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Best Practice #6: A Practical Website Content Update Program

Readers of this series about best practices for economic development web programs will have noticed a common thread – the web is becoming ever more complex, and new methods are needed to manage the complexity in a holistic way.

Content Upkeep is Increasingly More Complex

That certainly applies to content updating. It used to be sufficient for the content of an economic development website to be updated “frequently” or “regularly.” But that’s not a sufficient guideline any more. There are just too many types of content needing attention.

The types of content managed by modern, competitive economic development departments ranges into social media, news releases, calendars and announcements, statistics and “soft” content such as stories, testimonials and quality-of-life information. Any of these can involve not just texts but the design of pages, posters and brochures or the production of videos and webcasts and podcasts.

Fresh Content Improves Website “Stickiness”

Any type of content can get old before you realize it, unless you have an effective content update program. And old content makes you uncompetitive. Why? Because of the powerful influence of search engines: Search engines love new content and tend to ignore the old. They reward sites that regularly update their content with higher rankings. Users, too, gravitate to sites that regularly update their content and immediately recognize sites that are old or out-of-date.

So a content update program is an essential component of a web development program, and should be adopted as a best practice.

Content Management Systems Enable Content Upkeep

Such a program marries technology with people. The technology part is less complicated. Most economic development departments today understand the need for having a content management system (CMS) behind their websites. A CMS overcomes bottlenecks and enables the job of content creation to be spread among appropriate staff members.

A CMS makes it easy to update a website without having to know anything about web programming. With just a few clicks you can update articles, upload photos or videos, change the text on your homepage or initiate user queries and surveys.

To get the most from your technology investment, though, you need a plan that outlines how often each type of content should be updated, and by whom.

Content Maintenance Planning

Such a plan, as with all economic development activities, starts with the target audiences. You will already know what audiences you are reaching with your various types of communications — your RSS feeds, blogs, tweets and so on (see “Put Social Media to Work for Economic Development” published August 31, 2010). How do those various audiences define “up to date?”

The plan will be different for each community. In the case of videos, maybe six to eight postings to YouTube each year will be enough to draw consistent interest. For news releases, once or twice a week might be enough. In the case of Facebook or Twitter, you probably need daily postings. Experience and user feedback will provide input to adjust the publication schedule over time.

Once you have a good idea of what frequency of updates will be required for each type of communication, you must address your human resources. Those, of course, are finite. The expectations of audiences are probably not. It might be necessary to cull your communications platforms to those that can be updated consistently within the limits of your staff resources.

Decentralizing Content Maintenance Tasks

The next step is to assign the content maintenance tasks for each section or platform to the appropriate staff member – someone who enjoys doing it, so there will be plenty of enthusiasm in the communications – and to set concrete targets for content update or delivery. Make it a line item in the person’s job description, about which he or she must regularly report.

Where possible, use self-help tools to enable interested parties to update information in which they are involved. With business directories, for example, you can empower business owners themselves to self-manage their listing in the directory. They can simply log in to your CMS-enabled website and update their information online.

Tracking Results

Finally, your website content update program must be measurable. You need to know what results are being generated by your carefully allocated communication activities. Automated tools are available to track the success of your program by applying criteria such as volume of information published, number of visitors, inquiries generated or other key performance indicators.

Content Maintenance Planning is a Best Practice

To conclude, the new web and social media have made economic-development communications much messier than they used to be, and a more controlled effort is needed to tidy them up. Applying vague targets such as “frequently” will not maintain a competitive communications profile any longer.

A best practice today is to clearly define an appropriate schedule for updating of each type of content you have, and to keep an eye on the responses they generate. This will support a coherent economic development strategy and help you take appropriate actions to identify prospects and engage with potential partners.

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