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Economic Development Website Best Practices

What makes a website outstanding for investment attraction? What are the critical characteristics that will draw a site selector’s interest?

A set of best practices is emerging as experience reveals the growing importance of the web in economic development, especially in a recessionary climate when returns on investment are more important than ever.

The first necessity is to understand the web’s place in the field of investment attraction. It has both a passive and an active role.

The passive role is akin to that of a store. Investors who are searching for something to buy will look at your site just as a browsing shopper looks at a storefront. This is of much more than casual importance. Once an investor has identified the objectives, approach and criteria of a site-selection project, the web becomes the focus of the next phase. It is the first source for identifying candidate communities.

Site selection is a process of elimination. If your community’s website does not meet the site selectors’ criteria for information that is easily found, the selector will probably pass you over regardless of what your community can truly offer.

At the same time, economic development departments are increasingly using websites in an active role, broadcasting information and images that reach out to a global market to attract individual attention.

With both roles in mind, below is a quick look at some key best practices:

Ease of Use

Site selectors should find it easy to locate contact information and relevant content on your site through user-friendly navigation, site search and inter-site linking that draws the visitor’s attention to specific information or news. But don’t think solely of the viewers. The site must also be easily managed so that staff can update information quickly and simply. Otherwise the site will become outdated and that completely negates its impact.

Content Completeness

Your site must offer information and data that is directly pertinent to someone interested in locating their business in your municipality. This includes information and data about your primary industry sectors, the cost of doing business, statistics about your labour force, proximity to highways and border crossings, and local success stories. Think like a site selector – what is top of mind? Equally important is to incorporate the knowledge of your existing business community concerning the needs of their industries and the strengths that your community delivers.

First Impression

The branding, look and feel, content and structure of the site all combine to create a first impression. It may be the only message that a site selector sees before moving on to evaluate the next municipality. Your site must be distinctive and visually appealing with professional use of maps, photography and graphical images.

Measure Results

Your website strategy should have sound performance objectives. The number of site visitors and their behavior patterns should be tracked, documented and analyzed against pre-established goals or key performance indicators. An effective way to evaluate the effectiveness of your site is to compare it with others. Set benchmarks and evaluate how your site measures up to peer sites in your geographic area.

Two-Way Communication

A modern, effective economic development site is not simply an electronic brochure. It speaks with your audiences, literally. Incorporation of interactive features such as blogs, videos, drill-down maps, cost calculators, land and space databases, polls and surveys all encourage visitor participation. Facilitation of these types of two-way communication tools should be given priority at least as high as the textual presentation of facts and data.

The impact of Web 2.0 technologies is increasing every day in business life, presenting a powerful new communications channel for economic developers. Now more than ever, it is possible to communicate – not just disseminate!

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