Dog Breeder Websites & Social Media | Q&A w/ Matt Stelter
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Dog Breeder Websites & Social Media

The Dog Journal Q&A Interview with Matt Stelter

Irish Setter standing by lake
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This interview was originally published in The Dog Journal Volume 2, Issue No. 1, January/February 2024 issue.

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Questions about Websites for Dog Breeders:

Q: Why should a dog breeder have a website, and when do they know it’s time to build one?

In the modern day, if a dog breeder wishes to be found by prospective puppy shoppers without spending money on advertising, then having an optimized website is crucial. An important fact to realize is while ideas and inspiration may start on social media, most purchases begin on Google. When prospective puppy buyers start looking for a breeder, just like with any other important purchase, like a car or appliance, the majority start with a Google search. There is a famous quote from Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia. He said:

“If you aren’t on Google, you don’t exist!”

~Jimmy Wales – Wikipedia

And it really is true. When it comes to selling puppies, it is Google’s world, and to be successful, we need to be playing in it. Google’s market share of both desktop computer and mobile search is staggering. And, one thing puppy shoppers won’t find at the top of Google is your Facebook page.

Q: Does a breeder guarantee its success by simply building and maintaining a website?

Absolutely not. A website can only be successful if it attracts the right audience to it and inspires that audience to take the desired action. So, for a dog breeder website to be successful, it must attract a significant traffic volume of prospective puppy buyers. Then, the content must convince the audience to take action (i.e., inquire about a puppy, ask for more information, request an application, etc.)

Q: In your opinion, what should be some obvious pieces of a website, specifically in the purebred dog industry?

A quality dog breeder website needs to contain several important components. First, it should have specific information about your dogs. That would include registered names, titles, pedigrees, dog details (AKC registration #, color, health test results, etc.), as well as important information about your puppy selling process (application, reservation, deposit, and selection process). Next, it must include your story, background, bloodlines, purpose for breeding your specific breed, and any areas of emphasis in your program. All of this is important to buyers as they determine if you are the ideal breeder to provide them with their dream puppy.

Finally, invest in professional photography of your dogs and puppies. A picture is worth a thousand words. You can’t create an attractive website without fantastic imagery.

“If you aren’t on Google, you don’t exist!”

Newborn Bi-Blue and Bi-Black Sheltie puppies

Q: What can a dog breeder do to help their website be more effective?

Making your website enjoyable for visitors is critically important, regardless of whether viewed on a desktop, tablet, or smartphone. If your website isn’t designed to be mobile-friendly, it is doubtful you will find it ranking well on Google.

It also needs to be fast, especially on smartphones. Mobile users will abandon a website in seconds if it doesn’t load quickly. The design of the website template, or theme, plays a big part in how quickly a website loads. Heavy, outdated code and large image files will weigh down a website and harm its performance metrics. Modern platforms resolve these issues.

Hosting, or the remote server(s) where the website is stored, also significantly affects site speed and performance. You get what you pay for with hosting. Cheap, “shared” hosting – where your site might sit on the same server with hundreds or thousands of other websites – will save some money each month; however, performance and security will suffer. Dedicated hosting – or even better, cloud hosting – will cost more, but it will set your website up to deliver a fast and secure experience for visitors. And, Google will recognize it.

Q: Does it cost a lot to build and manage a website?

Building a website no longer requires technical knowledge of HTML and “programming code.” Modern website builder tools enable almost any computer-literate (note, not tech-savvy!) breeder to build and manage their own website. Over time, that will save a lot of money by not needing to pay a web developer, particularly for future site updates with new dogs, pictures, and information.

Wix and Squarespace are quality entry-level website builders that can create a modern website and support a basic level of SEO. However, if you are looking to develop your website into a high-performing marketing machine for your breeding program, it is likely you’ll outgrow them and need to rebuild on a more advanced platform. WordPress is the optimal choice for most breeders when combined with a modern, mobile-friendly theme and quality hosting. As with any software, there is a slight digital learning curve, but there are plenty of how-to videos on YouTube to become proficient on the platform.

