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How did you become an equine website designer?

I built my first reining horse website for my and my husband's horse business back when the world wide web was just beginning to really take off within the horse industry, around the late 90's. Originally, I had hired a non-horseperson to develop a website for us. But that just didn't work.  After much frustration and inferior results, I finally decided that anything he could do I could do better. After a lot of effort improving my design skills, plus constantly reinventing our own website, people began noticing and complimenting the results and my website design business was born. I have since built and redesigned scores of horse related websites, as well as many websites for other types of businesses. 

Why are professional looking websites important to a horse business?

Think of a website like your very own magazine. First, your customers should be able to find it easily on any news stand. Then, you should have a cover which makes folks want to pick it up and read it from front to back. You should have content that is informative, easily accessible, and keeps a viewer's interest. And you should present your product in upscale fashion, no matter the size of your operation. If you do this, people will respect you and want to be part of what you're doing.

If you think your business is too small for a website, remember that even the smallest scale breeding or training operation can come off looking vibrant and grand with a great design and layout. Your intent should not be to mislead customers, but rather let people know that, no matter the size of your business, you are professional, knowledgeable and a cut above the competition.

What does the average equine website cost?

Prices for websites can start at a few hundred dollars and run into the 6 figure range and higher.  See my price list.  My flat fee includes everything needed for your site to be live and on-line; all domain name and website hosting set-up, menu buttons and artwork, addition of content, and installing searchability features.  I require half down to start a project, and the balance is due upon completion. After completion, I offer 30 days free maintenance to allow for any adjustments and corrections. After that, on websites I have built or redesigned, I charge a minimal fee per page touched for simple updates and a flat fee for the majority of other services. I put everything in a written contract and post all my prices for easy reference.

What are some hidden fees that may come up later?

I hate hidden fees myself, and know my customers do, too.  But some hidden fees that other web designers may charge would be for logo development, photo editing, editorial work, or redesign. Logo development may not be included in your website design estimate, so be sure and investigate this (it is included with me).  An example of photo editing fees would be the work of altering a photograph's poor background to make it more presentable (I include this on a limited basis).  Editorial fees may include editing any text items you submit for use on the website, or writing such items for you. People never seem to fully realize the incredible amount of text on websites. And last but not least, redesign work is almost always an extra charge. For instance, say your website is 75% complete, but you see a cool new graphic and want it incorporated into the design. This may seem like a simple change to you, but it often requires extensive rework of all the existing graphics and can take many hours to complete.

What are a few guarantees a website designer should offer?

I believe the most important things a website designer should guarantee in a written contract are ownership, a time frame deadline and a customer satisfaction guarantee. My contract states that all content on a website is the property and responsibility of the owner, the only exception being if the owner is financially delinquent. Without exception, a time line should be guaranteed, and details should be included in the case the website is late or unsatisfactory.  It is important to realize that searchability components are completely different from actual search RESULTS, but rather refer to the CONTENT of a website which help enhance its searchability.       

Are there some simple programs that a person may want to buy to create a website themselves?

There are hundreds of do-it-yourself website design options on the market. These range from web hosting companies that offer canned templates into which you submit your information, kind of like a blank greeting card into which you print your message, to full fledged website design programs that are used to build custom websites from scratch. But I find that often people will buy a design program and try to build a website themselves only to find they lack the technical knowledge and artistic expertise to do the job right. Like any other do-it-yourself endeavor, some people do have what it takes and can do a great job. But often the project is ruined or neglected and it takes more time and effort to fix than if they'd have hired a professional in the first place. In the end, it all comes down to what you want, need and can afford. 

When would a horse business need to hire a website designer versus build a site themselves?

In my opinion, if you are implementing a simple website just to communicate to the world about yourself, you can probably build it yourself. But if you want your website to represent you in a professional manner, hiring a web designer will pay for itself many times over.

What are the most important three things that a website's home page should contain?

Every home page should include your business name or logo, a way to contact you, and a clear and simple means of accessing the rest of your site. I think an equally important question to ask is what should a home page NOT INCLUDE? It should not include any busy, distracting items like flashing animations and sounds, and it should never direct viewers to any other site but your own. In addition, it should be explanatory, but the pages should not be miles long. Think clean, simple, brief and pretty. This will allow visitors to quickly access the part of your website they are most interested in.

What's the deal regarding search engines?  How does a website rank high in the results?

Having your website show up on search results is a must. But search engines can be tricky and search engine scams are lurking in every dark corner.  I will say that the average horse business does not need to pay for sponsored search engine results. A website that is designed properly will show up on search engines all on its own. The important aspects of searchability lie within the 'guts' of the website, and no matter who promises you what type of result, it simply won't happen unless your site contains the proper elements in the first place.

What are some design features and qualities that you strive for in your websites? 

Personally, I love a style that is understated yet beautiful. I lean toward creating a classy, custom look which captures the imagination and invites a viewer into a website. As far as content, I continually strive for a balance between maximum images and minimum text. I think people are extremely visual these days. Particularly on equine websites, I think people want to SEE horses, not read about them. To me, a website needs to present an item clearly, briefly explain that item, and allow for the easy navigation to other items instantaneously. This sounds deceptively simple, and is something we all take for granted as we explore the internet, but the logistics of coordinating website content in such a way can be extremely challenging.

I think the biggest attributes that have set me apart in the equine website design business have been my eye for style and the fact that I know horses and how to make them look good on-line. Since building my first website years ago, I have worked hard to broaden my vision and keep my design skills growing. I also make it a point to provide exceptional customer service, which is often an overlooked aspect of a website's success. I don't quit until every customer is totally happy with the results of my work, then I make it a point to be promptly available for follow-up services.

If someone is contemplating building a website, how do they begin?

Every website designer will have a slightly different approach.  I would advise a person seeking to build a new or redesign an existing website to contact a web designer you admire. Its like buying a new car or new home. You need what is right for you, and even though a particular designer may do lovely work, their style may not fit your needs. Find some different websites they have built and explore what those cost, how long they took to build, and how long they have been in operation.

Once you've settled on a website designer, the most helpful thing you can do is have an idea of what you want.  Prepare a list of websites that you like, and be ready to explain why you like them. This will help your designer find a style and format that will make you happy.

What are the most common mistakes people make when designing an equine website?

In the area of design and eye appeal, the most obvious mistake I see on horse websites is the use of terrible photos. It doesn't matter what type of horse business you're representing, high quality, professional photos are a must. The other common mistake I see is the use of too many distracting features on web pages, like animations, sounds and banners. The goal of your website should be to show a high standard within your industry.

The biggest mistake in the area of actual website management that I see is lack of maintenance. When viewers re-visit your website and the information is stagnant month after month, they will simply quit returning, and for good reason. The single most important thing a person can do after completing a new equine website is find some reason to update it at least monthly. Fresh photos and videos, show results, customer comments, congratulations messages, etc. Just like the horses in your barn, your equine website needs routine care and grooming. Your site will never grow into the asset you desire unless care and attention are given it regularly.

Bottom line, I feel a good website designer's job should be to construct your site in a tasteful, professional fashion which pleases you, be on hand to keep it operating smoothly as possible, and help you keep your business fresh and appealing for the long term.

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