Photo by: Jayjay402
I’ve been in the shadows for a while now, building the monster I call a hyper-local news blog. I had promised a series of articles chronicling the trials and tribulations of getting it going and making it a success. What I have found is that success is hard to define, but it has something to do with traffic statistics.
I was inspired to go local purely for the challenge. I defined my target geographic area, decided on a platform (WordPress), and launched the site. What I didn’t count on was how hard it would be to populate that thing with meaningful content. It’s a big job.
Like all big jobs, I took it one step at a time… which means one post at a time. My first post was the formal site announcement. I felt I needed to define what the site was all about… and I did. But that post was pretty meaningless since it did nothing but lie to my audience. I promised them relevant local news and information… and sadly weeks passed and I hadn’t published diddly squat.
Make a Source List
So I decided to mix my first ‘local blog energy drink’: A set of hand-picked bookmarks I compiled under one handy drop-down menu that contained almost every local website with any updated local news and information. It took a few hours to compile my first concoction. I had about 25 sites in my brew, and all easily accessible with one click from my browser toolbar. Why not an RSS reader? Because fortunately for me most of the local sites are not taking advantage of the wonderful world of RSS. Here are some source ideas:
- Local Newspapers – this is a no-brainer, but there are quite a few more than I originally knew about. We have the city-wide paper which has a local section just for my area of the city, and even a blog to go along with it.
- Local EDC – The economic development council always has a nice juicy set of press releases published in it’s own news section
- Local Chambers and Clubs – I was surprised to find that we have 2 chamber of commerce sites covering my area, a Rotary Club, and Exchange Club, Toastmasters, Charity organizations, and a handful of other ‘networking’ groups with websites that contain events calendars and local news releases. These are great sources.
- Local ‘free’ publications – We have a couple of local magazines and free weeklies that circulate in print, but also have an online presence.
- School District PR Department – The press and communications section of the local school district sites has a ton of press-releases circulating every week. When I say a ton, I mean 3-5 per week.
- Local Real Estate Blogs – Of all of the businesses out there, It was safe to say that real estate agents are the ones that are really blogging their hearts out. Although the numbers are still low, it was rare to find a local blogger in my area that was actively publishing that wasn’t a real estate agent. In my area, there are quite a few that are caught up in the Localism fever. Hey, whatever works… but I would prefer to host my own blog.
- Other Local Blogs – There are a few local businesses that maintain blogs not related to real estate. A majority of small business and personal blogs were ‘mommy blogs’ having to do with perenting and kids activities. Beleive it or not, these are some of my favorite news sources. They tend to focus on fun stuff, events, and ways to save money in the area.
- HOA Sites – Compile a list of neighborhood HOA sites for a grab bag of sometimes petty but still useful news and information. This is the stuff that great news is made of if you can compile the calendars for the month and re-post this information.
- Church Websites – Some church sites contain event calendars, and some church event turn-outs are not too shabby.
After I referred to my list, finding subject matter for local content was easy. I just bit the bullet and started to write. One post turned into two, and now we are publishing up to 4 articles per day with no problem.
Be a Link Journalist
I refer to my site list almost daily, and I am never at a loss for things to post. Press releases are extremely helpful, because you can legally post them in their entirety and add your own unique flavoring in the form of a paragraph at the beginning or end… or re-word them like a bonafide journalist.
Compiling this list is not unlike what a real journalist does for story research. Many times I will find tht multiple sources will cover the same story or announcement. This presents a great opportunity for combining the best information form multiple sources, quoting, and practicing good link journalism.
Events and Longevity
You may be saying to yourself… an event post will not be relevant when the event is over… It would be a waste of time. You are right and wrong. Articles announcing events are not-relevant after the event has passed, but some of my largest traffic spikes are due to event posts. Events posts take less time to write, since a press release usually covers every detail and they are straight forward. Another benefit to publishing upcoming events is that they make great link-bait. I have acquired quite a few inbound links because of event articles.
What to Cover
A local blog can cover a lot. New developments, business openings, community events, school awards and recognition, sports coverage, job market changes, freeway and road developments, city meetings, chamber events, accomplishments by local people, top 10 lists, restaurant reviews, neighborhood profiles, and all kinds of other things.
