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Regional Websites – Managing Many Connected Websites

Regionomic marketing initiatives have inherent challenges of organization, equitable management and branding, as we have discussed in this series of articles to date. Intertwined with these is the challenge of finding cost-effective ways to present a unified marketing message for the region while retaining self-expression for the individual communities.

On the web, this challenge can be met by a combination of strategy and technology. To begin with strategy, what is the best way to think about saving time and money for the regional marketing organization? The answer is not to focus internally but externally – by thinking about what’s best for prospective investors and site selectors.

Keeping the User in Mind

They, too, need to operate efficiently. They need to understand the characteristics of an economic region as well as specific places within it. They don’t want to waste time searching multiple sites and figuring out how to navigate each one. They simply won’t do it, in fact. Faced with time-consuming obstacles on the web to examining one region, they will go to another.

In any given economic region there could be 10 to 30 different websites devoted wholly or in part to economic development. Each is distinctly focused on a small piece of geography. This is a hindrance to site selectors and business people, especially those representing creative industries for whom clusters of talent and resources are more important than local property prices.

Simplifying Access to Information

A regional website should promote the region while also providing multiple linkages to the individual community sites. One-stop service on the web facilitates and simplifies the job of site searching, demonstrates good service to business people and delivers a bigger picture for their consideration.

To help the searcher to be efficient, the regional website must present information in a way that is cohesive and coordinated with the local sites. The same type of information should be found in the same places on all regional sites. There should be a common design element to the coordinated sites, with maps and interactive features such as social media links that look and function the same way.

But can this be done without impairing the marketing efforts of local municipalities? Yes, and you can see an example in Florida.

Enterprise Florida Inc. has an award-winning portal that clearly demonstrates attention to the needs of both site selectors and individual communities. At www.eflorida.com a visitor can easily navigate to sites showing the state’s eight key regions and find geographic, economic and demographic information about each one.

Each regional site within the portal presents maps on which a viewer can click to drill down to any county and view data in great detail. There are videos, newsletters and daily news articles available about each region, all positioned in the same location on the page so a visitor becomes accustomed in seconds to the structure of the sites.

There are links to economic development organizations and to the websites of individual communities. There are social media tabs on each region’s page. There are maps and county profiles. From the home page introducing Florida’s regions, visitors can find additional information about the state of the whole, its industry clusters and the Florida Knowledge Center.

What more could a site selector want? Here is an example of how to combine time-saving services to business, regional promotion and individual community identity in one unified, cohesive web presentation.

Cost Effectiveness

This type of layered approach is a best practice for regionomic web marketing at a strategic level. It also presents opportunities for achieving cost savings through technology.

Modern content management systems have a modular structure that enables economic development organizations at the regional and local levels to pool their resources on a common platform. Using one back-end system, the organizations can configure web publishing tools that meet their shared requirements while maintaining individual control over the local sites within the regional template.

If all sites within a region are planned cohesively and comprehensively and are built on the same platform and back-end system, significant economies of scale can be achieved in getting the collaborative portal up and running.

Beyond that, there are other opportunities for savings that can sometimes be overlooked. They extend into managing the website, and particularly to training people to manage the content. When all training takes place on the same platform an entire region of people become competent and capable of helping and advising each other.

Improving Content and Information Quality

This elevates knowledge and skills within both the regional and local economic development organizations. In many cases the employees and volunteers within such organizations are not necessarily technically savvy. But once the basic software training is in place on a shared platform, the technology challenge is dispensed with and training can focus on best practices – what to communicate, how to do it most effectively, how to present information in a logical way with an intuitive structure.

Managing many connected websites in a layered approach on a common platform provides a cost-effective solution to regionomic web marketing. It serves viewers well, empowers economic development staff throughout the region and improves the quality of all of the region’s unified sites.

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