Monday, August 09, 2010

Leesburg VA Restaurants - eGovernment Online Marketing

Fireworks Pizza, Leesburg VA
Leesburg VA’s website implemented an interesting capability recently, a directory of Leesburg VA restaurants. There are a lot of angles to consider regarding this foray by a local government into direct economic development and marketing, and it’ll certainly be interesting to see the ROI – which should be published after 6 months or so by the town. Are they off to a good start, in terms of providing value to the taxpayers and businesses? It’s a reasonable start, and well-intentioned, and there are several opportunities to improve.

The alphabetized directory of all restaurants within the Leesburg city limits, along with a Google maps-generator for finding directions is executed in a very simple, non-partisan manner. It can be updated in real time, unlike many towns who publish document-centric business directories just a few times a year. In terms of online marketing, there really aren’t included any of the typical promotional indicators you’d find in a commercial directory listing – like highlighting, descriptive meta and alternate text tags, good anchor text used with restaurant website links, text descriptions and reviews, restaurant-supplied imagery or advertisements, etc. In fact, the restaurant pages themselves are a wholly non-search engine optimized implementation. They won’t be indexed very often or helpfully by search engines like Google, especially with the “unfriendly” URL and the very duplicative nature of all the listing pages (aside from the restaurant name).

What this style of implementation delivers, therefore, is straightforward non-competitive “eGovernment” services to traditional constituents of government services, but very little additional online marketing value to the restaurants themselves. Local chambers of commerce tend to operate in the same way, mostly avoiding preferential treatment in their listings and not offering much in the way of truly optimized online exposure. “Traditional constituents” is used to indicate those people who are used to visiting the local government site for information – more current Internet users typically rely on search engines, themed-directories or social media to investigate and plan entertainment outings. So, the content from the Leesburg site won’t necessarily appear in those channels – but marketing of the restaurants via commercial directories and business services (along with their own efforts) will remain competitive.

Even if the intention of this directory implementation is to be as pure eGovernment vanilla as possible, every page of the site does, however, provide opportunities to promote the broader Leesburg visitor and economic development agenda – i.e. promoting the overall Leesburg dining experience on behalf of all restaurants. Using phrases in text, links and meta tags such as “great restaurants in Loudoun” might drive additional visitors to the directory and therefore Leesburg businesses (at the expense, though, of Hamilton restaurants – welcome to the new era of local government online marketing competition!).

This may be both a good and bad thing, depending on your perspective. On the one hand, the marketers, advertisers, owners and investors in sites like “Yelp”, “UrbanSpoon” and the new “TBD.com”, local Loudoun restaurant blogs and media with advertising, and of course restaurants with active marketing campaigns – all of these business owners have a vested interest in the de facto government (i.e. “dot.gov” domains) NOT entering the competition for Internet eyeballs. In Loudoun, there’s already some pretty stiff competition against commercial businesses for online tourism traffic with the emergence of “Visit Loudoun – DC’s Wine Country” (the Loudoun Convention & Visitor’s Association). Many of these business owners providing restaurant information and reviews have local interests, and their success contributes as well to the local economy – so if you’re a local restaurant blogger supported by local advertising, you’d rather the Government wasn’t competing with you.

On the other hand, searching for “Leesburg restaurants” in Google or YouTube is bound to highlight only those offerings with the best online marketing investments (or simply the most publicly popular restaurants) – rather than perfectly good and interesting ones that you’d like to see but that simply don’t market online.

The Leesburg restaurant directory does, however, deliver some third-party advertising that restaurants should understand. In using Google maps to provide directions, this comes with Google’s advertising and marketing techniques, which include reviews of the restaurant, similar ones nearby, and third-party ads which may or may not be competitive (and may not be in Leesburg). All local businesses would be well-advised to solidify their Local Business listing and profile with search engines like Google…

Classification and grouping of restaurants is a standard way to help visitors find or try new restaurants. For their dining directory, Visit Loudoun chooses a more tourism-oriented theming consistent with attracting visitors to both the area and establishments - ranging from “Afternoon Tea” to “Farm-to-Table” and “Market Fresh”. Leesburg sticks with basic directory categories that seem to cater more towards visitors and residents already in town (vs. considering a visit), like “Burgers & Other Fast Food”, “Ice Cream & Smoothies”, “Pizza” etc. Picking on a favorite, Vintage 50 Restaurant & Brew Lounge, it’s categorized as “American” on the Leesburg site, and under “Microbreweries” at Visit Loudoun…Leesburg might consider actually having two classification schemes, one more “government directory” oriented, and the other with some additional marketing panache.

The Leesburg restaurant directory, therefore, is a well-intentioned, reasonably benign implementation of useful online government services – but is also a solid entry into the very competitive online marketing world that the city needs to be intimately familiar with…for both the benefit of its constituents, and to avoid unintended or exclusionary competition with them.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Dan @ Dulles Airport Parking said...

It's just a directory (for now) and there's no featured or favored establishment far as I can see. I think it's public service at this point, there are no overt signs that they're even trying to monetize the page which still doesn't show up in the serps for the major keywords related to Leesburg VA restaurants. Airport authorities (like MWAA and BWIA), operating under the federal or state governments do it, why can't a local government do it? If they make money out of a page that help steer diners to the restaurants in the area, it's a double-win and I say good for them.

4:00 AM  

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