Some experts suggest that a real estate blog should stick to real estate. All I can say is, the local blog covering anything and everything that has to do with my little corner of the earth in Katy, Texas is averaging over 250 unique (and local) visitors per day in a little over 4 months. Although every visitor is not looking to buy or sell a home, there are many stages in the customer life cycle. Sean Purcell at Bloodhound Blog offers another perspective:
The goal of almost all real estate marketing has been, and continues to be, relating your expertise in the community. The question you want to put in their head is: who better to help them sell their home than you? You know the neighborhood inside and out. More important still is the conversation they will have with a family member, friend or co-worker. It begins with the future client saying: “I have been thinking about moving to your neighborhood. I hear the schools are great, the homes are beautiful and everyone turns out for the 4th of July parade.”
There is more to the story… but I am happy with the results so far.
October 14, 2008 at 7:58 am
Thanks for this. I’m in the process of building another hyper local blog from scratch, and I’d forgotten just how much work it is to get started and to populate it. It’s a lot of work and time! What’s frustrating for me is that this new one doesn’t have local bloggers with whom to network … but that’s just another opportunity.
Now … to sign up for the school pressers …
October 14, 2008 at 8:39 am
Here’s my question … why a full-on blog and not just a blogsite? Is there sufficient competition in this hyper local area that it’s the only way to differentiate yourself?
Not trying to be argumentative, in all honesty. But I’ve come to believe you can accomplish as much in terms of lead generation with a hyper local blogsite with the only dynamic changes being the listings than you can by killing yourself searching for content.
At least, that’s what I’m seeing here.
October 14, 2008 at 8:41 am
Carson, thanks for the in-depth explanation of your thought process and how you got there. I have a similar blog in my area, and also struggle with what to post at times, so your list here gave me a few ideas. Sounds like you’re approach is working.
October 14, 2008 at 8:42 am
Perfect timing, Carson. I am in the process of building a few neighborhood focused blogs.
Your source list is awesome! Lots of work to set up, lots of work to keep content flowing… but hopefully the benefits will roll in! I’m hoping to find one or two local bloggers/residents that will help to post as well.
October 14, 2008 at 8:44 am
Ok, I need to do this. Wow, what a lot of work.
October 14, 2008 at 8:48 am
Congratulations – I know it can be a lot of work. There is a hyperlocal blog here in Miami (not real estate related) but has become the place to go for news that pulls links from all kinds of sources. The author posts 3 times or more per day – a morning sift with interesting news from local blogs, a water cooler with links to actual news from the media and an evening sift (sometimes he even does personal posts with his take on things). – Talk about work!!! but he has become the place to go for the latest and greatest.
October 14, 2008 at 9:44 am
the blog looks great.. nice content, too.
now, i need to echo dalton’s comments and ask why a full blown local events blog? if the purpose of the blog (and i may have this wrong) is to build your real estate business, then why create a site that functions as a newspaper of sorts? i’m not seeing how the blog builds your real estate name or funnels clicks to your real estate blog.
if your purpose was to build a good looking blog with great content about your local area, i think you’ve succeeded. if the purpose was to build a blog that builds your brand name and generates leads, i’m sorry but i don’t see it.
October 14, 2008 at 10:16 am
Echoing Mark and Jonathan here. Why re-create Topix? It is a huge time and labor commitment, but the biggest concern I see is that this commitment never ends. If you could generate the same traffic and business, would you still do it this way?
Kay Baker Wilmington NC Real Estate
October 14, 2008 at 5:03 pm
Truly loved ideas for blogging. They really work, too!
October 14, 2008 at 5:12 pm
The site has definitely come along way since I last visited, looks good BTW.
Not going to repeat what Jonathan and Mark said, but don’t see the branding. Are any of the realtors seeing any clicks thru to their sites, any successes? How is the workload trying to keep up on everything?
October 14, 2008 at 5:17 pm
Carson, I’m a hard person to impress but I am truly amazed by your website. I’ve been hyper blogging for over a year now and I’ve learned a lot of the same sources you’ve provided. I’d also add that forums are a great source for traffic. I think you’re doing a great job at taking a tool like blogging to the next level with things like advertising, video, multiple authors, etc.
