A good website can be an invaluable tool for a breeder, one that provides an excellent means to educating puppy seekers about your breeding philosophy and your breed.
With demand for puppies very high, breeders don’t need to do much to attract buyers, but a well thought-out website is a good way to screen for the most suitable ones and to show them what responsible breeders do.
Providing the right information can also save you work; visitors to your website can answer their own questions, without calling or emailing you, to figure out if they are a good fit for one of your pups.
Keep reading for tips from Torraine A. Williams, AKC’s Director of IT Development Operations, and Paulina Miller, AKC Associate Product Manager, Marketing.
Get a Domain Name
There are plenty of free website providers, but Torraine says that “there are good reasons to invest a little in your site and not just do everything for free. For example, I strongly encourage anyone building a website to get their own domain name and use it for their website and their email. Registering a domain via any registry, like GoDaddy for example, is an investment of about 20-30 bucks a year. And it will help with marketing your kennel name or your brand. For example: email@example.com instead of firstname.lastname@example.org. You want to advertise for yourself, not for Gmail or AOL.”
You don’t need to be a professional designer to have an attractive, professional-looking website. Providers do, of course, offer design services that you can pay for, but they also have templates that you can personalize yourself. These are professionally designed and are a good starting point. Following a few basic rules will help your site communicate exactly what you want it to.
Torraine: Focus on content “above the fold.” This is the content that is visible to the user when the page loads, without scrolling. Make sure that you have relevant information that will catch the user’s attention as soon as the page loads.
Clear navigation is key. Users often have some idea of what they are looking for. If they don’t see it immediately, they start looking at the navigation to figure out how to quickly find what they are after. Try to keep top-level navigation to five to seven links and make sure that users can find what they want in as few clicks as possible.
Paulina: Consider where you want the user to look. If you have a lot of flashy animations, a busy background, or videos playing, the user won’t know where to focus and can miss key information. You want to steer them through the most important parts of your webpage.
Torraine: More and more people are using the browser on their phone instead of traditional PCs. Make sure your site is mobile friendly.
Paulina: If all your important information is at the bottom after a bunch of photos, will users scroll all the way down to it? If they have to press a button, is it big enough that they can tap it with their thumb on their phone or could they miss and press something else by accident? If it’s all on one side of the page, will they still see it on a smaller screen? A lot of people are researching and shopping from their phones on the go, so don’t assume everyone will be looking at it on a computer.
There are extensions for every browser that allow you to look at your website as if it’s a phone. You can also use your phone or a friend’s phone to test it.
Visitors to your site want to see photos of your dogs and puppies, and great photos are the stars of your website.
Torraine: PNG files are a good choice for websites because they tend to be smaller in file size. But for photos where you want high quality, JPG is often preferred. You can help optimize both types by reducing the size of the image so that it is no bigger than what you want to display on your site and then running it through an image optimizer like ImageCompressor.com or TinyPNG.com. Ignore the PNG in the name. They handle JPGs too.
Paulina: You should always add an Alt Tag to your photos. This is basically a description of your photo that doesn’t show up on your page. Google uses the alt tag to help promote your webpage and surface your photo in the image results, and it allows someone using a screen reader to hear the description of the photo.
What about photo copyrights?
You should take steps to discourage people from stealing your photos. This is a big problem, and disreputable puppy sellers and even scammers do steal photos from conscientious breeders. Conversely, be sure to get permission and acknowledge copyrights on any photos you use that you did not take yourself.
Torraine: Watermark your photos. Or at the very least, add your brand/company name to the image. To reuse the image, someone would have to crop the image (or advertise you).
Paulina: There’s only so much you can do to prevent others from taking your photos, unfortunately. Your best bet is to add a watermark to the photo itself, but things that are on the internet are really public domain.
“WordPress can be used to build small websites to large ones,” Torraine said. “You can host with WordPress or with another company. GoDaddy, for example, hosts WordPress websites at a very affordable annual price.” Others include Weebly, Wix, and Squarespace.
Many puppy seekers start their search on the AKC Marketplace, making it a great place to advertise your litters and to tell them a little about your breeding program. Don’t forget tell them even more – you can include a link to your own website in your ad.
Learn Basic Coding
Paulina suggests that “if you want to get deeper into how your website works, you can learn some basic coding. There are lots of free resources, such as CodeCademy – they even have a course dedicated to building a website using Wix or you can do their more general HTML and CSS courses. This won’t be enough to give you a career as a developer, but it’ll allow you to make tweaks to your website when you just want to move the photo a little to the left or increase the spacing under the header.”
Keep Information Current
Keep information on your site current. If you are not planning a litter for a long time, say so. This can save you needing to respond to lots of phone calls and email messages. But even if no puppies are planned, it’s nice to report on your dogs’ accomplishments. Showing that you are busy with them will let future puppy seekers see what goes into making your dogs worth waiting for.