Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 8, Issue 2 - December, 2015


Early-Use Evaluation Metrics of an Extension Beef Cattle Management Website

Mullenix, M. K., Extension Specialist - Animal Science, Alabama Cooperative Extension System
Hartley, J. O., Information Technology Specialist, Alabama Cooperative Extension System
Forte, E. M., Graduate Research Assistant, Auburn University


The use of web-based educational material is increasing among agricultural clientele as a way to address management questions on farms and ranches. A beef cattle Extension website was evaluated following one year of promotion and use to determine the efficacy of information delivery through this platform. Website analytics were assessed to determine early usage trends and identify areas for improvement related to content and information reach. Website use generally increased on a monthly basis over the 12-month evaluation period. Web-based trends showed increased traffic following promotion of the website at statewide educational events, and through integration into social media and e-newsletter platforms. Understanding short-term usage trends enables Extension professionals to identify effective strategies for sharing information to end users and identify evaluation metrics for quantifying mid- and long-term success.


It is estimated that 70% of US farms and ranches now have access to the internet (NASS, 2015), which significantly increases the availability of educational information to clientele. Extension programs across the country now use a combination of online decision tools to help deliver scholarly information to end users. Of this percentage, it is estimated that 39% are livestock producers that regularly use computers for business (NASS, 2015). Beef cattle Extension programs in the US have successfully used websites and other web-based platforms to help provide research-based management information to clientele (Parish, 2011; Rusche & Renelt, 2014). In August 2014, the Alabama Cooperative Extension (ACES) Beef Systems program launched a beef cattle management website ( for housing publications, decisions tools, and current events related to forages, nutrition, health, economics, breeding, genetics, and reproduction.  Website trends were compared one year after release in August 2015 to 1) evaluate overall website use, 2) assess areas of interest among users and 3) determine website use following traditional, statewide beef cattle programs and emerging use trends.

Materials and Methods

A website trends analysis was conducted using WebTrendsTM analytic reports from August 1, 2014 to August 30, 2015. Summary information and trends were assessed for the number of visitors during this time period. A visit is defined as a series of actions that begins when a visitor first views the web page, and ends when the visitor leaves the site or remains idle for more than 30 minutes. Referring sites were tracked based on the total number of visits since the release of the webpage. A review of the most visited pages within the website was also conducted to determine areas of frequent use, and to assess where improvements can be made.

The website was advertised as an Extension resource at statewide programming during the year after release to the public. Three programs were selected for evaluation of web analytics and site usage following program completion: 1) a new and beginning farmer and rancher cattlemen’s meeting series (n = 27 participants, 97% with ≤ 10 yrs experience quantified through clicker evaluations), 2) a commodity group meeting with experienced end users (n = 68 participants; 75% with ≥ 10 yrs experience quantified   through clicker evaluations), and 3) a regional spring forage update meeting at a University Experiment Station (n = 33 participants; 52% with ≤ 10 yrs experience).  These programs were selected to represent a range of clientele historically served through beef cattle Extension programming in Alabama. A query of web traffic on the day of the program was assessed and compared to the monthly response data to assess use trends.

 Additional website trends were quantified through the use hyperlinks and shortened URLs for publications and current events that can be easily incorporated into social media and e-newsletter efforts. The incorporation of URLs into these web platforms allows web managers to track analytics with the associated link and determine the number of views, and the referrer domain. An assessment of including hyperlinks in these outreach resources was conducted to determine how linking information streams may improve the use of Extension beef cattle website resources.

Results and Discussion

Overall Website Trends

During the first year of website use, there were 6,007 site visits, with an average visit duration of 6:34 minutes and a median duration of 1:10 minutes. These data suggest that website users spent time navigating through resources. Given that the majority of beef cattle management programming in Alabama occurs between September and May, the release of this website coincided with a time which enabled promotion of the resource at multiple events through the state. There was a moderate linear trend for increasing website use following the one year assessment (Figure 1). This likely illustrates increasing awareness of the resource following release.

Figure 1. Total monthly page visits from August 2014 to August 2015.


The majority of these visits were direct traffic to the website (47.7%), while 31.9% were referred through the main Alabama Cooperative Extension webpage. The remaining site visits were largely directed from search engines using the key words ACES, beef, Alabama, feed, cattle, and commodities. Understanding the traffic flow process to the website enables Extension professionals to more closely target information delivery to the end user, especially during the early phase of website development and use.

Pages of Interest

Within the Alabama Beef Systems website, page use analytics were quantified to determine popular areas of use (Table 1). The main page received the most views, with fencing, the Alabama Commodity Feed List, forages, and nutrition topics receiving the next greatest number of views, respectively. Although the average number of page views outside of the main page was relatively low, these values illustrate areas of interest among website visitors.


