Websites seem to be the perfect marketing tool for a horse-related business, especially a stud. There’s not only national, but international exposure, and nothing like the kind of space restraints found with traditional marketing channels.
What’s more, anyone interested in your stud is only a few key strokes away from contacting you.
That’s the theory. The reality is quite different.
The owner of a stud or horse business needs to understand the work that will need to go in to make a website work for them. It should only ever be seen as a part of an overall marketing strategy, which will likely include showing or competition, print advertising and stud parades.
Most people have heard of the information superhighway. It’s a good analogy, but don’t expect that your horse website will be parked on prime real estate on the side of the internet equivalent of State Highway 1.
Realistically, when a stud site is launched it will be well down a side street with no road signs pointing to your little establishment. You’re unlikely to ever command a spot on the main road – that’s for the big boys with the big dollars – but if you put in some legwork you’ll get some pretty good signs in place to point people to your website.
Before worrying about getting people to visit your site, you’ve got to have one built.
The important elements are straightforward: a site needs to be clean, smart-looking, follow sound design principles, and be easy to navigate. It must be well written and concise.
The pictures need to be top notch. Poor images rarely make a good-looking website. Excellent pictures can sell a horse, or stallion service, without the client even seeing the animal in the flesh.
Invest some serious energy here. It is surprising how many people will groom a horse to perfection, then photograph it on a burnt-off or weedy paddock, or with a confused background.
Find a setting that helps set a mood for the picture. At the very least, locate some nice green grass with a background that’s uncluttered and without distractions.
Do not doctor the image in picture-editing software. Don’t erase that nasty scar or trim off a little bit of tummy fat. It’s OK to lighten it or darken it to correct an imbalance, even bring out some details in the shadow, but never play with the fundamental truth of a picture.
Make sure the site is free of spelling errors. For many prospective clients, a website may well be their first contact with a stud. If it’s full of spelling mistakes and looks home-built and amateurish, it’s not a good advertisement for an operation.
Make yourself and your business sound as professional as possible: words are not an area to skimp on. Don’t waffle on, either. If you need help in this area, invest in the services of a professional writer.
Finding a web designer
How do you find a web designer? Ask around – find a website you like, and find out who made it. Look in the phone book for web designers and make some calls.
Prices vary dramatically, so get several estimates of cost. Before doing so, work out how you want the site structured, approximately how many pages you believe it will consist of, and how many images you intend using. This information will make it easier for a designer to give you an idea of cost.
Remember that many of your prospective customers will be rural-based, where broadband penetration is poorer. Make sure picture sizes are kept in check, as dial-up users (and there are still plenty of them) will surf off elsewhere if your pages take too long to load.
- A website may be a customer’s first contact with your stud or horse business. It must look professional and be well written.
- Many potential customers will still be on dial-up internet connections. Ensure your web designer keeps pages to a reasonable size so that they load quickly.
- Choose a web address that’s simple, easy to remember, and looks good when run together as one word.
- Update regularly. It helps a site to get noticed in search engines, and gives people a reason to revisit the site.
- Have people pictures on your site, as well as horses. A stud isn’t run by horses; it’s run by people.
- Prices vary dramatically among web designers. Get estimates from several, and ask about how efficiently they’ll handle updates.
- Think carefully about the site’s structure and make the important information the easiest to find. Remember, people may only visit your site for a few minutes, so you’ve got to hook them quickly.
- Use only top quality pictures, and make sure the wording is friendly and to the point. Don’t waffle.
- Treat a website as one of several tools in your marketing – never the only one.
Getting a domain name
Make sure you invest in a good web address, also called a domain name. There are still good ones out there.
When choosing one, say it out loud as you would to a prospective client, and write it down to see how it looks. Avoid hyphens.
Depending on which service you buy your domain name through, it will cost up to $40 a year. That’s on the high side – an average would be $20.
Should you opt for a dot.com address or a dot.co.nz? Generally, if you feel your market is mostly overseas, a dot.com may be a good option. If it’s mostly domestic, opt for a New Zealand address. You can use both if you wish.
