers find you. “What good is a well-designed, well-organized site if nobody can find it?” says Lonsinger. “Each page in your site needs to have a concise, one- or two-sentence description to use as its ‘meta-data.’ A site designer should add very specific text to describe what each page is about. Keywords can also be added as additional meta-data. This data will give the search engines something to grab and add to their lists.”

Lonsinger notes that the more specific the description, the more likely your site will be listed when someone searches on a specific word. “There are a million horse Websites, but if your home page description says ‘Appaloosa breeder located in Riverside County, Calif.,’ you are much more likely to be near the top of the list for anyone searching for something specific.”

Professional Help

Although a number of software programs exist to enable you to create your own Website, a professional designer will provide you with an attractive, user-friendly site that will show up high on search engine lists.

Finding a Web designer is not difficult, although finding a good one who understands the equine industry takes some prospecting. “Sure, your 13-year-old nephew may have made a Website in computer class, but that does not make him a professional,” says Brown. “Don’t skimp on the design of your site.” Brown says that a company which specializes in the equine industry can offer expert advice on how to arrange your site in ways you may have never considered.

“The equine industry is unique not only in its terminology, but in its people,” she says. “A designer that does not understand differences in disciplines or breeds will have a hard time representing those qualities on a Website.”

Bailey says that contracting with a Website design company with experience in the horse industry, while more expensive than creating your own site, is often less expensive than hiring other professional design firms. “This will also lead to a more professional Web presence for your horses,” he says.

Bailey advises that when selecting a company to design and host your Website, be sure to look at sites they have completed in the past. “Ask yourself these questions,” he says:

• “Do they understand the industry?

• Are their Websites attractive, error-free and interesting?

• Are their sites logical and easy to navigate through?”

Although up-front costs on a Website design may seem high, when compared to costs of print advertising, a Website is the most cost-effective advertising you can have for your farm or horse business—and well worth the effort.