Over in the UK, Philip John has just announced a new OpenlyLocal WordPress plugin that looks very cool. (Hope he doesn’t mind me grabbing the screenshot from his blog post!)
You tell the plugin which is your local UK council and it grabs data from the (also very cool) OpenlyLocal web site and turns it into a widget that shows upcoming council meetings.
Of course, this is only for UK-based local bloggers. If you’re not a UK blogger and you’re on WordPress, you can use the existing RSS widget to do something similar … but only if your local government web site offers an RSS feed of upcoming meetings. In my experience, many don’t.
(BTW, we could use something like OpenlyLocal over here in the US. Does anything like it exist?)
I’ve mentioned before that my wife and I don’t run hyperlocal news blogs. Yes, we post news, but it’s not “hard news” and we purposely stay away from potentially polarizing topics like politics. That’s because the main purpose of the blogs isn’t to be a news source, but to indirectly increase my wife’s visibility as a local real estate agent. We post about community events, school-related news, and stuff like that, while skipping accidents, crime, politics, and so forth.
But I also recognize that people reading our blogs might want some more local news, so just this past week we added what I’ve called a “local newswire” to each of our four local blogs. Here’s a screenshot from the newswire on our Richland real estate blog:
This might be a valuable page for any hyperlocal blogger, whether you run a news blog or not. The main requirement is that you’re using WordPress. (If someone wants to write similar instructions for another blog platform, let me know and I’ll gladly link to it or let you post it here as a guest article.) If you’re using WordPress, here’s how to do it.
How to Create a Hyperlocal Newswire
1. Download, install, and activate the Lifestream plugin. This plugin lets you aggregate an unlimited number of RSS feeds into a single page on your blog. (Or into a post, I suppose.) Lifestream has its own requirements (PHP 5, MySQL 5+, etc.), so check your hosting setup to make sure it’ll work.
2. Make a list of local RSS feeds that you want to pull into your newswire. Local newspaper, local TV, you name it. Just grab the URLs of each RSS feed and save it in a text file.
3. Add each RSS feed URL into the Lifestream admin/settings page. As you can see from the screenshot below, Lifestream pre-supports a few dozen types of feeds — Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and many more. I used a few of those, but mostly used the “Generic” RSS feed.
When you click on the “Generic” button there, it leads you to a short and simple form where you supply the feed URL. If you want, you can also give it a label that will show up on your public newswire page — like “WKRP News” or something like that.
If you want to have little customized icons like we do (see the Google and Yahoo icons in the first screenshot above), then you’ll need to create those (16 x 16 each) and indicate the URL for each icon when you add the feed. Or you can skip this and have the generic orange RSS feed icon show up each time. Your call.
4. Repeat step 3 for each feed you want to include in your newswire.
5. Create the newswire page. Just create the new page, give it a name and URL in your WordPress admin, and make sure to put
as the page content. That’s all you need. Hit Publish and you’ve got a local newswire. Congrats! But wait, one more thing to share….
How to Handle Non-Specific RSS Feeds
If we had one blog for our entire region, the above is all I would’ve needed to do. But we have four blogs, one for each of the main cities in this area. And the local media covers all four cities — in other words, the local paper’s RSS feed includes news about all four cities, when we only want news from one city appearing on each blog.
How do you pull out news for a single city from an RSS feed that covers many cities?
Try Yahoo Pipes. Now listen, I’m one of the least technologically smart people I know. Programming makes my eyes glaze over and puts me to sleep. So if I can figure out how to use Yahoo Pipes, you can, too.
You’ll need a Yahoo account and all that stuff. Login to Yahoo, go to the Pipes URL above, and click the button to create a new pipe. Then here’s what I did:
1. Under the SOURCES tab on the left, click “Fetch Feed.” This adds a module to your pipe that lets you add any number of RSS feeds. Cut and paste the URLs of all the generic feeds into this module.
