This is Part One of a series on Starting a Hyperlocal Blog.
There are countless reasons why people blog. When my wife, Cari, and I recently launched four new hyperlocal blogs, our reason was simple: to help Cari’s real estate career by positioning her as an expert on our local area. Our goals are business-oriented, and that colors all the decisions we’ve made in planning and executing on a hyperlocal blogging strategy. If you’re starting a hyperlocal blog for other reasons, read on to learn about our experiences, but realize that your goals are different, and your decisions may need to be different, too, as you get started.
My wife has been blogging about Tri-Cities real estate since December, 2006. By most metrics, the blog is struggling: Traffic isn’t great, subscribers are few, inbound links are hard to come by, and so forth.
But — and this is what matters most — blogging has led directly to at least three clients and closings that we know of, and indirectly to several others. Those commissions mean the blog is a success in the only metric that counts: Revenue created.
On the other hand, a few closings from 18 months of blogging doesn’t seem all that great. We want to do better. I can SEO the daylights out of her main Web site, but unless I’m ready to start going gray/black, it won’t matter much in the real estate industry. So, we came up with a different plan.
Local Blog: Our Plan “A”
I’m a big believer that blogs are about as powerful an SEO tool as you’ll find right now, so our plan began with a blog. We would both write posts on this blog:
- Cari would write real estate and housing-related material. She’d cover industry stuff.
- I would write Tri-Cities-related material. I’d cover local stuff.
In doing so, we figured we’d cover both bases: the local (Tri-Cities) and the vertical (real estate). Cari would be able to write for both local house hunters and for the linkerati in the real estate industry. I’d be able to write for local residents, and maybe come up with some locally-flavored articles to attract readers, comments, links, and the like. But we quickly ran into several problems.
We live in an area called the Tri-Cities. But you won’t find “Tri-Cities” on a map of Washington. You’ll find the cities of Kennewick, Richland, and Pasco on the map. And you’ll also find the suburbs, like West Richland, Finley, Burbank, and Benton City.
SEO would be easier if, as has been proposed and rejected on a couple occasions, the Tri-Cities combined to form a single city. We’d have far fewer keywords to target! As it stands now, though, house hunters are searching for [richland real estate], [kennewick real estate], [pasco real estate], and [west richland real estate], not to mention [richland homes], [kennewick homes], etc., etc. West Richland is the biggest and fastest-growing of the suburbs. Oh, and when a home buyer isn’t too particular about which city s/he is moving to, s/he’ll also search for [tri-cities real estate]. As you can see, we have to target several geographic terms.
Plan “B”: Multiple Local Blogs
I decided it would be unrealistic to create one blog and expect it to serve such a diverse audience while targeting multiple cities, keyword sets, and so forth. Trying to build a “Tri-Cities real estate blog” would be like someone on the other side of the state starting a “Puget Sound real estate blog”, or someone in California starting a “Bay Area real estate blog.”
That wouldn’t work. SEO, and local search in particular, begins with specific keyword targeting. So, we had to put that into practice in Plan B:
- Cari would use her existing blog to focus on “Tri-Cities” keywords and the real estate market as a whole.
- We’d create four new quality local blogs, one to cover each of the primary cities in the Tri-Cities, plus West Richland.
I put the word “quality” in italics there because it’s easy to brush this off as more real estate spam: Here’s another real estate agent making multiple spammy sites that are just going to interlink and clog up the SERPs. Nope. As you’ll see soon in our discussion of tactics, creating quality is at the core of the whole effort. We’re not hosting the three domains on separate IP ranges to avoid the appearance of spam. Our assumption is that the blogs will be so good we don’t have to worry about looking spammy.
Plan B essentially quadruples our work load, with four new blogs to write instead of one. But facts are facts: There are no shortcuts when it comes to SEO success. Commitment and patience are foundational elements of longterm online success, and we’d have to slog through the tough work like everyone else.
Coming in Part Two: Putting the plan into action.