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The Website: An Under-Utilized Tool in Economic Development

It’s a digital-first world and many economic development organizations (EDOs) aren’t living in it. These often under-staffed, under-funded and under-appreciated organizations are tasked with building and growing the communities where we live and play. With so many priorities, managing an effective digital presence is often executed “when time permits.”

RealMassive is currently conducting a survey of Economic Development Professionals. The survey is designed to create a comprehensive report on how technology and transparency impact these critical community leaders. The early results are fascinating and reveal significant opportunities to increase visibility and impact within respondents local communities.

As a sneak peek at the forthcoming report, early respondents revealed that their organization’s website may not be receiving the attention needed to achieve desired objectives.

85% of respondents spend less than 10 hours a month updating and managing their website

Even more surprising…

15% never update their website

During our research, we’ve observed major trends and differences between sites in the economic development industry. As a result, we’ve clearly identified those with strong content, responsive designs and modern user experiences. For every modern economic development website, there are 10 that haven’t been touched in years – rendering them essentially useless.

Economic Development Professionals provide a tremendous amount of value to the community and local businesses. From incentives for growing and expanding small businesses to workforce development solutions, EDOs should be one of the first contacts for any local business. Unfortunately, many lack awareness of their local commercial real estate availability.

Before we release the full report, we wanted to provide a few recommendations for any EDO looking to improve the value and performance of their website. If you’ve been thinking about ways to improve how you connect and build relationships with the local community, these are the best places to start – and consider starting today.

Mobile First Design and Development

If you haven’t updated the design and structure of your website in the past few years, now is the time. Search engines like Google and Bing adjust their algorithms to favor sites that perform well on mobile. As a result, sites that are not mobile responsive will begin to see their traffic dwindle and eventually disappear.

This isn’t something to ignore or put off for later. Google is still working on rolling out mobile-first indexing. It won’t be long before every search result prioritizes the mobile site over the desktop site.

Have a Content Strategy

Our survey has also revealed that Economic Development Pro’s are actively participating on social media. While this is a great way to engage a local audience, you may be missing an opportunity to use these platforms as traffic drivers to your site.

Most of the EDO sites we observed lacked a cohesive content strategy. Some had blogs and prioritized custom content on their homepage, but most still leverage the “link farms” of the late 90’s.

By adding new content to your site, you create an opportunity for more people to link back to your site from external sources or share your content. Compelling and relevant content creates more opportunities for you to be found. Don’t worry about frequency and volume. Search algorithms don’t reward for content quantity, so you don’t need to publish something new every day.

Just focus on adding value and utility to your audience. What do they want access to? What information could they benefit from? (Real-time commercial real estate listings can certainly help).

Develop a Measurement Plan

Another early finding from our survey is that many EDOs either aren’t measuring site performance or don’t know where to start. Even in large communities and counties, traffic numbers are minimal and haven’t improved in quite some time.

It’s important to focus not just on the numbers, but the source of traffic, what visitors are engaging with and what is generating the behaviors needed to achieve your goals. If you’re looking to build more relationships, what information compels site visitors to contact you?

Define the role your website can play in your overall strategy. Develop key performance indicators (KPIs) that allow you to better understand what’s working and what’s not so you can focus your time and effort on activities that will help you achieve your objectives.

Responses to our survey are still rolling in. If you are in economic development, we encourage you to complete the survey here. Your feedback will allow us to provide the industry with insights from all over the country.

The final report will provide insights on the increasing challenges EDOs face with issues like transportation, workforce, and transparency. We’ll also be able to uncover what the future holds in terms of technology adoption and industry growth.

Make sure your voice is included so you can see how your efforts stack up to peers across the country.