Economic development websites can be — and should be — very different from one another. The presentation of a city, county, etc. needs to reflect the community it represents in a way no other locality does. I find it odd that so much interchangeability (is that even a word?) exists from one site to the next. Essentially, you can throw one city’s logo in the header of another city’s website and a lot of the same stuff still applies.
But I’m not here to belabor the point of lookalike website design. I’ll save that for another time. Instead, I’d like to devote this article to five questions that your website needs to answer to make it successful. These answers need to be clear and accessible, or else all the design in the world won’t help you. Those that only have a page or two inside of a larger website are at an extreme disadvantage — I’ve explained why over here.
Let’s get into those questions.
Question One: “What’s in it for me?”
Tax breaks, HUBZone areas, grants, and more need to be obvious on the homepage, in sidebar callouts, and on a dedicated page of their own. Incentives are a leading competitive advantage and while some may consider it risky to proclaim them all out in the open for other localities to mimic, you shouldn’t expect site selectors to reach out to find out what they are.
Question Two: “Who is already there?”
This question has a ton of different ways to be answered and may stand the greatest chance of promoting your community’s culture and proving its growth. It’s also the best way for you to use visuals throughout your website. Things like quality of life and and local employers can be visualized, framing them in a way they relate to innovation and recruitment can go a long way in appealing to new businesses.
Presenting a list of local employers is non-negotiable but avoid overuse of testimonials. Although it makes logical sense to have social proof, it doesn’t seem to carry as much weight as we think.
Include some but don’t risk valuable space that could be used for more important things, like…
Question Three: “Where can we locate?”
At this point, the visitor sees who’s there and the benefits they stand to gain by locating to your neck of the woods. Next, show what locating actually looks like. Sites like Crezi or LoopNet are the obvious ways to do this, or you can make a point to showcase properties on your website. Providing 4-5 “featured properties” at the bottom of each targeted industry’s page can maintain relevance and seamlessly guide visitors to see the actual spaces that are available.
Question Four: “Why not go somewhere else?”
This is the hardest question for economic development websites to answer. What are your cultural, geographic, and logistical strengths? What will put your community on the shortlist for site selection? Why would a selector care to visit? This is often helped by branding doing some heavy lifting since those questions should’ve already been addressed during your brand development.
It’s important to remember that every (legitimate) website visitor is human and we all work the same way. The right side of the brain takes in the data and performs the initial analysis but the slower, more intuitive left half often ignores the right and can be the actual decision maker. I explain it further in this video — skip to 1:57 and please forgive the pandemic beard.
Question Five: “OK, I’m interested. Now what?”
Site selectors are a varied bunch and they’re all at various stages of their selection journey. You can accommodate this by offering more than just making contact information obvious. You can provide a range of calls to action on an economic development website that prompts visitors to ask specific questions or use data capture tools (industry-specific guides, local reports, etc.) to get contact information for lead nurturing.
You can also take things a step further by incorporating better tracking tools into the website. One such tool is Leadfeeder, a website tool that links organizational data to website visitor traffic. You can see their company name, pages visited, repeat visits, etc. in one platform. Using tools like this may seem a bit creepy but they can be a game changer in your team’s outreach and in ongoing website optimization.
Once you have those questions answered, you can move on to adding content that further reinforces those answers. But an economic development website should never be too large. Stick to the fundamentals, improve the content over time, and you’ll maintain a very competitive website for years to come.