When I first looked at the analytics, I was sure there was a mistake.
So I ran the report again. Changed the date ranges and ran it a third time. I couldn’t believe my eyes. ConwaySCNow.com, the economic development website for small town of Conway, South Carolina (population 21,856) was getting web traffic that has almost consistently surpassed every single one of our other clients since they launched March 6th of this year.
Every. Single. One.
That includes 22 statewide economic development organizations, the majority of the 100 largest metro areas in the US and some pretty big utility companies. Hundreds of economic development organizations across North America. When you consider that more than 60% of Americans live in communities serviced by our technology, you can appreciate just what a big feat this is for a small town.
Getting the press release right
Devin Parks, director of economic development for the Conway Chamber of Commerce, was both surprised and extremely pleased to hear the impressive results for ConwaySCNow.com. He chalks it up to persistent communication with local media and some time spent optimizing keywords on the site for SEO.
“Most of our news coverage stemmed from one press release,” he explains, counting off the different kinds of media coverage the chamber enjoyed following the launch of their new website, including ZoomProspector Enterprise and the suite of Intelligence Components interactive data tools. That would include two different magazine articles (such as this one here), an article in their local newspaper, The Horry Independent (page 2 here). Three interviews for TV news (see here, here and here) and a radio interview.
“That must have been a super impressive press release,” he laughs. “I don’t actually know that there is anything special about it, but I’m happy to share it”
In fact, as you can see here, his press release is clear, concise, focused on the important underlying story about a website that seeks to stimulate the local economic, nurture existing business and create new jobs.
“It’s very, very brief. […] We just announced we are launching the website, and it’s devoted to supporting the business community of Conway. We give a brief overview of what the website was going to include as far as data is concerned.
“We focused on what GIS Planning was going to be offering. Aside from attractions, ConwaySCNow.com is virtually an embedded mass of subpages provided by GIS Planning. We embedded the GIS property search on the home page, and the subpages had the tools broken down with options.”
Devin says he didn’t try to get press pickup on the release from larger media outlets, but focused on the local angle. “We are a chamber of commerce, which gives us an advantage. What that means from a press standpoint, is that we have all those contacts already. I sent the press release to our Marketing and Special Events coordinator here at the chamber, and she emailed the press release to 137 local media contacts for distribution She knew from experience who to send it out to. And I think that had a lot to do with the response that we got.”
“I did not put it out on PR Web. I didn’t even know about that until someone mentioned it after the website was launched,” Parks explains.
Optimizing keywords for SEO
In addition to press exposure, Parks credits some research into SEO best practices for making a difference in web traffic. He had two marketing firms come present to usbut found their price quotes prohibitive. So he turned to an in intern from Coastal Carolina University, specifying the need for focused website marketing and advertising experience, and got some great background information and advice
"The intern from Coastal Carolina was great at explaining SEO and how to best position keywords for each subpage. In a matter of a few weeks we went from the 15th-17thpage on a Google search to consistently landing on Google's 1st and 2nd pages. His work was an incredible asset to our website's exposure."
Using website analytics
Parks also notes that during their soft launch in February, before any official announcements were made, their ZoomProspector Enterprise tool racked up more than 200 visits, all tracked through the Lead Gen ID tool.
“Before our website even launched […] we had already had 200 property searches on our ZoomProspector tool, from California, people in Mexico, wherever. We work in partnership with the City of Conway, and it was nice to be able to present a search traffic count of 200 visits to City Council before ConwaySCNow.com was even live. I believe it was important to show the Council that their funding was already producing positive results from such an early stage.”
Parks notes that he has been very careful to track their analytics from the start to track leads and stay accountable to the elected officials, but he didn’t realize how Conway was doing relative to other economic development communities.
“What’s the point of having all these great analytics if you aren’t even looking at who is considering your community? Lead Gen ID may be my favorite part of what you offer with your data. You can’t get that drill down with Google Analytics alone. We use this for active recruiting all the time. It was one of the big selling points for ZoomProspector Enterprise.”
Engaging local stakeholders
One of Parks’ tasks was to get city officials and local stakeholders to learn about and appreciate the data now at their fingertips, which has streamlined everyone’s access to all kinds of information about the region.
“We took advantage of your local layers option. We were able to add layers that our city had never had access to before. We have zoning, parcel information, flood zones. I’ve had city officials and business people saying, we just have to click through on the website and it’s right there. It’s so easy. That got a lot of people excited."
Connecting with brokers
Getting the brokers involved also fell onto Parks’ shoulders, but he credits effective facilitation with getting them on board and excited about the tool.
“Jeff [Suneson, GIS Planning client services director] was really good about getting an automatic data feed up with our local association of realtors, so they don’t have to worry about it anymore. That’s a big deal for them. On [another commercial listing site] a property can be sold but a week later it’s still listed on their website as available. They know this tool is accurate and that means the world to them.”
“The biggest thing was figuring out how to get our data collected to get it onto the site. That was probably the most difficult part. But Jeff would let me know what questions I had ask, and what information I needed, and as soon as I got it to him, he got on it right away. He made it much easier.”
No use reinventing the wheel
Parks concedes that he initially tried to amass all the data on the ZoomProspector Enterprise tool on his own. “I spent the first 4 or 5 months trying to get all this data together myself before I discovered GIS Planning, and then I looked at the data you offered and broke down the price. I thought, ‘This is interesting. They can give me the same things I’ve been wasting time on for months and months trying to find, and much less money.’
“GIS Planning offers a product that is packaged in a simple, colourful, easy way to understand. The data is crucial but if you just look at a page of numbers, your average person is just going to draw a blank. Not interested. The presentation makes a difference. It’s very important.”
Practical takeaways for economic developers
There are some valuable lessons to be learned from this for other economic development organizations and chambers of commerce looking to draw website traffic:
- Connect with local/regional media organizations which have a stake in the economic success of your region. Your location analysis data tool is most likely to resonate with them, and they will quickly see how this has value for coverage.
- Take advantage of any connections your team has with journalists, writers and media professionals in your area. Getting past the gatekeepers is a big part of ensuring media pickup.
- Spread the word about your data tools to other stakeholders in the region, as the incredible depth and breadth of data in a user-friendly format can save everyone many hours of research, from city officials to investors to journalists researching stories about your community.
- Don’t assume that the bricks and mortar size of your community limits how much attention you can get from media and from website visitors.
- Ensure other government organizations, local educational institutions, community organizations and media include links to your data tools on their websites. Those links are powerful for SEO and great sources for referral traffic.
- Closely monitor your analytics and use Lead Gen ID for actionable intelligence.
Want to know more about how ZoomProspector Enterprise can transform your economic development organization website and drive quality web traffic your way? Click on the link below to set up a customized assessment and demo.