Part 1 of our Ultimate Guide to Economic Development Marketing Websites offered a first crack at listing the most critical - and too often overlooked - website features. Hopefully, many of you walked away with at least one new idea you could implement for your website right away. If not, then congratulations! You must already have all the elements we discussed and with any luck are out working a project as I type this post.
If you think it shouldn't be necessary to underline the importance about including anything as basic as contact information, here is a crazy, “real life” story about that exact thing: I was on a website this week and spent 20 minutes searching for the name of the director. I ended up finding it after a Google search turned up an old board document with his name on it. Then I had to begin a search for his email address. Imagine if I were a site selector? I would have likely given up and moved on to the next community.
For Part II of our Ultimate Guide, we are going to peel back the layers a little further and get into the meat of your website. More specifically, data.
- The DL on the PDF: If your website offers a pdf of your demographics more than a year old, you are probably better not having any data at all. No website visitor wants to look at old data. It’s just irrelevant. If you truly are limited to nothing better than a pdf of data, at least make sure it’s current. Ideally, visitors should be able to download data into a variety of formats for sharing and reporting. All downloadable reports should feature some basic branding; your organization name, logo and your direct contact information are crucial for anyone receiving this information.
- Oh Brother, where are thou… data sources?: Where does your data come from? Is the source credible? How old is it? Any existing businesses or site selector considering this data for decision-making purposes will require data be current and properly sourced. Include a citation with the name of the data provider and year. Ideally, you can also add the quarter in each year, e.g. Q1 2017.
- DIVE! DIVE! DIVE! Some economic development pros claim they already have business data, but realize upon exploration that it doesn’t go very deep. Can your data provide the number of retail stores in your community? Do you have the option to search for a specific NAICS code within the retail market, as well as the names of the stores within that specific 6-digit NAICS code category?
Here’s an example: If I am a women’s clothing store looking for a place to expand my business, I don’t want to see a long list of every retail shop in your community that have nothing to do with my business. I want to be able to query the data and look at how many women’s clothing stores you have, where are they located, who they are, and even their estimated annual sales. I want the deep dive on the information to make sure I am not looking at a market already saturated with shops like mine.
But how much deeper can you go? Put on that mask and snorkel because we can go deep. With the data GIS Planning provides, I can find all the women’s clothing stores that have an annual revenue of $750,000, that have two or more employees and have been in business for five years or longer (see map below as an illustration). I can also see this information from a user-entered radius around a site/building I am interested in (up to 60 miles), by zip code, by town/city/county or even by an area I have drawn on the map. Now THAT is intelligent market intelligence.
- Deep data = more. More time for you to work the deal. More time to do the 100 other things you need to do without having to hunt and peck, looking for requested data. Back when I was an economic developer, I represented a 600 square mile region in Southern California. As an office of one, I would spend hours looking for the requested data in an RFP of for a project. Getting my GIS site selection application and reports allowed me to get hours of my day back. It truly was like having another staff person.
- When a Stranger Calls: When you go buy a car, chances are you do a lot of research online to narrow down your search, look at prices, ratings, optional equipment, etc. When you pick up the phone or go to the dealership, you already have a good idea of what they need. It’s no different for site selectors or business decision makers considering your community: They already have a good idea of what they are looking for in a community and in a building or site. Millions (and sometimes billions) of dollars are at stake, so research is very important. If they like the information and data they find online, the next call may be to learn more from your team before they go “kick some dirt”. Your community can be qualified – or disqualified - by what they find online. If a site selector can’t find good, reliable data on your community, they will likely move on to the next. And you never even you were in the running.
- You got an RFP! Now what? I came up in my economic development career when an RFP had to be constructed in a three-ring binder. They took a TON of research and time. I was thrilled to get one but dreaded it at the same time. In today’s digital world, RFP’s can be submitted in other formats, such as online. For the latter format, you must have the following:
- An easy format to select the properties you want to include and have them accurately mapped. Each property should showcase individually with a detailed data card that provides many specific pieces of information on that particular site or building. There should be an option to include multiple sites/buildings in the same RFP response.
- The ability to customize not only the “skin” or header of the RFP to look like your organizations branding. This should all clearly showcase your DIRECT contact information.
- The ability to add a variety of documents. This should include: video, photos, drone footage, pdf attachments, graphs/charts etc.
- The ability to print or email the finished RFP. The receiver should be able to access easily any sites/building and attachment you included. If you change it on your end, it should change on their end.
- Site Selection: Any worthwhile economic development website must have a property/building database. Period. Consider that one of the essentials if you have more than a couple of properties in your geographic boundaries. There are many options out there to choose from but are not all created equal. They span the gamut from simple property viewers housed on another website all the way to a property search tool embedded in your own website.
In my ED days, I had a small budget for a pretty large multijurisdictional region. My GIS budget was right up there my website and my office rent. It was a necessity that allowed me to stay competitive against some of the other regions around me, showcasing the sites and buildings we had available, offering interactive supporting data, and demonstrating that our community’s per square foot investment was less!
- News and current events: I am trying to do research on your community and what I am finding on your website for current events and “latest happenings” consist of an ad for your upcoming board meeting and an announcement that is over a year old. If you aren’t going to keep the news section updated, get rid of it.
- Direct contact information. I know I mentioned this in Part I, but it’s so critical, it bears repeating. Always, ALWAYS ensure visitors can easily get in touch with you – a generic Contact Us form is never enough.
Check out Part III of the Ultimate Guide to Economic Development Websites, to learn more about strategic use of website analytics and mobile.