by Mary C. Gruszka
Running a successful farm business relies not only on technical skills in the field, but increasingly on internet and computer skills, as well as promotion and marketing savvy.
To help farmers and farmers markets increase their web presence and skills to better promote their operations, the Farmers Market Federation of New York launched a new website development program.
According to Galena Ojiem, Federation Program Administrator, the Federation’s website program is funded by a grant from the USDA’s Farmers Market Promotion Program and includes a free template-based website design, domain name registration (if needed) and hosting for one year, webinars, and an instructional manual and video on how to administer and update the site. Future years’ hosting fees, to be paid by the farmer or market, will be at a discounted bulk rate from the hosting service. The domain name and website will be the property of the farm or market. The grant can cover websites for 100 farms or farmers markets.
With many marketing avenues available, some may question the value of a website, thinking that it doesn’t matter for local businesses or that it will take too much time, money, or knowledge. Ojiem quickly put those notions to rest.
With the prevalence of review websites, Ojiem noted they already have an online presence. “Most likely a consumer will turn to online reviews to make a buying decision,” Ojiem said. “Something will pop up with your farm name, like a news article or a live review. You don’t have control over the reviews, but you do have control over your website.” A professional looking website can overcome one bad review by giving a better impression of the farm.
Ojiem pointed out that studies showed that 97 percent of consumers search on-line for services in their local area, but only 45 percent of small businesses have websites and can be missing out on business.
Yet not any old website will do. “A poor website is just as bad as no website at all,” Ojiem said. “If it looks like it’s hastily put together, and never updated, customers will get the wrong impression.” In addition, at least half, if not more, of internet searches are done with mobile devices, so a website today needs to be mobile friendly.
For its program, the Federation is using WordPress as its web development platform. “It’s the most popular web site platform,” Ojiem said. “It’s user friendly and allows better SEO [Search Engine Optimization}.” If a website is well-optimized, it will appear high in search engine results. The template chosen is also responsive, which means that it automatically changes its screen presentation according to screen size, making it easier to read on mobile devices.
The template is tailored especially for farms and farmers markets, with two main ingredients –—information and a call to action. Information pages include farm history or other information about the farm, contact information, a map showing location, directions, pictures, products that are available and when, links to social media sites, if any, and blog articles or recipes. A call to action can be a sign-up form for a CSA, an invitation to visit the farm or farmers market, or a newsletter sign-up.
The farm or market will need to gather and write the content before submitting it to the Federation, who then use it to make the website. Creating that personal touch is important, Ojiem said, as people like to connect with local farmers.
“Use your web presence to tell your unique story, who you are, why you farm and how you farm,” Ojiem said. Include some pictures, “Look at the pictures you have or take some,” Ojiem said. Stock photos could be used as a last resort until better pictures can be taken on the farm during the season.
As with the farm story, products too should be given good descriptions, with what makes them unique and different from competitors and the supermarket.
Contact information is most important. In addition to a contact page, this information should be included at the bottom of every page.
A website shouldn’t just be an electronic brochure, Ojiem stressed. “Having a website is better than not having one, but having one that’s regularly updated and maintained is even better,” she said. “If there’s no content, [people] leave your site.”
Adding interactivity and updated content like blogs, articles or recipes, keeps customers engaged and more likely to return to a website. Invite site visitors to post comments or share recipes.
Updates don’t have to be long or perfect. They can be written in advance when one has more time, and then scheduled to be posted later.
While a common template is used for all the sites, they can be customized so that one farm’s site doesn’t need to look like another’s. Ojiem said, there are six different color scheme options, a background photo can be added, and different font types can be chosen.
When choosing colors, “you want subtle, complementary colors, not too clashy or too bright,” Ojiem said. Other things to consider are a good balance between pictures and text, with neither overwhelming the other, and an intuitive menu and links. Avoid scrolling or flashy elements. Visually it should be easy to find what one is looking for. The font needs to be legible and with good contrast against the background.
Don’t worry about getting everything right the first time out. “The website does not need to be perfect. It will always be a work in progress,” Ojiem said. “A nice template and design will make your farm appear professional even if you are a one-man show. Put a little time making your web site and you will reap benefits.”
Those interested in participating in the program start by filling out an interest form at www.nyfarmersmarket.com/websites-interest-form/
They will then be contacted by the Federation and given a list of the items needed for the website.