When deciding which community was the digital capital of Massachusetts, Internet giant Google did not go to Cambridge or Boston.
The company chose Westborough, a town of about 18,000 just west of Interstate 495, as its 2013 eCity of Massachusetts.
The award was presented to Town Manager Jim Malloy on Wednesday during an event at a local restaurant, the South Street Diner, that also drew US Representative James McGovern, a Worcester Democrat whose district includes Westborough.
The eCity award honors what Google calls the “digital capitals” of America by identifying communities where businesses are using Internet services, including Google’s own AdWords, to raise their profiles online. The theory is that online commerce, while benefiting Google’s paid search operation, also helps the local economy.
“What research has shown is that small businesses that have an Internet presence grow twice as fast and are twice as likely to hire more people,” said Matt Dunne, Google’s head of community affairs. “It’s a real indicator of their ability to reach out and generate additional business.”
Though the diner did not play a role in Google’s award, its owners are examples of how people in Westborough are Internet savvy.
Mark Sullivan and Phyllis Keene do not use any paid services to advertise their restaurant online, they said, but rely on Facebook to get the word out about promotions, and benefit greatly from the reviews customers post on rating sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp.
“Once they read those reviews, they go onto my website,” Sullivan said. “Once they review the website, I get these guests from all over the country as they’re traveling to the Cape or they’re going to Maine or they’re going to Boston,’’ he said, noting the diner’s location near the Mass. Pike and I-495.
More than a year ago, Google began a campaign to help America’s small businesses get online. This year, the company chose to recognize communities with the strongest and most dynamic Web presences in each state. Google forged a partnership with Ipsos, a global market research company, which then began the task of analyzing data in order to settle on one eCity per state.
In the first stage of the research, Ipsos compiled a list of all American municipalities broken down by population size. Google then calculated an AdWords penetration figure for each city or town, a number reached by dividing the community’s total population by the number of its AdWords customers. AdWords is a paid advertising service, provided by Google, that Sullivan said his diner does not use. Ipsos conducted further research into the Internet practices of local businesses in the top five cities by AdWords penetration in each state.
“They’re trying to get a picture of what business is doing,” said Barbara Clifford, president of the Corridor Nine Area Chamber of Commerce, which includes Westborough. “They do a statistical analysis without all of the super large national companies.”
Ipsos then identified a random sample of 51 businesses that employ between 1 and 50 people in each of the top five communities. A formula was applied to the businesses, taking into account whether they were listed in online directories, had a website, blog or social media presence, or allowed online sales or other transactions. The process also considered a business’s score on www.howtogomo.com, a Google website that offers tips on improving how a business website works across multiple platforms.
The individual marks were aggregated to provide a total for each contender, with eCity status awarded to the top scorer.
“It highlights that Westborough is a community where our businesses are fully utilizing the Internet to market their businesses,” Malloy said. “There’s value in this award to businesses that are here, and also to prospective ones.”
Clifford said that while it was a slow start for businesses to catch on to using the Internet, they have quickly become savvy about how best to manipulate their Web presence to their advantage. In addition, Westborough is a business-friendly town, she said, where local government and committees encourage the proliferation of small businesses and the technology they use.
“People don’t look at town lines anymore for boundaries,” Clifford said, noting how the Internet has removed physical proximity to customers as a barrier to a company’s success.
Malloy hopes that the award will put Westborough on the radar of companies looking to relocate by highlighting the town as a leader in online business. He said that the town plans to capitalize on the award by “doing some marketing work,” in addition to the promotional work that the town’s Economic Development Committee already does to bolster local businesses.
“We’re honored that our community was selected,” Malloy said. “Google is a giant on the Internet — we all Google something every day — and it’s great to be recognized by such a giant.”