You First Need To get Noticed

I have previously written about the importance of having a strong Internet presence for your community if you hope to compete for capital investment. You may recall the data I have cited from the most recent DCI national study among CEOs indicating 76% of the time a short list of locations has been created before every engaging with an economic development professional.  As I have said, but it bears repeating, 76% of the time you community’s image determines if it is on or off that short list. In many, many cases, that image is shaped by what can be found on the Internet. If a community had an extra $1 to invest, I would recommend investing it to improve either their search engine visibility and/or content of their community website. If they have a reasonable amount of money to invest, then I recommend strengthening the community’s positive visibility in major CEO read publications like the Wall Street Journal. Under no circumstances, would I want to miss the chance for my community to at least be considered for 76% of the capital investment opportunities.

Recently, I reviewed the results of Area Development’s national consultants survey. While it is very challenging to make comparisons between surveys of different audiences conducted using differing data collection instruments, I found the results to be pretty consistent with the DCI study.

When asked about what most clients contracting for a location search have already done, site selectors paint a clear picture that many decisions have already been made by the client before they are contracted to provide a service.

37% of clients have already narrowed down the geographic area in which they wish to locate

10% of clients have already chosen several finalist communities

23% of clients have already generated preliminary data

I look at the responses and conclude that in roughly 70% of occasions when a company contracts a site selection consultant, some image has been created (or a decision to reject has been made) for the communities that move forward in the process.

Wow! In 70% of occasions, if your community is not on the short list, it is already ‘game-set-match’.

You might be tempted to rely on the relationships you have built over years with the site selection consultant community to get on the list of your community has been left off. I think that is a weak strategy. When asked about the services provided to clients, only 27% of contracts involved participation in the site selection decision. Keeping site selection consultants informed of your community assets and programs is certainly a necessary component in any economic development sales plan. But, it is likely not sufficient to drive achievement of your community’s job growth goals. Whether the 27% is exactly right is immaterial. Clearly the data do not break in favor of doing things the ‘old way’.

Based on either (or both) the DCI survey of CEOs data and the Area Development survey of Site Selectors data, it is reasonable to conclude you need to ensure your community’s value proposition is heard and understood by capital investment decision makers and key influencers inside companies if you hope to have a fighting chance to accelerate local economic growth,


I decided to take a look at Inc’s top 5 rated mid-sized cities and assess their website performance just to see if there might be a visible correlation between having a great website and being a top rated city. This is admittedly a naïve and totally non-scientific way of testing the hypothesis. But, the results are interesting none-the-less. Because I love the tool and use it personally to measure the performance of, I scored each city’s website using HubSpot’s WebsiteGrader tool.

All but 1 of the 5 had a score > 90. I would conclude that as a group, the top 5 have done an excellent job in ensuring their websites are optimized technically. Clearly, the leaders in these communities see the value of investing in a strong Internet presence. The cities are ranked in descending order of their Grader Score. (Maybe El Paso will be motivated to improve their score.)

Grader Score = 99; Fayetteville, AR

Grader Score = 95; McAllen, TX

Grader Score = 92; Anchorage, AK

Grader Score = 91; Corpus Christi, TX

Grader Score = 79; El Paso, Tx


How does your community rate using Website Grader? Is there room for improvement? Does your community website appear on page #1 of a Google search? How much coverage has your community enjoyed in the major publications read by CEOs? (You can reference the DCI Study to see which publications those are.) What percent of your promotional budget are you investing in PR and online communication?

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6 Comments so far

  1. Madalena Sanchez Zampaulo

    November 2, 2011

    Hi, Ed! I think it’s extremely important. Another essential concept to consider is one’s international presence by having a translated and localized site for the language groups and cultures that your company targets, either domestically or abroad. Great discussion! Thanks!

  2. Linda H. DiMario

    November 2, 2011

    By online presence, I am interpreting that to mean all online including social media. That being the case, according to research and surveys of site selectors, developers and commercial brokers, pretty darn important these days. Before the internet and social media, a site selector would conduct a site visit and seek out word of mouth reflections of the community into which they were looking to relocate. Now, they can, and do, easily tune into online chatter and social media channels to read what residents, business owners, cities, realtors, customers and other developers are saying about a community in real time, unfiltered! That’s why cities need a robust communications plan, including some paid online advertising and social media, to build identity and reputation. If EDOs and cities don’t do it, others surely will!

  3. John Marshall

    November 2, 2011

    In my somewhat biased opinion, it is currently the most effective use of marketing dollars for an Economic Development organization. Site selectors do over 80% of their analysis online, before they ever pick up the phone. Smart phones and tablets with hotspots are becoming widespread. Google and other search engines are replacing the yellow pages. Facebook is replacing many of our society’s old ways of communication. A strong online presence displays an active and progressive business climate that says “we are open for business”. #econdev

  4. Steve S. Chandler

    November 3, 2011

    This is a fantastic post. I could not agree more. It amazes me to see how many economic development organizations bury their information inside the walls of a city website. It practically screams were not that special of a place for bring your business.

    In addition, everyone is absolutely singing the same song (wait for it) of ” a great place to live, work and play” peppered with stats on available land, labor force and accolades.

    Bottom-line – communities must realize their success absolutely requires a well thought out plan for building their brand footprint online!

    Thanks for the article!

  5. Jan Ross

    November 3, 2011

    Great article with strong advice for destinations to improve their online presence and ranking. Thanks for the tip on Website Grader – great info to compare effectiveness and to understand why some do it better than others.

  6. William Barry

    November 9, 2011

    Thanks for this discussion. I’m the ED Officer for a small local Gov’t in Perth, Western Australia. I have the draft of my ED Strategy just recieved from consultants and there’s very little on the on-line activities and certainly it does not promote it anywhere near the level that this discussion is talking. I am re-writing the strategy and have got extra enthusism from this discussion knowing my gut feeling is right and the consultants are missing the point. Cheers

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