2. Under the OPERATORS tab on the left, click “Filter.” This adds a module that you can use to filter the content of your pipe. In my case, I’m taking the RSS feeds of all the local TV stations and the local newspaper and I’m going to filter them to include only stories that say “Richland” in the headline, and ignore stories that say “West Richland,” a separate town. (There are additional filtering options, but I’m just using this for now.)
3. Once you have both modules setup the way you want, make the pipe. Use the fun pipe-y interface to connect “Fetch Feed” to “Filter” and then connect “Filter” to “Pipe Output.” When you’re done, it should look something like this:
At this point, click the “Pipe Output” module to test what you’ve done. Some results should show up at the bottom of the screen, telling you that you’ve created your first Yahoo Pipe.
4. Wrap it up and get out of there. Save your pipe and give it a name if you haven’t already. Click the “Back to My Pipes” link, and then on that next page, click the name of your pipe — this will take you to the page that has the RSS feed of the pipe you just made.
5. Grab the pipe’s RSS feed URL and add it to Lifestream. Once you have the RSS feed URL, do the same thing you did in step 3 above when adding feeds to Lifestream.
Step 6 – pat yourself on the back for figuring out how to use Yahoo Pipes!
See It In Action!
If you’d like to see the four newswires we’ve just published, here are the links:
These are only a couple days old, so you’ll see that there’s still some cleanup work to do in places — fonts, font sizes, etc. And since they’re so new, I have no stats to share about how many times the pages get visited or anything like that.
I think there’s value in this kind of content no matter what kind of hyperlocal blog you have. For Cari and me, it adds a lot of news content to our blog — most of which we wouldn’t write about ourselves. But even if you do have a news blog, I think there’s value in aggregating other local news content so that your readers have a one-stop source for what’s going on locally.
As I mentioned, if there’s a way to do something similar on non-WordPress blogs, leave a comment or send me an email so I can link to your “how to” or invite to write one as a guest post. If you already have a newswire-type page on your blog, or have questions about what I’ve described above, the comments are open.
But the rest of us struggle at times. On our four hyperlocal blogs, Cari and I sometimes go 2-3 weeks between posts simply because there’s not always a lot of material that fits what we’re doing. If this sounds familiar to you, here’s a suggestion for five types of web sites you must bookmark and visit on a regular basis to get potential blog content.
1. Schools & School District web sites
There’s a good chance that many of your readers have kids. And even the folks who don’t — you hope they’re smart enough to realize that school-related news still affects them because it affects the overall community, it affects home values in the neighborhood, etc. You really can’t go wrong writing about school-related stuff on a local blog.
Check out your local district web site and the local school sites. Look for News pages that can be bookmarked. Look for newsletters to subscribe to. Look for a Calendar or Events page for information about upcoming school board meetings or student theater productions. All of this makes terrific local blog content.
2. Government web sites
This is something that does impact all your readers. No matter how old, how long they’ve lived in town, etc. … government decisions impact us all.
Look for the same kinds of News and Events pages I mentioned above in the Schools section, and newsletters to sign up for. But also look for financial documents and other official publications that can be read or downloaded, then written about. Look for information about public works projects — street closures and parks are things that affect a lot of people. Bookmark the county health department web site and the emergency services department, too. Look for election information when it’s that time of year. Perhaps most of all, look for a Links page to learn about other city and civic-related web sites you should be reading to keep up on local news.
3. Event Facility & Ticketing web sites
Everyone likes to know about events that are happening in your city. Many of the most successful posts we’ve written on our local blogs are posts that promote local events. (This is especially true because the “official” pages for these events are often very poorly built and have no SEO to help them rank well on Google, Yahoo, etc.)
Bookmark web sites for your local convention center or trade show facility and look for their events calendar. Bookmark the web sites for your local sports facilities and theatrical venues. Bookmark the Ticketmaster web site for your closest arenas and/or stadiums, and pay attention to the upcoming events. All of this is excellent blog material.
4. Local Media & Local Blog web sites
I should hope this is a no-brainer. I’ve said before that, once you start a local blog, you’re now a local journalist. And it’s perfectly normal to follow what other journalists are reporting in your town.
