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Best Practice #7: Measuring Results for Economic Development Web Strategies

Many economic development departments throughout North America have become as adept as private-sector companies in adopting the variety of marketing tools and technologies available on the web. There’s one area in which the ED sector lags, however — measuring results.

Whereas a company selling products from its website will instinctively install tools for reporting conversion rates or sales by region, many ED organizations do not regularly measure or analyze their web statistics. Lack of time is a frequently cited reason. Also, managers may be reluctant to see their programs evaluated primarily according to numerical scores, since the process of investment or tourism attraction takes a long time and often produces results indirectly.

The EDO’s Purpose of Tracking Data

But the purpose of gathering website data for an ED organization is more subtle. It’s not the same as in the private sector; you aren’t trying to report how many shirts you sold this month. What you are trying to accomplish is continuous improvement in your marketing methods, and a continuously rising return on your investment of resources.

As we have discussed, the Number 1 best practice for economic development online is to develop and maintain a cohesive, focused, goal-oriented and measurable web strategy (see “Best Practice #1: The Economic Development Web Strategy”, published August 5, 2010). Measurement is critical to the success of such a strategy. Without tracking your data it is impossible to evaluate progress, adjust tactics and see results.

What Web Stats Should Be Tracked?

It’s not a simple task, however. Types of ED measurements have diversified along with the web itself. A modern ED department must devote resources to a variety of web properties including social media. How do you know which ones are helping you meet your goals, and are generating returns from the investment of your scarce resources?

Many tools are available to enable your department to track, document and analyze the traffic and activities generated by your marketing campaigns. But before implementing any technology your first step must be to examine the goals of your ED web strategy and identify what types of statistics will help you to improve continuously in meeting those goals. In other words, you need to identify the key performance indicators most relevant to your strategy.

Those might include standard ED statistics such as numbers of new businesses, jobs created or inquiries and leads generated. To those you can add typical web stats such as most visited pages or most requested information. The more detailed your tracking, the better you can fine-tune your programs. If you have released an e-mail marketing campaign, for example, you can direct respondents to a landing page – an entrance page that provides exactly the information the visitor is looking for. Then by analyzing the responders and their activities you can improve the design and the keywords on each landing page over time.

In the same way, tools to monitor social media can reveal as much detailed data as you want or have resources to manage. You can begin by looking at how many friends, fans and followers you have on Facebook and Twitter. You can track the number of referrals to the website from a specific Twitter campaign, for example.

Most valuable from the perspective of meeting your ED goals, however, is to know how many web viewers are really engaging with you and ultimately taking actions that can lead to investing, locating or visiting as tourists. This depth of data can indeed be found with today’s web monitoring tools, uniquely among all media.

Examples of Stat Monitoring and Tracking Tools

Here are just three of many examples of popular offerings with this type of capability:

  • Google Analytics (http://www.google.com/analytics) can show which keywords, sites and locations bring high-value traffic to your ED website, how people navigate through it and what actions they take. Custom data analysis can be generated and charted, for example, to reveal how visitors from different locations have responded to specific keywords. The tool can identify the number of people who have arrived at your website from different social media channels, as well as their level of engagement with your website.
  • Radian6 (www.radian6.com) is designed to monitor stakeholders’ direct thoughts and opinions. It captures and analyzes data from social media channels to monitor brands, identify key communities and influencers, address issues and identify new leads. Results can be delivered to desktops in real time. Users can define the characteristics of influencers in their target industries and receive influencer data specific to media types including Twitter, blogs, video, photos, mainstream news and forums.
  • Alterian (http://socialmedia.alterian.com) offers the SM2 social media monitoring tool to deliver advanced user behavior statistics, measure and analyze daily volume, demographics, location, positive or negative content tone, themes and trending topics. Users can analyze the content and tone of commentary about them in social-media channels by geographic location and time period.

Our point is not to recommend any particular service but to demonstrate that tools are available to deliver a remarkable degree of insight into how well ED programs are performing. How much detail you need will vary; the key is to identify what actually matters in the context of your web strategy.

Implementing the Discipline to “Track & React”

Once it’s been decided what matters, you need to put in place the tools to track the data. Generally that’s the easy part. The hard part is creating the discipline to regularly review and analyze the data, and to have the willingness to adjust a campaign strategy or set of tactics if the results desired are not being achieved.

ED web marketing has to be a continuous improvement process. A best practice in today’s multi-platform web world is to enable that continuous improvement by identifying key performance indicators, tracking the results and acting on what you learn.

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