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How Can Your Website Stand Out to Target Prospects?

Research continues to underscore the primary role of the web in economic development. In a national US survey conducted in 2008 by the University of California at Berkeley, both economic developers and site selectors agreed that an organization’s website provides the most effective economic-development strategy. It is the first point of contact that site selectors have with a potential site community.

By the third stage of the site-selection process – evaluation of a long list of potential locations – site selectors are almost one and half times as likely to have visited investment-attraction websites as to have personally contacted the community’s economic-development organization. If an organization does not communicate effectively through its website, a significant amount of possible direct contact by site selectors is lost.

The lesson learned from such research is that economic development organizations simply must get the web right if they are to succeed in attracting target industries to consider their communities for potential location. Here are four principles to follow:

Search-Engine Optimization

Previous Tech Trends articles have defined and discussed search-engine optimization, the importance of which cannot be overstressed. Your target industries will be searching on the web for communities with certain characteristics, using certain keywords. Do you know what those keywords are likely to be? Will your site appear prominently on search-engine results pages when those keywords are entered? If yours doesn’t, competing sites will, all over the world.

Your search-engine optimization plan should begin with the identification of keywords and dig down to recommend meta and title tags and put a link-management strategy in place. If your department does not have in-house expertise to create such a plan you should import it. Search engines must be made to work for you — otherwise they will work against you.

Relevance to Your Target Industries

Many economic-development organizations make the mistake of launching a website as though it were a completed project. There is no such thing. A website aimed at attracting investment must be a continual work in progress. It must reflect current knowledge of trends in the target industry and how they are affecting site-selection criteria.

Being out of date is a significant disadvantage. The presence of five-year-old data on your site is likely to cause time-stressed site selectors to simply skip your site as irrelevant and go on to the next one. The technology and processes you use to manage your site must facilitate easy content creation and updating.

Social Media Optimization

It is the job of an economic development organization – and therefore its website – to build a communications bridge between the public sector and the business community, specifically site selectors. Very rapidly, social media are becoming widely used in business for the very purpose of making connections. As discussed earlier in this series under the heading Social Software and Economic Development, you can make your investment-attraction website the center of a network of interest through use of social networking, bookmarking and collaboration sites.

Due to their content heavy-nature, social-media tools and sites tend to have a very positive effect on search-engine rankings. They also encourage interactivity and are an excellent way to gather feedback on the market’s impressions of your community. Using social media will quickly demonstrate the usefulness of videos, podcasts and photographs on your site, all of which can be effective in appealing to specific target industries.

Placemaking

Today’s high-growth industries such as business services, sciences, information technologies and financial services depend primarily on creative professionals rather than inanimate resources. For that reason the field of economic development is focused on placemaking – the establishment of a community identity that is attractive to the hearts and minds of people in what is referred to as the creative class.

Who are the creative leaders in your target industries and what do they care about in their lives? Does your website present a community that would attract them? To answer that question your investment-attraction strategy must be involved with your community and vice versa. Everything about the community –- for example, the weather, store fronts, school system, tourism attractions, the enthusiasm with which people interact through media and organizations – should be considered in relation to its attractiveness to target industry professionals. Keywords on your site should be carefully crafted for the same purpose.

In summary, making your investment-attraction website stand out to target prospects means that you must not only be found in the first place, but must also hold their interest once they arrive at your website.

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