Look for RSS feeds and/or newsletters you can subscribe to so that the local news comes to you more often than you need to go find it. If possible, try to develop relationships with your fellow writers and reporters. You may not have much luck with the traditional media, but working together with other bloggers is a great way to network and get new ideas for local blog content.
5. Social Media web sites
My previous post, How to Use Twitter to Find Local Blog Content, shows how we’ve used Twitter for finding local blog content. I’m sure you can do the same on Facebook, and maybe other sites, too. These are great sites to meet other locals, hear what they’re writing and talking about, and potentially get content ideas to write about.
But I’m not only talking about written content here. You should also visit the Groups page on Flickr and do a search for your hometown. I’m betting you’ll find at least one, if not several groups where local residents are sharing photos and having discussions. This can be a great way to source photos that can add a strong visual element to your blog posts — as long as the local photographers are licensing their photos through Creative Commons. YouTube doesn’t have local groups, but you can do keyword searches to find local videos … never know, you might something funny, cool, unique, or newsworthy. And most YouTube users allow their videos to embedded on other sites.
What Did I Miss?
Over to you: What other types of local web sites are great for getting content and content ideas? What would you add to this list? Comments are open.
If you enjoyed my How to Use Twitter to Find Local Blog Content post from a couple weeks back, you may also want to check out this post from the Hyperlocal 101 blog:
It mentions more than just the ones I had in my article here on HLB and talks about the idea of using Twitter for user-generated content.
Twitter is responsible for the most popular blog post we’ve written on any of our four hyperlocal real estate blogs. Here’s how it happened, how we use Twitter as a content source for all of our local blogs, and how you can do the same.
Twitter, Kanye West, & Local Blogging
It was just about a month ago when I saw this tweet from a fellow Tri-Citian:
The link points to a blog where rap star Kanye West is shown wearing a Kamiakin Braves letterman jacket while appearing on BET television. Whoa. Major celebrity wearing the jacket of a local high school in a TV appearance??!!?? Crazy. I grabbed a couple of the photos and wrote this post on our Kennewick Real Estate Blog within 15 minutes of the original tweet.
What happened? Read more
The Tri-Cities is relatively small, so “breaking news” is a term that we sometimes use pretty loosely. Still, two recent episodes involving our local blogs showed me the power of breaking news content when it comes to driving traffic.
Episode #1: Pasco Winter Storms
In mid-December, we had a series of winter storms one after the other. One of those storms was particularly bad; our local airport suffered through cancelled flights, regional bus service was cancelled, mountain passes were closed, etc. This was right before Christmas, so you can imagine what a headache this was for locals and out-of-towners trying to travel in or out of the area.
The problems began on Sunday, December 20. When I realized things would continue to be bad the next day, I wrote a blog post:
I published that late Sunday night. Notice that I used a primary keyword (Pasco Airport Weather Delays) in the headline. If you read the post, you’ll see that I mention Pasco Airport a couple more times, and even use the 3-letter airport code (PSC), in case people searched with that instead of the full name.
How’d it work? Have a look:
Sure enough, lots of people were searching for information about the airport delays, and our Pasco blog saw that big spike in traffic. The traffic even stayed higher than normal for several days after the worst day of weather problems.
Episode #2: Local Fire
Early one morning last week, a fire destroyed the clubhouse at the West Richland Golf Course. Fortunately, no one was hurt; but the facility was a total loss. Cari heard about the news and blogged about it when she got to the office that morning.
Here’s what blog traffic looked like that day:
The traffic jump isn’t as dramatic as in the Pasco example, but it’s obvious. The search engines found the post quickly, and it showed up when locals were looking for news about the fire.
In that second example, I don’t mean to come across as though I’m happy that we benefited from someone else’s tragedy, but the point is clear: People get a lot of their news online these days, and when local news breaks, they’re likely to turn to Google, Yahoo, etc., to find out anything they can.
Hyperlocal bloggers should be prepared to take advantage of that, and give local neighbors the news they want whenever possible.