I noticed that you come up on the first page of Google for “Katy TX’ and “Katy Texas” searches. I’ve achieved the same thing in my town and found that while not every visitor is a current buyer you are building a great long term marketing strategy. It’s also great place to advertise the vacation rentals that I manage. Most readers are either going to be local (in which case statistics show they’ll probably sell their home in the next 7 years), visiting (need a place to stay), or considering moving there (want to buy or rent a home). That is every aspect of our profession covered with one effort.
I’d like to offer my answer to everyone’s question: Yes, it is a lot of time and work (but it beats paying for leads or costly mailouts and print advertising) and it IS worth it because readers can tell the difference between quality articles and regurgitated feeds from other sites. Topix is hardly all inclusive and is watered down with useless information. Running a blog like this allows you to filter the news and provide relevant material to your readers and build a larger following.
PS – Once you’ve been blogging for a year and cover reoccurring events you can link to the new post from the old post and often gain very high search results. My suggestion to the naysayers is to never under estimate the power of helping people, because it will be returned to you.
October 15, 2008 at 5:39 am
Thanks for the compliments on the site…
Daniel – Thank you for addressing some of the issues with the strategy, your answer aligns with my reasoning also.
I mentioned the customer life-cycle in the post to explain why I think this approach is worthwhile. The news-style blog building I am describing helps you create an online resource that would/could be noted, bookmarked and hopefully returned to repeatedly by residents in your local area…the ones you would be wanting to target if you were to spend money on an ad. The repeat exposure is exactly what an agent needs…
It definitely doesn’t present itself as a real estate site. Of the people who land on the site looking for various local topics, many can tell right away that it is serving as a ‘media’ outlet first, on par with the local paper or magazines. This gives it “3rd party” street cred. So we get credibility combined with repeat exposure.
I notice real estate companies and builders placing ads month after month in local publications. They are aiming to catch readers in the market and hopefully increase name recognition. The scope of content is going way beyond real estate, but it presents more opportunities to publish relevant stories. It’s no different than running an ad or renting billboard space on a local street.
My #1 goal has been to build a base of local traffic… not sure what I am going to do with it outside of placing ads yet. It’s a work in progress. But I bet a real estate agent would like to own it if I were to offer it.
One thing is for sure… it’s a ton of work. I am not a Realtor, but have local writers contributing on the site so they trade content for exposure…and the aggregate of the efforts benefit the group as a whole when it comes to traffic – much like AG. The content would not flow as well without them. I have not added a home search feature or any messages aiming to convert real estate leads yet.
I’m working through the process and sharing what I have learned so far.
tony - forsalebylocals
October 15, 2008 at 6:41 am
One of the things that we’ve come up with to help is a local content feed for just about every town in the US – here’s the page for Miami Shores, FL for instance:
There is an RSS feed in the upper right hand corner to which anyone can subscribe and a search mechanism to find your local area at the bottom of the page. All of the the marketing reporting reports are geolocated by lat/long so they know where they are in relation to other content. We have a process that works in the background to constantly improve initial results based on 5 relevance measures – you can see examples of changes that have been made by the automatic process at https://forsalebylocals.com/tools/selfcorrectingcontent.asp.
Hopefully, this can be make the list as another free resource to help those looking for local content.
October 15, 2008 at 9:31 am
I do believe the neighborhood focused blogs can be successful. It’s not about us, as agents or whomever to just talk about the community. It’s about getting the community itself talking to each other – but using your blog to do so.
It is imperative that it does not scream “advertisement” or “real estate agent trying to sell a house”, however.
Also agreed, that maybe not a “full blown blog” where you update content constantly – but to stay on top, you do have to update periodically.
October 15, 2008 at 8:53 pm
I like to add posts that are unrelated to real estate. Although the main topic of my blog is real estate, there’s more to me thus more to my blog than that.
I “re-posted” an article from the local online paper that has gotten more interest/comments than a lot of others. I just need to get in front of people. If a post about the police does it, I’ll take it. Each person knows – what 300 people? I don’t make a habit of it, but I get tired of talking/writing about real estate.
I read my blog more than anybody else. I want to enjoy it and want others to as well. I think if readers see my enthusiasm it will be contagious.