This is Part Three of a series on Starting a Hyperlocal Blog. Please visit that page for links to the full series of articles.
With a plan in place, domains purchased, hosting taken care of, and blog designs selected, the next focus is content. In part three of this series, it’s time to talk about going public. This is about the birth of the blog that Joe Q. Public can see. But early on, we weren’t concerned that much with Joe Q. Public.
Stage One: Serve the Search Spiders
When launching a blog where you can expect to have an immediate audience of readers, your first priority is obviously to serve the readers you’ll have from day one. A good example might be a new company blog attached to a popular corporate web site. Or even the launch of this blog, HyperlocalBlogger.com. I had a feeling that I’d have at least a small audience from the start due to advertising the blog on Small Business SEM.
But things were different with the launch of our four hyperlocal real estate blogs. We knew that human traffic would be low or non-existent to our four hyperlocal blogs, so our initial focus was not on serving human visitors, but on serving search engine spiders. Here was our plan:
- Post regularly so we train the crawlers to start visiting the blogs consistently.
- Frequently use our primary keywords to teach the crawlers what the blogs are about.
On No. 2 above, the goal is to overcome what I think is the primary mistake of many local/vertical combo sites and blogs: Focusing too much on the vertical aspect (in this case, real estate) and not enough on the local aspect (the cities). Although the ultimate goal is to help grow a real estate business, it’s a mistake to think that tons of local people want to read about real estate. They don’t; targeting a local audience demands that we write as much (or more) about local events, local news, local businesses, and so forth, as we do about real estate.
How’d We Do?
Search spiders were quick to find and crawl all four blogs, and the semi-regular posting schedule (we aimed for 1-2 posts per week on each blog at the start) helped ensure the spiders kept coming back. But, there were a couple occasions where some posts were not spidered and indexed as quickly as we would’ve liked; that suggests we could’ve done better by posting more often in the early stages. Plus, the fact that we had very few inbound links didn’t help to speed up the crawling and indexing early on.
Stage Two: Serve Our Neighbors
Once we had the spiders’ attention, it was time to focus on human visitors — namely, on finding some. That requires content that our neighbors would want to read. Here are a few of the places we find local content:
- Traditional media: In order to write successfully about your local area, you have to know what’s happening. We read the local paper and watch local news nearly every day.
- Local RSS feeds: On a very related note, our local paper and two of our local TV stations offer news via RSS. Both Cari and I subscribe to all the feeds they offer — news, sports, business news, breaking news … you name it. You can also find local news for your town via Topix.com and the RSS feeds offered there.
- City publications: Once a month, West Richland sends us a utility bill that also includes a two-sided community news bulletin telling us about upcoming events, planned city construction, and other news. Even though we don’t live in Richland, the city sends us a guide to their summer entertainment/community services. From that, we learned about Richland’s “Live at Five” concert schedule and other things happening in the community.
- City & local web sites: These are another place to learn about what’s going on locally. Most city sites will have a section devoted to upcoming events, for example. And, just between you and me, these other local web sites are sometimes very poorly SEO’d, so it’s not difficult to overcome the natural authority they should have and get traffic on searches for local news and events.
This list is really just the beginning; you can find local content on Flickr (local photos/photographers to feature and blog about) and YouTube (maybe someone shot video at a local event you couldn’t attend), for example, and probably lots of places I haven’t thought of yet. And speaking of attending local events, this is a great time to let you know:
You’re Now a Local Journalist, and Local Events are a Great Source of Content
When you become a local blogger, you essentially become a source of local news, information, and opinion. To do that successfully, you must get out in the community and cover what’s going on. I’m not suggesting you have to go to journalism school or try to become Joe PrivateEye; it’s much simpler than that. You just have to show up at local events, take some photos and/or video, and then write a blog post about the event (embedding and/or linking to your photos and video). Be sure to know the rules of public photography/videography if you plan to do either when you’re at local events.
Here are two examples from our hyperlocal blogs:
- Local minor league baseball game: My son and I went to watch the local team play, and it just so happened that our team’s pitcher that night was the recent #1 draft pick of the Colorado Rockies — a future MLB star. I shot some video of him pitching and posted it on YouTube, then wrote a blog post talking about one of the joys of minor league baseball, the chance to see future MLB stars up close.
- Community event: The biggest annual event in my hometown involves thousands of motorcycles, a hot dog dinner, live music, and more. People come from all over the state, and attendance usually surpasses the actual city population. The whole family attended this year. I shot some photos and posted them on Flickr, then wrote a quick blog post that talked about the experience and linked to the photos.
See? Writing and producing local content isn’t too difficult. But it’s only part of the equation; the next step is to market that content. That’s coming up in Part Four of this series.
(press credential image courtesy fd’s Flickr Toys)