When it comes to web data, we are in the midst of a second major transition: one that is significantly impacting the ability of economic developers to identify targeted leads using their websites.
The first transition happened a decade or so ago when location searches moved online and economic developers shifted to move their data and lifestyle information to the web as well. It quickly became apparent that the quality of a community’s investment attraction website was the top differentiating factor in the first phase of a site selector’s search.
This is the second transformation – unmasking, understanding and recognizing the value of the traffic you are working so hard to drive to your website, and then translating this new data into real leads.
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All economic developers understand how important it is to publish data on their websites that will attract and inform site selectors. There are many examples of Economic Development organizations that have excellent websites: visually engaging, interactive, full of relevant information and providing viewers with all kinds of useful data.
Great websites theoretically drive great traffic and great results. But which Economic Development organization knows who actually views their engaging visuals, interacts with their website, reads their information and scours their data? Not many.
While many EDOs have come to understand the value – in fact, the necessity – of using the web to display data and seek out interested audiences, many have not yet realized that the role of websites has evolved (once again) to a new advanced level.
This newest evolution means that investment attraction sites are no longer just conduits for broadcasting or answering questions. Website analytics now make it possible to turn the same excellent websites into generators of investment leads – Now, isn’t that good news!
If you are in the business of attracting or retaining business for your community, chances are your customers – whether site selectors, business owners or creative people who invent new products and services – are active on social networks and sites.
How widely are such sites used in the economic development world? We don’t really know, because research just can’t keep up with the rapid changes. The most often cited statistic is that 57 per cent of members of the International Economic Development Council surveyed by the IEDC and Development Counsellors International (DCI) said they were using social media tools. But that was in 2009, a lifetime ago in Internet years.
More recently a survey of 3,800 marketers from all industries, carried out for the 2012 Social Media Marketing Industry Report published by SocialMediaExaminer.com, found that 83 per cent of respondents said that social media was important for their business. The survey also found that the Number 1 reported benefit of social media marketing was generating more business exposure (reported by 85 per cent of marketers), followed by increasing traffic (69 per cent) and providing marketplace insight (65 per cent).
Economic development organizations, too, probably employ social media to an almost universal extent, but they are missing out on one of its most essential benefits – finding out about themselves.
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Not long ago, the prime purpose of an investment attraction website was to provide convenient and comprehensive information to visitors, wherever they were. That purpose is still there, but the bar has risen for today’s economic developers.
What counts now is not just web communication, but results. The first purpose of an investment attraction website in 2013 is to generate measurable results in the form of leads.
Your website is the first stop for prospects
The website is the first place that location professionals and business leaders go for information about a community and its economic assets. That makes a website one of the best resources for generating qualified leads, assuming the website is able to identify who those visitors are, where they came from and what they are looking for.
Free tools such as Google Analytics are available for understanding your website’s traffic and can provide useful information up to a point. They can show traffic volumes and direction but the data is aggregated and so does not translate into investment attraction leads.
Is your economic development website successful?
You could answer that question from many points of view – design, content, ease of use, visitor response – but the real answer depends on whether the site helps your department find new sources of economic growth for your community.
To determine your site’s success on that basis, and to improve your lead generation success rate, you need tools to help you understand your website’s traffic patterns.
If you can’t track your website interactions, you can’t determine if your website is working. You have no idea if it’s performing to capacity (or not) and whether the money you have spent is producing any results that matter.
Your website, by its very nature, can be a bottomless source of data about existing and potential economic drivers in your community and the effectiveness of your organization in meeting their needs. Mining this data, however, can be very challenging for EDOs with constrained budgets and staff. Various software options exist and it’s useful to understand the functionality and limitations as they apply to the economic development function.