Today’s web users expect professional-looking websites that are easy to navigate.
This includes those of farm businesses offering products or services.
But how can you achieve good design and why it can make a difference?
Gone are the days when simply having a website was enough.
Today’s web users expect well-conceived sites and will compare yours with the very best.
A web presence that has a poor design and is rarely updated can damage or undermine a business’s brand and reputation, put off potential customers and ultimately hinder business success.
A good website, however, can support brand-building, instil confidence in potential customers, help people find you and generate new business.
Principles of good web design
Any website an internet user comes to is automatically compared with the last great experience they had online, says Neil Pawley, principal consultant at user experience design agency Foolproof – and because the online world is always evolving, the bar keeps being raised.
“It doesn’t make a difference whether you’re selling potatoes, apples, loans or cars – consumers are looking for the same thing, and they are looking for it within the structures of what they understand,” says Mr Pawley.
Make the navigation familiar
“Web users are very task-focused and they know what they want to achieve – if you put in lots of other things, it can confuse them.
“You need to build feelings of control in your consumer. When you visit a site, you need the familiarity you get from a learned experience. Even if you have never been to that site before, you should automatically know how to use it. It’s cognitively very tiring if people feel lost all the time.”
Your business proposition should be obvious
A visitor to a website should be able to understand quickly who you are and what you do, he says.
“Consumers subconsciously look for a proposition. If you have a brand and great imagery then that’s great – but if your proposition is going off in different directions then it’s very difficult for anyone visiting the site to understand what you do.”
Keep it fresh
Change itself is not something that scares internet users, though, adds Mr Pawley. “Previously, people didn’t like change – it was unsettling. Now, change is something we notice all the time – apps on your phone constantly update, websites change. However, don’t make changes for the sake of it – people will see through that very quickly.”
Have good aesthetics
Aesthetics are hugely important too, and the business’s brand personality needs to shine and be reflected in all of the website, adds Mr Pawley – for example, through font choice, colour and imagery.
“Whenever you talk to consumers, whatever age they may be, they appreciate good aesthetics. They know a bad website when they see it. Previously, people put up with stuff, but now the surroundings matter. Imagery is a very important element of building that aesthetic.”
Six tips for good website design
1 Ask your audience
Never assume that you know exactly what your audience wants because there is a strong chance you will get it wrong.
2 Make your site responsive
It doesn’t matter if you have the best website in the world – if it looks brilliant on a laptop but terrible on a mobile phone, it means nothing. People will lose interest.
3 Be wary of being too different
Being unique can be a great thing. However, ask yourself if there is a reason other people haven’t done something before. Don’t be different for the sake of it.
4 A website’s work is never done
Don’t just create a website and then forget about it. Technology is evolving constantly and people will soon get bored if your site is never updated. This particularly applies to a news section.
5 Don’t weaken the mother brand
You are a farm business, first and foremost. Lead with that – everything else comes from it and because of it.
Be very clear about who you are – if a visitor to your site can’t figure that out in a few seconds, they may well give up and move on.
6 Provide a journey
Give people the ability to move from page to page. The fewer dead-ends there are, the better time users will have on your site and the more time they will spend on it as a result.
Case study: AC Goatham & Son
AC Goatham & Son is a major grower and supplier of apples and pears to Sainsbury’s and Morrisons. Its website recently underwent a big makeover, changing it from a B2B website to one that was consumer facing.
“The farming industry has a lot of B2B relationships so we decided to talk to people we felt were quite iconic and delivered things that were unexpected,” says commercial director Carol Ford. “We wanted our website to have heart, soul and passion – and that’s exactly what we’ve got.”
She admits the change was a risk, but it has paid off and the company has had more engagement through the site than ever before.
“People have contacted us to tell us they have tried our apples – I have just commissioned a small run of thank‑you cards with recipe inserts for these consumers. If people have had a good experience eating one of our apples then I want them to talk about it.”