Page Topic

Average Number of Views

Average Time Viewed (secs)

 Main page






 Alabama Commodity Feed List










Table 1. Number of page views and duration of time spent viewing content (in seconds) from August 2014 to August 2015.


Further evaluation of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System site as a whole illustrates that more than 35% of the total number of users (36,000 of 102,400 users) are coming from mobile devices, including tablets. Formatting educational material to be readily viewable on these devices is important to ensure continued use of Extension web-based resources. Currently, the majority of the pages within the Beef Systems website are host information in PDF format. Converting these to HTML, or a more mobile-ready viewing option, may improve website and page usage in these topic areas.  

Website Use Following Statewide Programs

The website was promoted as an information source at statewide beef cattle Extension programming after release, and trends were observed for increased website use following selected programs where the site was discussed in detail. Table 2 illustrates differences in website traffic on the day of selected programs where the site was actively promoted compared to the monthly average. Citing the website as an information source in Extension presentations creates an information stream to encourage participants to seek further information, and is a strategy that can continue to be used to increase awareness of this resource in future programming.


Day of Extension Program Visits

Average Monthly Website Traffic

Program Type

Number of Visitors Per Day

Number of Visitors Per Day

New and Beginning Farmer Meeting



Commodity Group Meeting



Seasonal Update at Experiment Station




Table 2. Website use activity on dates coordinating with Extension programs compared to the average daily viewership during the month of the program.

Emerging Trends for Improving Website Usage

As new publications and events are announced from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System related to beef cattle management, links to the document or flyer were posted to the Beef Systems webpage. A shortened URL, called a goURL, was created with the link to the publication for use on social media outlets and in e-newsletters affiliated with the program. In the last year, goURLs were posted to Facebook, with a corresponding post directed to Twitter. The use of the goURL enables the user to track the number of post clicks and views of the linked content. These shortened hyperlinks were primarily used to release timely information updates on a hot topic, and were more seasonal in nature. Three forage-based timely information publications were released between October 2014 and May 2015 and links were posted on Facebook and Twitter. According to WebTrendsTM, these quick reference guides had an average of 175 views on the Beef Systems webpage. The average reach of these resources was 327 organic followers, and 25 individual post clicks on Facebook, indicating a broadening reach of information when integrated into this platform. Topic areas were also posted to Twitter and received an average of 90 impressions across this time period. The average number of views for similar publication resources (n = 5) not linked through social media was 74, illustrating that using a suite of online tools may help disseminate information to end users.

Hyperlinks were also embedded in e-newsletters from the Alabama Beef Cattle Systems Extension Program. In January 2015, the program began releasing monthly email newsletters to subscribers. Clientele were able to sign up for the e-newsletter through the Beef Systems website, and a sign-up widget was incorporated into social media outlets. When announcements for publications and upcoming events were included in these newsletters (n = 8), there was a measured increase (range of 15 to 20%) in the amount of traffic going to the Beef Systems website compared to the daily average number of views. In one specific example, a registration link for an upcoming regional beef cattle conference was included. On the day the e-newsletter was released, there were 65 site visits compared to the average of 20 visitors per day for that month.

These results suggest that stacking the use of web-based tools may help increase the scope and reach of beef cattle management information housed on the website. Strategically linking new website content and announcements to other widely publicized forms of web-based content such as social media may provide a method for improving the use of Extension information and drive web traffic to these resources.

Implications and Conclusions

As online educational resources are developed for livestock producers, it is important for Extension professionals to measure information use and reach of this information to clientele. An early-use assessment of these tools is critical to help further shape resources to meet the needs of end users, and to determine how to better publicize these tools. Quantifying the number of views, how users get to the site, and the type of information being utilized helps inform Extension professionals how to improve website content and delivery. Following a 1-yr evaluation of a beef cattle management website, continued publicity through both word-of-mouth at traditional programs and the use of web-based platforms such as social media and e-newsletters may help generate increased Extension website usage. Tracking metrics through these outlets is useful for determining where people are getting their information. Through diversifying the method of information delivery, these Extension resources may have the potential to reach a broader target audience. Defining website evaluation criteria during the early-use stage provides baseline data for reporting information use. Periodic assessment of trend data thereafter enables Extension programs to better quantify progress and reach of these decision tools over time.

Literature Cited

Parish, J. A (2011). Website usage information for evaluating beef cattle extension programming. Journal of Extension, Vol. 49 (5). [Online]

Rusche, W. C., and T. E. Renelt (2014). Mobile and web-based applications to determine the most economical feedstuffs for livestock. Journal of Extension, Vol. 52 (2). [Online]

USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (2015). [Online] Accessed August 26, 2015.