(This is a guest post by Mike Ramsey who is the owner of Nifty Marketing, a local SEO company operating out of Burley, Idaho. He writes a monthly column for Search Engine Journal, and in his free time runs GoBurley, a hyperlocal news site for his hometown.)
My name is Mike Ramsey and I started GoBurley.com, a hyperlocal news site for the small town of Burley, Idaho. The site was started back in October 2009, and has actually seen a fair amount of success considering that my hometown has more cows than computers. I started the site because our county only has one local news source (name not mentioned to protect the not-so-innocent) that has caused a lot of issues and contention within our community. So, my goals are to directly compete against this once-a-week print newspaper, give our town an alternate news source, and save it from utter destruction (mellow-drama emphasis added).
Since starting the site, and competing directly against a staffed news company. I have come across six areas that I am having a hard time being consistent in. GoBurley.com is not my full-time job (my guess is most other hyperlocal sites are in the same boat), so I am looking for creative ideas from the hyperlocal community on how to best handle these six issues:
1. Topics, Ideas, and Series to Write On…
Breaking, Sports, City Government are the basics, but what are people doing that is fun, and tends to draw comments and crowds. Has anyone ran a successful series, has a weekly post that people look forward to?
2. How to Get Contributors?
Outside of asking on your blog for people to send in original content, how have you been able to gain contributors who are bringing quality content on a regular basis?
3. Planning Your Content
I have a feeling that many hyperlocal bloggers are not professional editors, journalists, or any other title that deals with news. Is there a “best practice” for when to publish at certain times, and how to plan out a week of content?
4. Advertising Your Site
I am interested to know if anyone has run an advertising campaign that has proved successful at bringing awareness and subscribers to their site?
5. Basic “best practices” for reporting
Considering my non-journalistic background, I am wondering if there are certain key things that you need to do when reporting.
6. How to Monetize your Hyperlocal Site
Are there creative ways that people are able to bring in revenue? Anything from taking donations to charging for subscription?
I know that there are a lot of questions listed here to think about, but I am sure that I am not the only person running into these issues, and hope that we can all benefit by sharing with each other.
[Note from Matt: If you have some thoughts, no matter how big or small, that might help Mike and other readers with the same questions, let me suggest the following ways to reply:
1. Leave a comment on this post.
2. Write a blog post about one or more of these questions, publish it on your own blog, and then drop the link in the comments below.
3. Write a blog post about one or more of these questions and have me publish it here on HyperlocalBlogger.com as a Guest Post.
Any of the above will work, so if you have something helpful to say, we're looking forward to it.]
(This is a guest post by Andrew Moore, a hyperlocal blogger from the Kansas City, Missouri area. In addition to being the editor of TheKCGuy.com for over a year, he has been a software engineer for most of the last decade.)
I have made what appears to be a rather foolish decision. People often ask me why I built my blog out of a wiki. I didn’t mean for it to happen this way, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I like it, and you might like it, too.
When I first set out to build TheKCGuy.com, I didn’t realize that I was making a blog. I was shooting for something more like a regular web site that could serve as a guide to the things to do in Kansas City. I thought I was building an encyclopedia about my town. So, timely posts like you’d find on a blog were less important to me than articles about restaurants or attractions that might be periodically updated. Using a wiki as my content management system didn’t seem that extraordinary.
As time has progressed, I’ve seen the benefits of posting regular articles as is typically done on a blog. Not only does the constant stream of updates on the front page help build recurring traffic, but the other bloggers are more likely to recognize my site as a blog and include it on their blogrolls and RSS feeders in addition to sending me regular links. The daily posts aren’t as important as the actual articles about attractions in my town, but they fill an important void that used to exist in the site. Through a series of small changes to my site, I’ve essentially built a blog off out of my wiki. I’m glad I have, and I’d do it again if I were going to build a similar site.
