Building better small town websites

Our friend Shawn Kirsch, is back with another guest post. He’s been thinking about small town websites. 

We are living in a time where it is easier to share information than ever before. We’ve advanced from the telegram, to the USPS, and to email. Today’s internet offers a multitude of ways to share information. Digg and StumbleUpon have been around for some time, but Twitter has made that sharing more social, and Facebook is bringing it to the mainstream user. So why are small town websites not leveraging them?

Rural America has a hard enough time promoting itself, much less in a hurting economy. Do you know where to focus your marketing? Do you have site analytics to show what parts of the country are visiting your website the most? Are you doing everything you can to be found? Do people enjoy looking at your town website?

There are some fantastic city websites out there, Howard, South Dakota is an example. But many more are like those near my hometown, New Leipzig, ND.

New Leipzig’s website is a lot better looking than it used to be, but it’s overly simplistic. Take a peek at the Business directory. How is that helping any of the businesses in town? With 300 people, we all know what’s available. People who aren’t from here will gain no substantial information from that. I also get a kick out of the ‘Area Attractions,’ which includes Yellowstone National Park. If you can’t go there, enjoy yourself and come back within 16 hours, it isn’t an easy drive.

Just down the road is Mott, ND. They do a moderately better job of providing useful information for you, but the site’s design could use some upgrading. To me, it has a mid-90s GeoCities template vibe. They do have a reason to return to the site though, Owen Blickensderfer has entertaining stories on there from time to time, once you find them that is.

Not terribly far north of us is Beulah. One of the better looking site designs in the area, it could use a bit of a refresh, that home page could have bigger….. everything. Beulah’s site has lots of information about the city throughout, and it’s fairly well organized too. The lack of pictures is bothersome to me. The pictures they do have could be bigger too.

The bothersome thing about all 3 of those sites is that they are static. Is your town so devoid of activity that you can’t write a blog post three times a week? You deserve a great big swig of some Google Juice, so give them a reason to index your site. There aren’t any search tools either. Are we trying to make it difficult to find things?

Moms are always looking for pictures. If Dad wants that new job, he’ll probably have to convince her to move, and pictures will help. Set up a Flickr account, establish a group that people can share in. Now you can grow a large collection of pictures, from many points of view. This will give people a good look at your town.

Do the people from your town genuinely like it? Enough that they would become a fan of your new Facebook Page? It’s free publicity for you! It’s a place where people can discuss things about town. You have been looking for opinions on how to improve things right? We can only come up with so many ideas ourselves. Which also means you need the comments those blog posts will bring. For better or worse, you can find out how your community feels about the direction the town is going, and you can react accordingly.

A new generation is taking over, and we care deeply about what our friends think. If you have 20 people on Facebook raving about your town, that’s the kind of publicity you can’t buy. Odds are that someone in your area has a pretty good grasp of what’s available to market your community with online, especially the free stuff.

Do you know of any towns using social media? Is there something you’d like to see your town try? How can we do a better job of marketing our small towns, and by extension, our businesses? 

Photo by Shawn Kirsch, used by permission.

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About Becky McCray

Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband own a retail liquor store in Alva, Oklahoma, and a small cattle ranch nearby. Becky is an international speaker on small business.
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Comments

  1. says

    Richard Azia, @warza commented: For a start find out how many of those people are on facebook, what events can you promote? Triathlon, skating events?

    And then of course the brocantes, that’s when the sellers go out and install stalls from which to sell things, markets :-)

  2. says

    Great post. I think this is a very important issue and will become even more so in the near future. As online choices for “news” & “events” grow more and more, it is all that more vital to produce a quality “local” hub for key stakeholders in those communities. Love the topic.

  3. says

    Found your site while looking for how small towns and cities are surviving in 2009. Your site is informative with real people talking, not marketing guru ‘spin’. Great site. In reference to websites, check out my labor of love for my community of about 12,000. http://www.havredegracethemeetingplace.com I get about 100,000 visitors a year.

    By the way, if I’ve posted twice – my apologies.

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