Web hosting – your place on the web
Every site needs a “home” in cyberspace, or web hosting. It means that your website resides on a server somewhere that offers the site up whenever a visitor taps your web address into their web browser.
The place you register your domain name through may also offer hosting services. Before you commit to such a service do some homework on costs and benefits and what features the hosting package offers. Some of these packages are very basic. Talk to your web designer about what your site will need in terms of space and features.
Do your homework: find out what services you are likely to need (including how much space your website will take up) and what features come with the hosting package. For example, some hosts may charge extra for additional email addresses, or if traffic rises above a certain level each month.
You may have limits on how much space your site can take up.
Overall, for hosting, expect to pay from around $15 to $40 a month.
If you build it, will they come?
Once your horse site is built and out in cyberspace, you face the challenge of getting people to visit. Firstly, ensure you integrate your site with all other marketing. Always run the web address in print advertisements. Make sure it’s on your brochures and business cards.
The next thing is to get your site registered on search engines. You can ask your web designer to do this. It should only take a couple of hours. If you do it yourself, you need to visit the key search engines – Google is the big one – and manually enter the details of your site.
Within a few weeks the main search engines will hopefully have indexed your site and start bringing it up in searches.
You also need to establish links with other sites, which can be placed on a links page. National and international breed associations are obvious choices. It will be of mutual benefit to link to other studs focused on the same breed, but be sure they link back to you. There are a host of small horse-related businesses on-line that you can approach.
Keeping it up to date
It’s important to update your site regularly. New content also gives people reason to revisit the site. New progeny, a new stallion or mare, your latest show results, or just news on how you’ve got through the winter all count as good update material. Why not change your pictures occasionally?
Ask prospective web designer how much they will charge for updates as this is crucial to your success. Also, how long do they think they’ll take to get around to doing them? Updates should only take a few minutes in a well designed site, yet some web designers seem to take a long time, and charge accordingly.
Save yourself money
The more organised you are in the way you present the words and pictures to your web designer, the less time the site will take to develop.
If you’re disorganised and tweak endlessly as progress is made, a site can easily cost three or four times as much as necessary.
Decide from the outset what pages you want. Do you want a page for each stallion? Do you want all progeny for sale on one page, or simply invite inquiries? Make sure you have information about yourself and your operation. Do not be backwards in coming forward.
Eminem and Jennifer Lopez have “hits” that we can all easily assess. They’re songs that, through sales, make it on to the pop charts. Websites have them, too, but the problem is that people don’t really know what a “hit” is.
There are plenty of statistic packages out there that count all manner of things. Some are very confusing, and can count individual graphics and elements accessed by an internet user as a “hit”. Your site may be getting hundreds of “hits” a week, but this may actually translate into a dozen visitors accessing half a dozen pages each, with each element counting in the maths.
The most valuable figure to go by is the number of individual visitors a day. A good stats package will tell you how many pages, on average, they accessed, and how many minutes they spent on your site.
What kind of numbers would be adequate? It’s important to bear in mind that most people visiting a stud site are very likely to be your target market. They will at the very least have an interest in your breed, and, because they’re visiting a stud site, are most likely looking at their breeding options.
A stud site that gets 20 to 30 individual visitors a day, who stay for three minutes or more and look at three or four pages, should probably translate into a reasonable inquiry rate.
Put in some effort
Your website will, at the end of the day, perform pretty much like your stud or horse business. It will reward you if you invest time and effort. If you neglect it, results will almost certainly be below expectation.
Never treat a website as anything other than an important tool in promoting your business and generating turnover. Ignore conventional marketing at your peril.
Only a handful of horse businesses could claim that the internet has been central to their success, as opposed to part of it.
Building a site is only the first step. That’s when the real work begins. The worst thing you can do once your site is up is nothing.
Horsetalk designs and hosts websites. Contact us for more information.
First published December, 2006.