Pros of Using a Wiki
I already alluded to one of the greatest benefits I have seen in using a wiki tool instead of a blogging tool to build my local web site. Many of my pages, such as those about restaurants like Blue Grotto or d’Bronx are rather timeless. They may see many updates over time, but no notable publication date. Most blogging tools seem to focus a lot on the date that an article was published, but that’s not really useful to a reader who stumbles across one of my restaurant pages. In fact, seeing a publication date from last year may make them less likely to be interested in the article, even if the information is still valid. Using a wiki does not emphasize the publication date, but just how this article relates to others.
That’s not the only advantage I have seen, though. There are many others. The MediaWiki software that I use has a pretty good search tool built into it. It allows me to group articles into categories, much like some blogging tools use categories and tags, but these categories each get a page that allows me to describe them a bit and give supplemental information. MediaWiki pages do pretty well in search engines for a few reasons: The article titles appear in the URL, they make reasonable uses of HTML tags, and interlinking of articles is encouraged. I also like using the wiki syntax a bit better than using the markup for many blogging tools. It makes it quicker for me to include features like bold, headers, images, and links in articles.
Perhaps the feature that I’ve made most use of, though, is being able to include templates into articles. A good example of this is how I build the “infobox” for restaurant pages. I have a template that makes a box that includes useful information about a restaurant. On the page for a particular restaurant, I’ll include that template and populate it with the particular details for this restaurant, such as the phone number and location. This makes all of my restaurant pages look similar and makes it easy for me to edit them in the future. Being able to include articles and templates into other pages is also what helps me build the front page and have it change every day on its own.
Cons of Using a Wiki
Buiding the web site out of a wiki was not all rainbows and ponies, though. There are some real downsides that I fight against. For instance, I can’t use most of the fancy plugins for WordPress or other blog tools that many bloggers use. There are many extensions for MediaWiki that help me, though, such as those that help make Google Maps, embed YouTube videos, and use Google AdSense. There’s also not a very good commenting system built into it. I’ve chosen to use a third party blog commenting system, IntenseDebate, which is satisfactory, but not perfect. I also had to do a bit of work to build in calendaring logic, such as displaying this month’s calendar and all of the posts for the last seven days. These types of features are never missing from a modern blogging tool.
Perhaps the biggest drawback, though, is that some people just don’t understand what kind of site it is. For instance, bloggers aren’t sure they can add it to their blogrolls. Although I built an RSS feed on the site, people don’t typically think to add a wiki to their feed readers. I think that working to make the front page look either more like a blog or more like a traditional newspaper would mitigate this downside. I have already done a lot of work to make it look less like a wiki, such as removing the “edit” links and the default toolbox in the sidebar. This is one area that I need to continue working on in order to make my web site more accepted.
Final Thoughts & Resources
Having a site that doesn’t look exactly like every other blog out there and the other drawbacks aren’t enough to make me wish I had a regular blog. I truly think that using a wiki as a content management system to build a site that acts very much like a blog but has some additional benefits is well worth it. I encourage you to consider it, and if you’re interested to try it out. I even welcome you to contact me to let me know about your successes and difficulties in such an experiment.
I have been blogging for a long time and about six months ago was struck with the HyperLocal Blog bug. I wanted to use my talent to write about the news and events in my area that seemed to be missing from mainstream news. Traditional media like newspapers have so many restrictions placed on them by management that many stories that should be published never see the light of day. A local blog helps fill that gap and I am happy to share some of my tips on promoting and growing a local blog.
1. Using Twitter To Spread the Word
After the initial launch of the site, I set up a special Twitter account just for the blog. I use this Twitter account to announce new posts on my site as well as feed news from around my immediate area to my followers. At first I had one follower (thanks, Dad) but after a few weeks I saw my numbers growing in mass and this is how I helped kickstart that growth.
Follow the people in your area
I used a Twitter application called Monitter to see anyone in my area that was using Twitter. Depending on where you have a local blog there may be 20 people or 2000, but whatever the number, start following them. Get to know the people in your area and ask them for story ideas. It was surprising to me how many of the people I initially followed had something they wanted to say through my local blog.
