The case for city rankings


“We’re No. 1!” is more than just bragging rights. That “stamp of approval” often is free marketing for businesses, attractions and cities.

As Aberdeen attempts to attract new employers and employees to town, we believe online rankings can be a valuable tool in reaching new audiences and spreading the word.

We started thinking about this after reading Mayor Mike Levsen’s Nov. 3 “Ask the Mayor” column. 

A resident asked why Aberdeen doesn’t seem to participate in rankings and scoring reports that rate how cities treat minority groups, among other issues.

“My response to national issue advocacy groups has been to not join and not participate in their campaigns,” Levsen wrote. “We would have no control over any subsequent actions or policies of those groups, and no control over how our city name would be used. ... Instead, let’s concentrate on doing the right thing, not worrying how some third party evaluates us.”

That seems short-sighted to us.

Let’s look at how universities, for instance, tout their rankings.

In just the past month alone, Black Hills State University has sent email news releases mentioning its rankings from the Sierra Club (“Cool Schools 2018” listing) and Best Value Schools (No. 9 of “the best online Bachelor of Business Administration degree programs for 2018”).

Do those rankings really mean anything? Not in a tangible way – we don’t think BHSU won any money, for instance.

Intangibly, however, it keeps the school’s name out there for very little money. It looks like things are happening, and helps the university extend its brand. 

Those little connections might mean something to a high school senior who would not have otherwise heard of Black Hills State, let alone considered applying.

When you consider how competitive universities are for students, for faculty and for dollars, it makes sense that they would take full advantage of any opportunity to look good.

In the noisy online world, this kind of marketing can be the viral difference between being noticed or being ignored.

Levsen continues, “Instead of having national groups passing judgments, we regard critical evaluation by local residents as a better indicator. If things are mishandled, hearing from those involved has much more power and relevance for encouraging necessary changes.”

That misses a key point: Sometimes local folks don’t know all we have to offer, or the standards to which our city should aspire.

And, assuming that “evaluation by local residents” is a more valuable metric to improving our city, wouldn’t being recognized for those successes by an outside organization help get the message out?

The concerns mentioned in the “Ask the Mayor” column don’t seem to slow down Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Brookings and other cities from bragging about their gains. Maybe those cities and their promotions people can suggest which surveys are worth participating in, and which aren’t?

We say: Take every opportunity to shine – especially when it doesn’t cost us a dime.

More In Opinion