Tuesday, May 6, 2014

5 Ways to Turbocharge Your Economic Development Website

It’s a combination or art and science

By: Jim Walton
Brand Acceleration, Inc.

Since the early days of the internet, users have struggled to develop websites that actually produce results. At first, just having a website was seen and groundbreaking, or a bit kooky. After all, many thought it would be a passing fad. A few still believe that.

Then, a few odd ball individuals saw an opportunity to capitalize on the trend and started “website design” firms that would create a website for anyone willing to pay for their misunderstood services.

Today, successful economic development websites are as much science as design. Sure, everyone wants a site that is beautiful, but understanding, in great detail, what visitors want is what makes one website successful and another a flop.

Over the years, we’ve conducted an ongoing study of web visitors like site selection consultants, c-suite executives, and real estate brokers, studying their likes, dislikes, and expectations. Having built and hosted numerous economic development websites, we’ve studied the visiting habits of these crucial audiences. As a result, we’ve learned a few things about what works and what doesn’t.  In fact, we’ve identified upward of eighty points of differentiation that we factor into every site we build. Here are a few to get you started:

1. Make a great first impression
Our study of economic development website visitors shows that design and photography are highly influential in determining how visitors respond. The navigation bar has to be very intuitive, making it easy to find the more important pages such as Sites & Buildings, and Workforce Data. If they have to hunt, they may leave.

Photography is also very important. Visitors respond much better to action images than static photos of lifeless places.

2. Great writing makes all the difference
Once you’ve determined your target industries and key messages, it’d very important to have your copy written by an expert in website writing, and even more important that that writer understands the economic development audiences. Part of our research has been a study of which messages, words, and phrases stimulate a positive response by the previously-mentioned audiences.

 In addition to writing for the human audience, great web writers know the science of writing for search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing. I’ve seen our writers analyzing the effectiveness of how word order impacts Google rankings.  Seem anal? Maybe, but if this understanding helps push a site up a couple notches in a search, it’s worth it.

3. Where are you?
A real pet peeve of economic development website visitors is when they can’t tell where you are. “Welcome to Washington County” doesn’t cut it. There are thirty-one Washington Counties in the United States. How are they to know which one your site represents?  Be sure to include your state name.

Here’s another tip. Unless you live in a state with an iconic shape, such as Texas or Florida, it’s best not to use your state or county shape in your logo. Ask yourself this; would a c-suite exec in Shanghai recognize your county shape?

4. Quality of life may not be your lead
In our study of “Most Important Economic Development Website Pages,” quality of life ranked fifteenth. Unless you’re in an oceanfront beach location or a mountain arts community, trying to position your place as a hipster hotspot is probably not your best approach. Plus, of the nation’s 3,144 counties, boroughs, and parishes, how many claim to be “A great place to live and raise a family?”

Once a site selector short-lists your community, meaning you can expect a visit by the management team, and maybe the trailing spouse, then quality of life plays a more important role. For that reason, you must know what is expected of your QOL web page.

5. Contact info
It still amazes me when I come across an economic development website and can’t find the contact information. Really? The most common compliant of visitors is the inability to find this information. Another is when a visitor is expected to fill out an online form or send an e-mail to an “info@” or “contact us” e-mail address. Consider this; you’ve spend thousands or millions of dollars to prepare for and attract jobs projects. Are you going to blow the deal by making it difficult for a prospect to contact you? Show your phone number and e-mail address on every page.

As mentioned, effective economic development websites are a combination of art and science. These are just a few examples of ways to elevate the effectiveness of your site.

Free website evaluation
If you’d like us to take a look at your website, just send me the link. We’ll gladly provide a free evaluation showing strengths, weaknesses, and suggestions for improvement.

I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to share your thoughts and personal experiences below.

Have a great week and I’ll see you soon,

Jim Walton
Brand Acceleration, Inc.
Branding // Marketing Communications // Public Relations
Indianapolis: 317.536.6255
Charlotte: 704:230:0394
Atlanta: 404.474.7980
Fax: 317.222.1425
Cell: 317.523.7380

Brand Acceleration is a full-service marketing communications, brand management and public relations firm with a focus on economic development branding and marketing.

1 comment :

  1. I'm with you on four of your points. Pretty much common sense which would appear to be less and less common. The issue I have is with this statement, "great web writers know the science of writing for search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing.
    Since I'm a writer I've been asked countless times if I know Google ad words and how to structure a written piece for SEO. While there was a time, I suppose, when those things might have mattered, it is not the case today. Within a few sentences I can tell if the writer has been made a slave to Google ad words. Nothing about it rings true and I'm off to the next site.
    I have a friend who was launching a home inspection business and paying dearly to get his site to appear first page top ten. It drove him crazy because sometimes there he was, as promised. But he could go back in the afternoon and he wasn't anywhere near the first page. When everybody has access to the same magic words they cancel one another out.
    Every business has a story to tell. The person doing the writing should know that story intimately.
    Story telling is an art. Compelling narratives that are authentic have the power to persuade much more than awkward verbiage riddled with buzz words.
    The trouble with these recipes for online success is, they are available to everybody. With everybody using the same language there's no brand differentiation, no unique voice.
    What is really required is somebody who can provide new businesses, building their first websites, realistic expectations of the returns they can expect. Clearly that will relate to their online marketing budget, the competitive category they're in and so on, but I would never advise anybody to resort to "ad words".
    If you have a business the makes a good reliable product or provides a quality service, and you have realistic expectations about how long it takes to develop a recognizable presence in the market, then you should do just fine. But these recipes for success at the speed of light haven't been proven particularly effective. If they had, we'd all be doing just fine as our businesses rocketed into the stratosphere.