I then turned to another Twitter application called Twollo. This service auto-follows people based on keywords you specify. For some people this may seem excessive, but I used it to track keywords like my city’s name, surrounding cities’ names and other keywords that were specific to my area — for example, “oakland riot” or “BART Police”. I found that many of the people I started following also started following me in turn and then started re-tweeting my stories to their friends. All of this created a snowball effect and my exposure to people in the area grew quickly.
The key to using Twitter is to stay connected to your followers. Take the time to thank people for following your local updates. Ask them for input and let them know if there is something they want attention called to, that you are available. All of this will help you connect with your followers on a deeper level and push more readers to your local blog.
2. Using Craigslist for Traffic
I wasn’t sure how this was going to work out for me but it turned out to be great. I went to the local section of Craigslist and posted a couple snippets in the “rants and raves” section talking about a local blog post I had just written. Within an hour I saw that people were visiting my site from the rant and people were leaving comments. I did this for a couple weeks when I wrote a post that I wanted to draw some new readers to and it hasn’t seemed to fail me yet. You can get even more creative and write a long story in the rants and raves section as a standalone post and leave the last sentence as, “If you want to know more about what’s happening in your city check out www.yourlocalblog.com.”
3. Let Your Readers Know You Care
Not always but more often than not, when people leave a comment on my site, I will either comment after them in response answering a question or just saying thanks for the comment. I have also emailed the people directly if they leave an email address, letting them know how much I appreciate their readership. People want to know that they are heard, and by connecting with your local blog readers, they are more likely to return regularly and turn your site into a community.
4. Local Content is King
You should write about things going on in your community. Some of these stories will come from your readers. (Make sure you have an easy way for them to contact you.) I know a local blogger that has a police scanner in their house and they post on police and fire activity in the area almostin real time. All of these are things that a local reader community wants. Some stories I pull from the newspapers and give my thoughts and opinions in ways traditional reporters are not allowed. The idea is to start a discussion about your city or neighborhood and let those discussions carry the post to a new level.
If there is a new mall being built or the streets are flooding in an area, grab a picture and put something up about it. These are things most news agencies could care less about, but your readers will be thankful. You will see the comments come in and your local blog will take on a life of its own.
5. Local Advertising
Currently I do not charge for an ad on my site. I have taken a donation or two but nothing I would consider advertising dollars. Start with the places you frequent most. What’s your favorite restaurant? Write something up about them and next time you go in, let them know about it. They will appreciate it and, in the times I’ve done it, they have told their family friends and other businesses about your website. All of which could get other businesses interested in exposure through your local blog.
I have enjoyed getting to know the other local blogs in my area and have talked with the local newspaper about my site, as well. The best thing you can do if there are other local blogs in the area is start a dialog with them and see if there are things you could do together. Sometimes this doesn’t work and they see you as a threat, but don’t let that discourage you. Blog on and keep writing about your area.
(Here’s more information about guest blogging for Hyperlocal Blogger.)
This is a guest post by Steve Sherron, a hyperlocal blogger in Monroe, NC. Steve recently launched Monroe Scoop and shares ideas and tips that he’s learned in a little more than a month of hyperlocal blogging.
My name is Steve Sherron and I have a confession: I’m sick. I’ve been struck with Hyperlocalbloggeritus.
According to Google research and other experts, Hyperlocalbloggeritus is a disease that has the possibility of becoming a full-blown national epidemic. It’s an affliction that will only get worse. It starts out innocently enough by infecting your city. From there it spreads through the internet into your local community. Unfortunately, the disease continues and attacks your local neighborhood meetings and restaurants in the form of news reports and reviews. Once Hyperlocalbloggeritus reaches your local community, I understand there is no cure.
