Nebraska Extension working to put rural businesses on the map
LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Have you ever driven through rural Nebraska and needed food or a hotel?
And have your online search results included suggestions from out of state?
For many communities across Nebraska, their online presence does not match what they truly have to offer, especially to an outside traveler.
Results can greatly vary even between phone and computer searches.
Researchers at Nebraska Extension noticed this problem back during the COVID-19 era.
They couldn’t physically go to rural communities at the time, and they were noticing large gaps when searching for them online.
Jason Tuller was taken aback by the number of attractions, restaurants, hotels and more that would not show up with a simple internet search — even when he knew they were there.
So he created a program to help places in rural Nebraska improve their digital presence.
York was one of the first communities to participate in the program.
“When you’re searching on the phone for York, it takes a lot of work to get past just the Google information that they prepopulate,” Tuller said. “It is very important for businesses, or the city, to make sure that they have taken control of their Google site.”
The program’s report on a town’s online presence takes two to three weeks.
It can take up to four hours just to research what your phone or computer are telling you.
The City of York worked with the Chamber of Commerce to learn about these gaps in order to fix them.
“It was very eye-opening to us at the chamber, that a lot of our businesses have a presence on the web, but it’s not a complete presence,” Executive Director Madonna Mogul said. “We noticed things like store hours or even the phone number for some of our locations were missing. Very crucial things when people are visiting or relocating to our community.”
York has been pouring just under $2 million into downtown renovations.
And an all-inclusive playground is set to open in May.
But many travelers would not stop to look without seeing a first impression of such things online.
“Sometimes what we find is that maybe a very popular restaurant or something in town, they don’t have an online presence at all,” Tuller said.
In Superior, for example, a new coffee shop didn’t show up in any searches.
“Those are the things that the feedback comes back to the community to where they can do something about it,” Tuller said.
The goal for Rural Prosperity of Nebraska is to cover another 10 to 12 communities this year.
In the end, experts say the fate of a town can be based solely on its first impression online.