If you tuned in before you would know… My quest is to uncover what it takes to build the ultimate local blog. I want to attract a pretty hefty amount of local traffic by publishing information that people can use, and actually want to read. I want it to stand out, and compete popular publishers in the area. I want readers to return regularly, or even subscribe to the RSS feed if that is their thing. I’m not sure how many people around here actually subscribe to feeds, but most of them use email. Those email addresses are gold. The content must be credible to gain subscribers.
But what is local? I live in Houston. My natural instinct first tells me to go for the gold and target the whole city. There are 7.5 million people in the Houston metropolitan area… That is a massive amount of people and an ocean of information to cover. That sounds wonderful, but if I want make a truly local site, tackling a city of this size with one web site could be counter-productive.
The competition is fierce and search engines are saturated. With a fresh domain and only a few nuggets of content to start with, I’m going to need a lot of time and a hefty amount of promotion/content to get it ranking high enough to pull steady traffic… Plus, the larger the area you try to cover, the less relevant the articles will be for certain visitors. They will probably not care about the new mixed-use development opening 40 minutes across the city, or the hot new mall being built on the east side of town that they may never visit.
Old media takes a shotgun approach. New media zeros-in on an area or a niche. In the case of a local blog, we are targeting a geographic area small enough to be relevant to everyone it targets. Focusing on a smaller area has quite a few advantages. You can be certain that although you may want cover many topics, they will all hold some kind of relevance to your readers due to the fact they are close by. This opens up many doors. If I feel like the locals want to hear about sports in the area, I can cover it. If I have want to feature a story about a local restaurant, that is fine also. I want to zero-in on an area smaller than the entire metro-area of Houston, yet large enough to have decent-sized number of potential visitors. I need to be sure an audience exists before targeting it.
Most cities can be broken down into specific regions that are widely accepted. Whether it be the name of a suburban city, a major corridor, a county or simply a side of town (like the Northwest area). The lines have already been drawn by the public. I just need to decide on whether I will fall in line with the accepted “areas” or draw my own boundaries. This all depends on the specific situation. What is good for me in Houston Texas may not be good for you in Colorado, California, or New York. If I were targeting a rural town, I may determine that I need to spread the focus out to surrounding towns also, to meet the audience-size and news requirements for my site.
Of course, some areas are more “close-knit” and active than others. The target population might be packed into a very small geographic area, like in a college town, or in the Northeast. You may even see an opportunity to target a single building or street if you live in a dense area. All you are looking to do is fill a void. The smaller you get, the more involved and dedicated your visitor base may get. Imagine if you found a website that was dedicated only to your specific neighborhood, condo, or apartment building. You would most likely take special note of it. You may not even think twice to give out your email address for updates. The content is so local, it can’t be denied.
Avoid the tendency to shotgun the city. This is hard to do if you like to think big. What happens if you want to grow past that area? What then? Strike that fear by remembering there are more domains in the sea, and you can duplicate the effort if the need arises. But right now, think about the needs of your audience. They appreciate local, and will take note of a site with dedication to their backyard. Backfence was too much too soon. The perception wasn’t personal enough to rally an audience. It also relied on user-generated content, which is not really to goal of starting a local blog. I’m not interested in a site that is clearly set up to be some “national network” destined to fail. If the site is clearly set up to cover MY area and dedicated to it, I know it is the real deal. My audience will too.
Let me know your thoughts on this. How local should you go?