My recommendation is to avoid Weebly and GoDaddy website builders, as dog breeder sites often struggle to achieve SEO success on those platforms.

For breeders who do not want any part of a website’s design, building, or maintenance – or who simply want professionals to do the work – the best option is to find a good web developer or design agency with a solid understanding of mobile-first design and SEO. Ideally, they are digital experts familiar with purebred dogs – or well-bred animals, at least. They will know how to showcase your dogs digitally to the world.

Q: What is SEO, and how does it work?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a crucial digital marketing industry focused on improving a website’s visibility in Google and other search engines like Bing and Yahoo. It involves various techniques, practices, and strategies intended to optimize both the on-page and off-page elements to improve a website’s search engine rankings, which can result in increased traffic volume. The goal is to attract website visitors who want to purchase what you have for sale. 

Unfortunately, the knowledge of how to execute effective SEO strategies doesn’t exist among many website builders, let alone dog breeders. The AKC and Good Dog have published articles about SEO’s importance to dog breeders, but neither has been able to explain it, or the required strategy, in basic language that breeders can understand and apply. SEO requires both technical and creative expertise to be done correctly. Most companies hire either experienced in-house professionals or an outside SEO agency to optimize their websites. At the Better Breeder Institute, we have worked to explain these concepts so breeders can understand them and apply them to their own websites. Click here to learn more about SEO for dog breeders.

Q: Do you feel it’s important to have all the content on the website SEO-optimized?

It would be essential to SEO-optimize any content you want people to find by a Google search. That would include dogs, services, pages, and even page sections. There are specific tactics to optimize these elements to rank highly on Google search result pages.

Matt Stelter in a suitcoat
AKC Breeder/Judge Matt Stelter has spent over two decades working in digital marketing.

Q: How often should a website be updated and fresh content put up?

Google likes and rewards fresh content. However, what would be considered new content for a dog breeder website may be different than for a news station or a fashion blogger. Regardless, Google wants to know there is a “live pulse” behind a website and that wasn’t just a “set it and forget it” project. Regular updates about new dogs, new litters, new photography, or updated health test results are all great things to add to the website as they come in.

Q: How long should it take for a good website to be built?

A website build time will vary based upon the volume of content it will contain, as well as the number of dog profile pages there will be. Now, that doesn’t mean a website needs to be 100% complete to be published. Most websites are built over time. A website can launch with just a home page and a few content pages, and the rest of the pages can be developed as time allows. 

Ideally, there would be a profile page for every dog in your breeding program, as well as any notable dogs in your program’s history. If the website utilizes a pedigree database, it can take additional time to set up. However, once the foundation is set, new pedigrees can be created on-page in seconds.

A basic website can usually be built in 5-10 hours, while a more elaborate website with several dog profile pages and pedigrees could take 30-40 hours. As proficiency in the platform of choice increases, new content can be developed and published quickly.

Q: Is there any such thing as having too much information on a website?

Yes, certainly at a high level (homepage and navigation), and we see many cases of this on current dog breeder websites. It is important to get visitors to the most important content on a website and not distract them with less valuable or irrelevant content. Site categories should be limited and structured in a vertical hierarchy to allow traffic to navigate quickly and easily to the content they want. 

Websites can certainly contain deep and complementary content (provided it is relevant), but it should be nested properly to be found by those looking for it, and not able to distract other site visitors.

Q: In choosing someone to build a website, what are some things to ask or look for in a good web developer?

Select an individual or agency with a strong portfolio of fast, mobile-friendly websites built on a modern platform. Also, ensure they are SEO-proficient and clearly understand that your website must be optimized to rank for your breed and location.

So, how do you know if a developer is publishing fast, optimized sites? A good place to start is PageSpeed Insights. Go to the site and paste in the URL of their client websites. Perfect scores aren’t required, but they should all be in the “Green,” or closely approaching it.

