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Best Practice #2: The Competitive Economic Development Website

The very rapid evolution of web-based economic development – or Economic Development 2.0 as we call it – means that your website no longer stands alone as a channel. It is only one part of the broader web channel which now typically consists of multiple web properties. What is the new and evolving role of the economic development website? What part of the job of investment attraction and business retention and entrepreneurship does it have to deliver on?

As discussed in our previous article, the Number 1 best practice for an economic development web program is to create a strategy to ensure that all web marketing is cohesive, focused, goal-oriented and measurable. The Number 2 best practice is to ensure that your main website is competitive.

At the Heart of the Economic Development Web Strategy

The economic development website is at the centre of your solar system of web properties. The planetary sites include social media services, niche sites, partnership sites and related media such as web video.

Some web users will find your municipality by keyword searches and will land directly on the main website; others will find your website after gravitating to one or more of your affiliated planetary sites first and then following the links back to your main site.

Regardless of how they find your site, the role of your main site is to create interest, inspire and convert a casual visit to an inquiry or further discussion.

Despite all the changes that are occurring in social behaviour patterns with respect to web usage and multi-website online systems, your main site must still meet and exceed the expectations of site selectors, entrepreneurs, target workforce, prospective residents or other target audiences. A set of standard best practices continues to be valid.

Talk to Your Target Audiences

Content completeness and relevance will largely determine if the visitor stays or goes. But visitors come from many backgrounds and have diverse purposes. Do you know which ones you most want to attract based on the goals, offerings and advantages of your community?

Identify and plan the website to meet the requirements for your target audiences. Those can include site selectors, entrepreneurs, specialty sectors, existing businesses, stakeholder groups, new immigrants and residents, among others. Talk to all groups about their needs as part of your planning.

Design is the Instant Differentiator

It is often noted that the age of the web has reduced peoples’ patience levels. Your site must engage visitors within three seconds or they will likely move on. Your design must be distinctive and have a contemporary look and feel with professional use of maps, photography and graphical images.

Visitors, especially site selectors, should find it easy to locate contact information and relevant content on your site through user-friendly navigation and site search. What will be top of mind to a site selector interested in your community? Put that information front and centre.

Generate Action

An economic development website cannot be competitive today if it simply presents a one-way flow of information. You must inspire viewers to do something – make comments, pass information to friends, bookmark pages, fill out a survey, watch a video – any of the many activities available on the web to engage viewers and draw them into your community of interest.

One essential component is content clarity and completeness. You need to present a whole-life picture of your economic entity and that means telling stories, describing the quality of life in your community and the success of your existing businesses. Don’t forget a call to action for viewers seeking further information. Include interactive tools that provide data and information such as demographics, available sites and buildings, business directories and event calendars.

Keep Up to Date

Maintaining an up-to-date economic development website is so important that it should perhaps be a stand-alone best practice. This aspect of web management is often the most neglected and certainly the most harmful. Busy site selectors will not bother with outdated websites.

Your site must be easily managed so that staff and content contributors can update information quickly and simply. This requires the use of content management software that supports a decentralized updating process. Otherwise the site is almost guaranteed to become outdated and uncompetitive.

Make Friends with the 21st Century

Many economic development managers are not big fans of search engines and social media. You don’t have to be – but you must use them or lose them, and you can’t afford to lose them.

Business attraction and retention strategies based on building a creative economy, the foundation for future growth, cannot succeed without optimizing search engine and social media traffic on your website. Those tools increasingly generate the impressions that identify your community in the minds of web viewers. Does your community appear when a viewer types “green energy opportunities” in a search box? Can a video about your annual fall festival be found on YouTube?

Such things are a big part of the two-way communications that your website must inspire so that you can build relationships with today’s audiences and implement an effective economic development web program.

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