It’s been several years since I first created the website for Carmi, Illinois, the town where I live. It might not be your stereotypical small town in middle America, but it’s darned close.
A city website has a few purposes. The first is a legal one, to be able to post city council agendas and minutes, as well as other documents that need to be made pubic. We decided the easiest route to go for that is a blog format. That allows city personnel to post their own information without having to go outside and pay a web designer to do it for them.
It should also serve the residents. That mainly consists of giving them phone numbers and contact information for city officials and departments, as well as directions and other helpful tips.
Once you’ve accomplished that, it’s time to look further afield and try to help solve other issues affecting the town.
For that we turned to Google Analytics, to see who was finding the site and what search terms they might be using. The answers surprised us. When done properly, SEO or search engine optimization works and can drive more traffic to your site. It’s not a quick fix, but it’s one long term strategy you should never avoid.
What we found was the three areas the site which got the most traffic was for the campgrounds, relocating to Carmi and for the library.
The library was surprising as it was the most visited page. We first assumed it was for people wanting to know the hours, but we realized that it was also people wanting to know what services the library offers. As it was obviously being found by their customers, it was decided search engine optimization for this page should go towards establishing quality of life services for people looking to relocate in the area.
Essentially half of our efforts went towards this goal. While Carmi doesn’t want to become a bedroom community, we certainly have no objections to people with good paying jobs elsewhere wanting to move to a smaller town to raise a family. This is one of the main appeals of small towns like Carmi, which aren’t too far from urban centers or other small towns with big industry.
The other area we chose to focus on was surprisingly, tourism. With Burrell Wood Bicentennial Park doing a booming business with campers, and having recently purchased some adjacent acreage, we wanted to get a jump start on next year’s season. People locally don’t consider Carmi to be a hotbed of tourism, but campers here have been quietly and steadily increasing in number over the past few years. This is good for the local economy as they frequently make purchases at grocery stores and other retail outlets, as well as gas and other conveniences.
We also added some new pages, heavily optimized for our new strategy.
In addition we updated the structure of the site itself, making it more user friendly. The homepage was expanded with the most requested phone numbers added, as well as direct links with larger images to the pages we want visitors to find.
The pages themselves went to a narrower format, reflecting the fact that about half the site’s traffic accesses it via mobile phones. While some websites provide completely different experiences for desktop and mobile, it’s more cost effective and simpler to design for both at once. In addition, we made the site more responsive for mobile users.
All municipalities in Illinois are required to have a website to post city business on. It only makes sense if you’re going to invest in an online presence, that you make the most of it. With a combination of better design, more mobile friendly services and search engine optimization, the site should be good for a few more years.