PageSpeed Insights Rating

Also, ask what kind of hosting your site will have. Is it shared, dedicated, or cloud-hosted? Premium hosting won’t necessarily make you rank higher on Google, but low-quality hosting will cause Google to rank you lower, and cause frustration for you, and for your site visitors. 

Q: Is there any other advice that comes to your mind when you think about building and maintaining a website?

In many cases, you get what you pay for in digital. “Cheap” websites and hosting rarely perform on Google. However, realize that an optimized website is an investment in owned digital real estate, and its value and performance will only increase over time.

Outside of a Facebook Business Page, dog breeders will find it difficult to advertise effectively on social media effectively.

Golden Retriever standing over water

Questions about Social Media Marketing for Dog Breeders:

Q: What are some of the most effective ways to advertise on social media?

Outside of a Facebook Business Page, dog breeders will find it difficult to advertise effectively on social media effectively. Overtly “selling animals” violates the policies of most, if not all, social media platforms. At best, breeders can hope to attract an audience of breed lovers by publishing high-quality breed-specific content.

With a Facebook Business Page, a breeder has the ability to reach a broader audience, particularly people who are not personal friends, or friends of friends. With a Business page, breeders can focus solely on their dogs and fill the page with great pictures and content about them. With some effort and a little luck, a breeder can earn a dedicated fan following that organically shares their content with other breed lovers. 

AKC Breeder Symposium - Matt Stelter Facebook
Matt Stelter presenting on social media at the 2023 AKC Breeder Symposium in Houston, Texas

Q: What’s the point of social media advertising?

Generally, advertising on social media (i.e., paying for placement) is not something I’d advise dog breeders to do, as it is pretty hard for a breeder to realize any measurable return on investment from such expenditures. Facebook CAN be an effective advertising channel for some industries, but only through spending money and having the marketing insight to correctly select and target a desired audience. But, a breeder is still only advertising to attract eyeballs, as selling puppies is prohibited. Trying to do so will get the account suspended.

Also, as soon as you pay Facebook once, the organic distribution of your future content will shrink noticeably and permanently.  You’ve now told Facebook that you are willing to pay for traffic, so why should they keep giving it to you for free?

Q: How long does it typically take for a person to go from seeing something on social media, to researching it, and then ultimately purchasing it?

Purchase cycles will vary by person and by product. Generally, the more expensive an item, the longer the purchase cycle. Marketing 101 teaches the conversion funnel, and the top level is Awareness, which is what social media tends to be best at. Conversion, or the purchase, is at the other end of the funnel. Social media might be able to “fill your funnel,” but your content marketing (i.e., website) will be most effective at engaging visitors and leading them down the path to purchase.

Q: What is Influencer marketing, and does it work for dog breeders?

Influencer marketing is a strategy where brands collaborate with individuals with substantial online followings to promote their products or services. This approach leverages influencers’ trust and credibility with their audience, aiming to boost brand awareness, engagement, and potentially drive sales. The success of influencer marketing depends on factors like the relevance of the influencer to the brand, trust and authenticity, engagement levels, content quality, and well-defined goals.

When executed effectively, influencer marketing can be a powerful tool for reaching target audiences, but it requires careful planning, measurement, and adaptation to achieve desired results in an ever-evolving digital landscape. However, I’m unaware of any examples of this being done effectively by dog breeders.

Q: Surely, if you spend thousands of dollars on social media marketing, and you get tens of thousands of views, your business will be successful, right?

Likely not. The only guarantee is that you’ll no longer have thousands of dollars.

Q: In your opinion, which of the different social media sites are the best for selling puppies?

Facebook Business Page would be the only channel I’d recommend that dog breeders invest time and energy in to potentially attract new puppy buyers.

Q: Any final advice on social media marketing?

Many companies waste a lot of money and resources trying to be active on multiple social media channels. The most crucial consideration in social media marketing is first to realize which social media channel (or maybe two) your target audience is on, and develop your presence there in a professional and consistent manner. Do this rather than spreading yourself thin across several channels – and likely not doing justice by any of them.

 

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