A farm Web site is one of the tools Michigan hay grower Gary Carmichael is using to link up with potential buyers. "We've used a variety of traditional advertising tools over the years with varying degrees of success," says Carmichael, of Evart. "Now, as a society, we're gradually moving to a new generation of people who go to the Web first for their communication needs."

His son, Kevin, designed the farm Web site – www.carmichaelfarms.com – eight years ago. "We had been in the dairy business up until 1999," says Carmichael, who puts up alfalfa and alfalfa-grass hay on 2,000 acres. "We had to find a way to let more people know about us and what we were doing. Kevin had a strong interest in computers, so we turned him loose on a project to design a Web site for us."

Key to an effective Web site is getting a prominent listing on search engines. "If someone goes to a search engine like Google and types in 'hay for sale,' you want to make sure your site is one of the first 10 or so listings that pop up," says Carmichael. "If you're not in that first tier, chances are the people will never get to your page because they will have already found what they were looking for. A good web designer will know how to make sure you're in the top group."

An eye-catching design is another essential, he says. "If people aren't captivated or enthralled the moment they get to your site, they'll click and move on to the next one. The site should also be easy to navigate and easy to read."

The cost of developing a site can be a moving target. But Carmichael estimates that, for $1,500 or less, you can get a professionally designed page, an exclusive domain name and a year's worth of hosting. "Not every hay grower needs a Web site," he says. "If you're well-established in an area and have built up a good group of customers over 20 years, maybe you don't need it. But if you're a newcomer in the business and/or trying to let people from a little farther away know about your product, it can be worthwhile. We've had sales from as far away as Missouri, New Jersey and Florida because someone discovered our site on the Internet."

To contact Carmichael, call 231-734-3364 or email gary@carmichaelfarms.com.