(This is Part 6 of the "Farming the Web" farm web design course)
Google has become more than a search engine -- it is the gateway to the Internet for most users. In my discussions with farmers and other clients, I realize that it is not exactly clear how Google works and how your farm gets listed on this very important search engine. First off, let me say that this is a topic that has spawned an entire industry called Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but I believe I can relate a few basics that will bring you up-to-speed quickly. For most farms, there is no reason to bog down in the minutia of SEO.
Search engine traffic is probably not an important aspect of most farm's marketing unless you are producing and shipping added-value products through an e-commerce store on your website. But it is worthwhile to take some time to get people to link back to your site. You should always list your site on Localharvest and New Farm Farm Locator and any other local directories that exist in your state or region. I should put together a "directory of directories" to help make the search for regional directories simpler.
A few more ideas for links: local Chamber of Commerce, farmer's market websites, member/customer blogs, farming associations that you belong to, and local farmer friends websites'. Just send a simple email message to the webmaster of the site to ask for a link.
The great thing about links is that they help you in Google search results, but they also get your farm visibility on related websites that people will click through and find out about your farm and what you offer. This implies perhaps the overriding principle in getting search engine traffic: do right by "human" users -- create links on relevant websites and generate solid content on your website -- and you will get right with Google.
I think for the average local farm that is not worried about capturing a national market for value-added goods, there are a few simple real-world marketing suggestions to get your website noticed by the people that matter:
Of course, all of the suggestions in this post rely on a well-designed website that engages your visitors and customers when they visit. This takes time and commitment that will pay off over months and years. A comfortable balance between content generation on your website and low-tech search engine optimization techniques will lead to a very effective website for your farm. If you can stick with it over the long term, you will have more informed and dedicated customers.