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AGRICULTURE ONLINE OFFERS NEW TOOLS FOR PRODUCERS, MARKETERS
Editor's Note: On Jan. 18, 2005, a new version of Successful Farming's Agriculture Online was launched. After 10 years of success, the revamped Web site offers producers and agricultural marketers a host of tools to meet the needs of both groups. Here to tell us more about the site renovations are John Walter, editor, and Scott Mortimer, national sales manager.

AM: What new features and benefits are producers seeing on the redesigned Web site?

John Walter
Walter: A few of the features are a new search tool that organizes results from news stories, classifieds listings and yellow pages into one listing; a new "Views" section that combines the previous "Correspondents" page with opinion articles from the magazine and Web site editors; and tools that help farmers research buying and selling decisions - the Buyer's Guide, Classifieds and Yellow Pages - are featured more prominently. Also, the Marketing section allows visitors to find updated local cash grain prices, charts and basis information, in addition to the weekly commentary from leading market analysts, commodities markets news from Dow Jones Newswires, and other daily market features.

AM: Over the past 10 years, what have users enjoyed most about Agriculture Online? How have you enhanced this in the new version?

Walter: The most popular sections on our site long have been the interactive features - discussion groups, polls, classifieds, yellow pages and the like - content with which visitors directly participate and leave something on the site. With the relaunch, we've taken these interactive features into the next generation of functionality, redeveloping them in contemporary code and adding new elements. Weather, news and markets are popular features, too, and we've tried to maintain a grassroots approach to those sections. We've added more sections to news, a cash grains service to markets, and a regular weather/markets commentary.

One of the benefits of the relaunch is that our site is now fully wedded to Meredith Corporation's infrastructure. That's going to give us new powers to develop content and tools for readers and advertisers. As our "big sister" sites, like Better Homes and Gardens, go off in new directions, we'll be able to follow. And we hope to lead the company at times, too, as we have in years past.

AM: What advertising/promotion opportunities are being offered to marketers with the newly redesigned Agriculture Online?

Scott Mortimer
Mortimer: With the new Agriculture Online, we will be able to offer agrimarketers the latest in the Interactive Advertising Bureau's universal ad package marketing units. The new advertising units on Agriculture Online include a leader board, wide skyscraper, and buttons. We also will be introducing interactive quizzes, advertising slide shows, sponsored news items and sponsor call outs. Also, with the Ag Adviser market research panel consisting of more than 1,500 registered panel members, we can often deliver results that include more than 500 completed surveys to a customer within seven to 10 days of posting the survey. In addition, we now have the capability to tap into our parent company's extensive resources in health, business, home and family, travel and woodworking. These assets can be utilized to help customize unique marketing programs for our agrimarketing customers.

AM: Are there features marketers may have never seen on an agricultural Web site?

Mortimer: Some features are new, some have been around for a while, but the advantage our customers will have is that their ad messages will be surrounded by highly relevant content and in an environment that stresses both community and interactivity. Our model is not one that is built on spam e-mail programs and static editorial pages. We feel that when our users leave a piece of themselves on the site, it makes for a much better user experience and ultimately a better environment for our advertising customers to sell their products.

AM: How has user feedback been utilized in this redesign?

Walter: We have always kept in close touch with farmers and ranchers as we develop new features and make changes to the site. Here are a few ways we've done this: simply monitoring the discussion groups on a daily basis; a feedback section where we field comments from visitors; conducting research with our 1,500-member online panel; use of an informal group of farmer beta testers to try out new things; and a number of farmers who write regular columns for the "Views" section of the site serve as a sounding board as well as generate grassroots content for Agriculture Online.

AM: Does Successful Farming magazine have a stronger presence on the site?

Walter: In the redesign, the magazine is featured more prominently, as a way to provide better customer service to our subscribers, as well as to give the magazine's editors a greater presence. We don't want to "give away" the whole magazine online, however. News and features that are generated specifically for the Web site are emphasized, while selections of stories from the magazine have been expanded to make them interactive. For example, the Ag Interactive section on the home page showcases Successful Farming content, enabling visitors to click through a slideshow of photographs and other visuals.

AM: What has been the response from current and potential advertisers?

Mortimer: In the past 12 months, we have really seen a tremendous interest from agrimarketers in customized online programs. The Internet and Internet advertising has developed to a point where it is an integral part of our customers' marketing plans and not an afterthought. In 2004, we averaged more than 7 million page views per month and more than 218,000 unique visitors. Sixty-five percent of those users have ordered products or services on the Internet, and 93 percent have requested information, which provides a real opportunity for agrimarketers. Combined with the fact that in 2003 Agriculture Online received the Jesse H. Neal Award as best business-to-business Web site, has twice been named to B2B magazine's Media Power 50 list and was just named Min's Best of the Web in both the interactivity and online community categories, it makes Agriculture Online a very attractive destination for users and for advertisers. AM


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