Best website features
Neil Pawley, consultant at Foolproof, picks out the top design features:
The site is very modern in its approach, which sucks you in. It has a nice interface, is simple to use and there is a contrast between the modern and the natural product, using very strong imagery:
The recipes on the site are well presented – they’re engaging and they give people a reason to come back. You should always be looking for ways to increase the consumer’s likelihood of returning.
It has a responsive design, meaning that it changes to fit a mobile screen as well as a desktop and looks just as good on both:
Case study: Becketts Farm Shop
“Evolution, not revolution – that’s the secret,” says farmer and Becketts farm shop owner Simon Beckett. “Ten years ago websites were just a medium of communication, but when our daughter, Holly, came into the business she recognised that we needed to change.
“Social media was at the forefront of people’s minds when we relaunched the site four years ago, so one of the main drivers was trying to get people more involved and communicating with us.”
And this communication, he says, is a two-way street that he encourages on the website by writing a monthly blog. “We have to communicate. They are the people who put money in our pockets – no one else does,” he adds.
“We have a budget now to keep the website up to date. The worst thing you can do is have a website and not update it.”
A designer comes every week to create new content to share on the website and there is an online booking system for the restaurant.
Mr Beckett is certain the website redesign has boosted business. “Did it hurt us? Absolutely not. Did it help? We have to say that it did.”
Best website features
Neil Pawley, consultant at Foolproof, picks out the website’s top design features:
The homepage has strong primary navigation, with clear dropdown choices that allow customers to access areas of interest quickly.
The farm has received awards, which are well highlighted to help build confidence in the provider and the “Our Story” section keeps it personal and family-orientated:
Contact information is clear, with further information easily available – and the Google map embedded in the page offers an easy way for consumers to locate and visit the farm.
There is a strong social media element. Rather than just offering a range of social brands, the site has a two-way feed for sites including Twitter and Instagram and an active blog feed.
This site is also mobile responsive.
SEO – making your website easy to find
Ben Hall, director at online strategy and SEO company Oscat Media, explains how to make sure your website is found.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimisation. Essentially, it affects the results that appear when a user searches the internet using a search engine such as Google.
SEO determines the relevance of a webpage to a search term. The more relevant and authoritative the website content, the higher up the list the site will appear.
Why is SEO important?
SEO is hugely important in the success of a website. It means potential customers can find you easily when they search online, or look for a product or service you provide.
How to apply SEO to your website
Google could be seen as an index of the world’s biggest book, but you have to give Google a chance to understand your website so it can add it to its search pages.
Content is king for SEO. Consider what keywords and phrases web users might use to search for you and what your business provides – these should be unique and targeted.
This means you need to be an authority on something and need to create relevant content using those keywords.
For example, if you are a farm shop in Warwickshire, you might include a blog post recipe that includes phrases about ingredients from your “farm shop” and “Warwickshire ale”. Your website should be populated with keywords.
Try to provide a reason for customers to keep coming back to your website – such as events, offers or new photos – and drive them to it using social media.
If you can get other professional websites, such as a local Chamber of Commerce, to list you as an authority on something, that will help move you up the rankings. Links from government websites are the best.
Google Webmaster Tools is a free online tool that gives a breakdown of what is wrong with your site. It’s a really good start and is easy to use.
Remember – give the right content, to the right person, at the right time. If you can do that, you’ve got a good website strategy.
Should you manage SEO yourself?
There are more than 200 factors that Google says help a web page. Don’t worry, most SEO experts don’t know all of these either. Some key indicators are obvious and hugely important; others are achieved through testing and learning.
Some people like to cut corners – by buying links from other websites, for example – but search engines such as Google don’t like this approach. They prefer genuine, relevant content.
Be aware that there are plenty of self-help guides and so-called “SEO experts” out there who are not all they say they are. Understanding the basics can give you a head-start and you can always hire a reputable SEO professional, either to manage your SEO or to advise on strategy.