The carriers of this disease appear to be local bloggers. For years and years, the only defense against this horrible disease was an antibiotic known as your local newspaper. Ever since paper media started declining, this infectious virus has been rearing it’s ugly head. Some cyberdoctors are directly accusing video cameras and YouTube for the massive spread of this disease. Currently, there is no known cure.
My situation is bleak. I’m a hyperlocal blogger in Monroe, NC. I originally found HyperlocalBlogger.com on a Google Alert I had set up for myself for local niche blogs. I discovered that Matt was already infected. I was newly diagnosed and needed information. I devoured his blog for information. After a few comments that I made on here, he extended an offer for those suffering from the same affliction to write a guest post. I would like to thank Matt for the invitation to share with you a little of my story and what I have learned in the short time that I have been struck with hyperlocal blogging.
Over the last 3 years, I made career decisions that have turned out to be somewhat disastrous.
In 2006, I became a real estate developer in Coastal North Carolina where I owned property along with my best friend and business partner. Long story short … bad move. Who knew what was coming? In 2007, we noticed the sky seemed to be falling on real estate a little, but we persevered. I went out and earned my real estate license and joined a local firm. As a real estate agent, your lifeblood and ability to survive depends on your marketing efforts. I became very interested in learning how to build web sites and shoot video. The sky continued to fall and in 2008 it completely fell on top of this nation’s head. Chicken Little was not lying. The ending is yet to be written on my real estate ventures. I’m praying for a good outcome.
My local real estate market has been announced officially dead. While enduring this slow death, I had managed to learn a few marketing and video skills. I discovered a few things about myself over the last couple of years:
- I do not particularly like being a real estate agent in a bad market. It’s hard, thankless work if there are no buyers.
- I discovered that I am happiest when I am working online or making videos.
As I began trying to determine where I might find my future online, the fog slowly began to lift. The word that kept popping up was local … local … local. In my personal circumstances, I am convinced that my best chance for success is going to be in my local market. I have discovered since I began this journey that local folks are starving for attention and publicity for their business or organization. Most do not understand SEO. Few have web sites. There is a gap and a need just waiting to be filled. I became a perfect candidate for Hyperlocalbloggeritus.
My prescription to anyone considering a hyperlocal blog is to quit thinking about it and just do it.
Seriously people, avoid paralysis by analysis and get off your keester. I started without a detailed plan of action. I still do not have this venture totally mapped out yet. My main concern from day one has been to research and select a few keywords and keyword phrases and start building content. Google found my site immediately and now I’m slowly ranking for my selected keywords. I’ve managed to rank #1 for a few longtail keywords.
My hometown paper does not do such a hot job covering local news and events. This lack of coverage creates an opportunity for a hyperlocal blogger: Who is covering your local Crime Stoppers BBQ? Who is covering your local weather events? Look at what Matt just did during the flood event. He grabbed his video camera and immediately posted flood videos. He experienced a surge in traffic. Exactly as the experts warned. Video cameras and YouTube. Matt is obviously a carrier of Hyperlocalbloggeritus. We can all do the same in our own community.
I published my first local article on December 4, 2008. By January 11, 2009, I had published my 30th article. On January 12th, I find my web site on three locations on page two of Google for my targeted keywords. I’m not an SEO Doctor by any stretch of the imagination. If I can do this, so can you.
In this short amount of time, I have received great support from my community. I’ve had three separate inquiries about advertising on my site. I recently received an e-mail from our mayor thanking me for my National Guard article and video. One of our city councilmen contacted me and is interested in involving me in some work for the city. I’m happy with my progress in such a short time. I must confess though, I still do not have an actual plan mapped out yet. However, my direction is becoming a little more focused. Having Hyperlocalbloggeritus is starting to be cool.
Matt knows the importance of going local. He and his wife started four hyperlocal blogs recently. My advice to you is to go local. Believe me, your community is starving for coverage. Doors will open for you. Just start posting, using your local community keywords and phrases. Tell your friends, family and neighbors that you have been struck with the disease. The word will get out. Print up some business cards and hand them out everywhere you go. Come out of the closet.