7 Questions your Economic Development Website Needs to Answer

By Andrew Davies

The Economic Development Organization’s (EDO) website is one of its most important marketing tools. But before you get into design and functionality details, make sure you can answer these 7 questions.

In the economic development marketing toolkit, few tools are as valuable as the website. According to DCI’s Website Insights for Economic Developers report,

“With nearly two-thirds of corporate executives and location advisors navigating to websites of economic development organizations (EDOs) as a resource in their site selection process,” 

So now more than ever you need to create an economic development website that sets your region apart. This will help it attract the right attention. Page speed and aesthetics are important. But building an effective website starts with a good content strategy. Ask yourself these questions if you’re rethinking your existing site, or planning a new one.

1. Who are you targeting?

Effective marketing always starts with knowing your audience. More than likely you’re targeting site selectors or C-suite executives. But is it evident from your site’s content who you’re trying to speak to? Which specific industries would be a good fit for your region? What would they need to see to consider your region when it comes time to relocate or expand? A manufacturer might be looking for available plots of land. While a tech-based employer might be more impressed with your talent pool. This level of specificity ensures you’re including the right information. Content, that appeals to your audience and shows off the most salient aspects of your region.

Aside from business attraction, what about the business retention and growth aspects of your mission? This means you’ll need to know who represents your region’s existing industries. Who would most likely need your help and what kinds of content do they need to see? There might be some overlap with your business attraction audience, but they’re going to want to see different kinds of information, like incentives for local businesses and networking opportunities.

2. How easily can they get to vital economic development data?

Making sure you include vital content on your site is one thing, but making it accessible is as important. Don’t waste all that hard work compiling and writing by making your audience hunt for the data they need. This is why designing a shallow structure is a key part of your website’s content strategy. When drawing out a sitemap for all the content on the site, make sure the key information is no more than 2 levels deep. In Winning Strategies in Economic Development Marketing, Robyn Dommer writes,

“…leading employers, key industries and regional data should be available within one to two clicks of the homepage.”

Sitemap sample of an ideal 3 level economic development website
A sitemap will help you visualize how far your visitors have to go to get the content they want.

Besides, your visitors are more likely to skim your site. They’ll scan for relevant headlines, then print out or save the pages if they want to read them later. Leading to high bounce rates on most EDO websites. This means you have a short window of time to get their attention. Making them click repeatedly is a surefire way of losing their interest.

3. What do you want them to do?

Once you’ve got your visitors to the content you want, what action do you want them to take? You’d love for them to call to set up a site visit or at least include your region on their shortlist. But what are the steps that will lead them up to that point? They could compile significant demographic data, download relevant maps and charts, or print a collection of applicable pages. Make sure they know what’s possible with easily identifiable call-to-action buttons.

Screenshot of SEDA's economic development website highlighting the print, save and share buttons.

4. Who should they contact?

There’s likely more than one expert on staff at your organization. And they’re qualified to answer specific questions about business relocation, retention, or growth. So make those staff contacts easy to find on your site. Generic contact forms are becoming less useful, and thus less used. C-suite executives and site selectors want to speak to a suitable expert now.

“Contact forms and general emails are no longer providing website visitors with the information they need. Executives and advisors are clicking straight to staff pages to get the right contact on the phone quickly.”

– Website Insights For Economic Developers
Screenshots of SEDA and Charleston's economic development websites showcasing the relevant contact person for each section.
Featuring the relevant contact person in a sidebar or on the contact page are two approaches you could use.

5. How visual is your data?

The fact that visitors are more likely to skim your site and not read it should make this recommendation a no-brainer. The more visual you can make your data, in the form of charts and infographics, the easier it will be for them to understand it.

various economic development data in the form of infographics and charts.
Economic development websites tend to include a lot of textual content. Breaking that up with icons, infographics, and charts makes your content more readable.

6. How often can they get updated economic development data?

Don’t think of your economic development website as merely a static repository of statistical data, but rather a dynamic media outlet regularly showcasing good economic news about your region. Again from DCI’s report,

“The EDOs that updated their website daily saw average unique monthly visitors upwards of 8,600. EDOs that only updated their site quarterly saw an average of 1,097 unique monthly visitors. Adding new content and keeping your website up-to-date makes a significant difference when it comes to attracting web visitors to your page.”

7. What makes your region special?

If a visitor to your website could copy and paste the text from another municipality’s website onto your own, then you know you have some work to do. Differentiation is as important in place marketing as it is with B2C. As Andrew Levine wrote for Forbes,

“With 39,000 municipal government units in the United States alone, the competition to attract investment, talent and tourists is intense. But most places fail to differentiate their offerings, choosing instead to tout their “quality of life,” “exceptional workforce” or “pro-business attitude.”

So even if your region has similar benefits to other similar competitors, look harder for those unique bragging points about your town that can’t be claimed by anyone else.