10 Feb 2014








10 Tips for a Great Economic Development Website

Mr. Monzon co-founded GIS Planning Inc., one of the fastest-growing 5,000 private companies in the United States, according to Inc Magazine. As developer of the first GIS-based website for economic development, Mr. Monzon is an entrepreneur, innovator and technology professional. With over 15 years of experience developing location-based applications and GIS based websites, he has received multiple awards in both the field of Economic Development and Geographic Information Systems. His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, CNN, NBC News, and numerous GIS-related publications. Mr. Monzon has lectured about Internet GIS in Europe, the United States, and Latin America. Prior to GIS Planning, Mr. Monzon worked for Vectiv, an online GIS site selection company focused on the retail industry.

I “fell” into the economic development industry about 14 years ago when my county in Southern California needed a new director for a regional economic development organization. Like so many others that begin a profession in economic development I had no formal training, so I learned things such as the value of demographics, what site selectors are looking for in a community, and how to build a successful website. I am not a “techie” by nature and still may, on occasion, refer to something as a “whatchamacallit” or “doohickey.” Back when I started, community wifi was not the norm. This was back in the 90’s and smartphones weren’t built yet, texting was new, GIS for economic development was very new, and websites were… well, primitive. 

 
Welcome to my websiteOur industry, technology and the Internet have come a long way since 1999, but unfortunately some economic development websites haven’t. In my current position here at GIS Planning, I am on websites all day, every day and I thought I would take a moment to provide you with some helpful tips for making them better. Even the smallest communities with literally no experience can apply the following advice to help them succeed in this world of economic development.

First, site selectors, end-users, business-decision makers and even your existing industries and residents use your website to gather information. Much like we might shop for tires or a mattress (or shoes in my case), I spend my time doing my research online prior to making my purchase. Why would moving a business to your community be different? In fact, studies show over 95% of site selectors use the internet to qualify a community. If you aren’t being qualified, you are effectively being disqualified; what a shame to be counted out of the game simply because your information wasn’t there. You might be perfect for my expanding business, but if the business decision-maker doesn’t specifically know about your community and can’t find the information needed, you’re out!


Below is a short list of information I think EVERY website should have: 


1. Contact information. Contact Information. Contact information! I cannot be clearer. I have been on more websites that I can count and I’m sorry, but director@yourEDC.com does not count. I want to know who is in charge if I am thinking of moving my business to your area and I want to know how to reach you DIRECTLY. A picture is even more helpful. This helps answer the question “have I met you before” and creates a more personal touch when reaching out or hearing back from you. I can now picture the person at the other end of the email chain or telephone. 


Website contact page2. Easy to find contact information. Ok. Now that we have your contact information (and picture), listed, please make it easy for me to find.  An obvious link in the navigation helps. When I was an ED Director, I had a very brief welcome message, picture and direct contact information on my home page. Easy, easy. So helpful. And yet distressingly uncommon on many EDO websites.


3. Static reports don’t count. This may be a shameless plug for our company but as a former client, I feel I can brag a little here. If I was looking at your website for information to relocate, what would I find? Many static reports I find are old, insufficient and just that... static. Ensure your website users are able to get demographic and business reports that are interactive (0 - 60 minutes and 0-60 miles from any point), and sourced! Before I became a client I spent more staff time gathering that kind of information than I had time in the day to spend. 


Update information on your website4. Give it to me straight? Facts people, facts!. I want the facts about your community and current ones. If I am searching your website to help put you on the short-list for a project, I want to find out as much as possible. Demographics, incentive programs (with details), incentive areas, fast track programs, and what assistance I can get from you are just tips of the iceberg. I was actually on a website where the EDO listed themselves as being in a different state. Get your facts straight. If it isn’t true, don’t say it. 

 
5. Sites & Buildings are just the first step. A company can’t come to your area if there isn’t a place for them to go. So yes you need sites and buildings! But they aren’t coming just because you have a property. You need a tool to assist the user in finding not only a site or building that fits their needs, but all of the demographic, industry, and geographic information to support their short list of locations. Site selection has changed so much over the past 14 years, from actually going to the site and kicking dirt to sitting in your office or living room and looking online. 98% of corporate real estate pros use economic development websites for site selection. What will they find when they come to your community website? You could be disqualified by what they don’t find and not even know you were being considered! 

 
6. “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of them!” What medium-sized to large companies in your location are familiar to most website visitors? I don’t need long testimonials, but their name or logo under some section on your website with “who calls ABC community home”, would be great. Of course this too is just a start. It’s much better if you have an interactive list of ALL the business in the community that can be filtered by size, industry, and other characteristics so the businessperson can find specifically the types of businesses that related to their company.  

 
7. Click, click and more clicks. Please, don’t hide the important information! Three clicks. That is it. If I can’t find it in three clicks (two are even better), I am moving on to something else… or somewhere else! If I have to click more than three times to find it I have already lost interest – This isn’t a scavenger hunt. I don’t want to hunt and peck for nuggets of information. Check out Augusta Economic Development Authority to see how it can be done right. They won an award for this site and I can see why. Easy to navigate, aesthetically pleasing and all the information I was looking for, I found in two clicks! Sure, it may take more clicks to get to deeper and more nuanced information, but all basic information should be accessible immediately. 


8. If a picture says 1,000 words… then you don’t need 1,000 pictures. I get it. I’m a visual person but too many pictures and videos just slow things down and get too busy. Too many images and videos create sensory clutter or “noise.” Searching on a website is about finding information. While a few quality pictures (not of your office building please), real pictures from things in your community, are important. Focus more on quality of the shots than quantity. 


9. All roads lead to... When I was in ED, I sat down with my “web-guy” and we went through every single page in our website. We decided which categories a page like “sites & buildings” should be under and made sure that the link to our site selection tool was in every one of those categories so it was easy to find. Multiple links throughout the site help the user find the information they need. As long as the information is useful, make it easy to find! 


10. If you have a site selection tool - DON’T HIDE IT! I have been on websites where they had a tool but it was so hard to find that even I almost missed it. Clarksville-Montgomery County did a great job of bringing attention to their tool on the home-page. They have all of the buzz words “GIS,” “Available Properties” and it is on every page in their application. EASY! 

There are many good website developers today who are also very reasonable. Golden Shovel Agency, Brand Acceleration and yFactor all have options for every budget. There are also many websites to help you do it yourself. Check out: www.top10bestwebsitebuilders.com.


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