Five things I’ve learnt about publishing a hyperlocal guide

3 Jan

Last year was a learning process for me and I wanted to find my steps publishing local content. I learnt a lot and quickly realised that it is a very competitive environment, even for a city like Leeds which is not traditionally a tourist destination. There’s been ups and downs, and the biggest challenge was a technical one – in the form of website hosting, it is always something that you do not plan for that bites you in the bum. Thankfully though, those problems are sorted.

Google is trying to be the king of local

I think the changes that Google has made to its natural search results in the last 12 months is incredibly scary for small local publishing businesses like mine, because finding yourself at the top of the page, above the fold is near impossible now that Google has started to include it’s business pages at the top of the search results.

Search for: Italian restaurants in Leeds to see what I mean.

In 2011 I am going to have to work incredibly hard to make Google realise that My Life in Leeds is an authority guide so that I stand a better chance of getting up and within the first page results, because who nowadays goes to the 2nd or 3rd page. I know I don’t.

Lack of an online presence locally

The writers include businesses that they can recommend, have eaten there, and we also like to link to their sites because it contains (or should do) much more information than we can give them in one guide. It’s amazing how many local businesses in Leeds are not yet online, and I mean restaurants, cafes, and all sorts of businesses.

I sort of understand the logic that our customers are local so therefore, we don’t need to advertise elsewhere, but what about the tourists and people from other areas of the city that are interested to know what cafes, restaurants etc. are in that area.

Learning about your local area

I have lived in Leeds all of my life and I have learnt so much while publishing My Life in Leeds. I have visited places like Chapel Allerton, bought local products at the Pannier Market at Granary Wharf, visited my local market for the first time ever.

I cannot tell you how many events that I have visited that I never knew existed. Events in Leeds I think are badly promoted, and in 2011, I intend to try and do something about this, but more on that later.

Local networking is essential

Online I use Twitter and blogs to network, but offline I know that I am a terrible networker. I blame my height, confidence problems, but in 2010 I have really had to come out of my comfort zone and attend various networking events like Exp Leeds at the Leeds Queens Hotel – and I intend to do even more of this in 2011.

Sure you can email, but, you cannot beat meeting someone face to face.

Local collaboration

It is fascinating to see local businesses like La Bottega Milanese and Diva Italiana, sell each other’s products and they are other businesses doing the same. Sunshine Bakery in Chapel Allerton sells their famous cupcakes to places all over the city. Then there’s the Dock Street Market which is bringing together products from various local eateries into one location. I love it, and it is encouraging to see smaller local businesses doing this, while the larger brands fight it out on the high street.

I think I have gone on enough, but these are some of my thoughts and experiences from the first year of publishing local content. It has been fun, but full of new challenges in 2011 I am sure.

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13 Responses to “Five things I’ve learnt about publishing a hyperlocal guide”

  1. picturetheuk January 3, 2011 at 2:25 pm #

    Hi Darren,

    Nice summary. On points 1 & 3, I’d see those as opportunities. Sure, Google wants to dominate local (advertising) but, in effect, they’ve just created a vast new distribution channel for your quality content. Also, IMO, Google is brilliant if you know what you want but not so good if you’re looking to discover stuff. Yes, they have beta products to help with discovery, but perhaps local experts have a point of differentiation there? Content still king, distribution channels just changing.

    • dcleeds January 3, 2011 at 3:42 pm #

      I am missing out something obvious because a few people have said that I should see it as an opportunity.

      If I have a guide about Chinese restaurants in Leeds and this was #1 or #2 but now it is #6 and “under the fold” because of the business listings – I get less traffic, so I don’t see it as an opportunity, more of a new challenge that I have to try and overcome.

      In my eyes it’s not now a vast distribution channel for my quality content – they have taken that away. I don’t own those restaurants, so can’t claim a business listing, so how can I take advantage of Google local? I’m obviously being thick, but no one can seem to explain this to me. 🙂

      To add traffic is okay, but I have seen some guides get less traffic due to the changes Google have made (well I assume its for that reason)

      • picturetheuk January 3, 2011 at 4:29 pm #

        Hi Darren,

        Mine was more of a general point. You supply quality product (information) in the same way a hotelier supplies a quality product (room, experience etc, hopefully). If Google’s seeking to distribute product direct from suppliers to cut out other middle-men then your product is prized. I know from what we do that this is the case. I’ve run sites where we’ve hosted other people’s product as a middle-man and we got squeezed. If Google is finding new ways to distribute product (information, rooms etc) then, IMO, those who supply or are at the source will be OK.

        On the specific example you provide, yes, clearly not good but all this information needs to be interpreted, filtered or curated which is what you guys seem to be doing so well. I know we get rewarded with some nice traffic from Google concentrating on the latter and we’re pretty much doing the same thing in a different part of the UK.

        James

        • dcleeds January 3, 2011 at 9:26 pm #

          Hi James and thanks for replying. I guess it’s like anything else, you have to prove to Google that you are an authority resource and that’s what I will be spending a lot of time on in 2011.

          I do plan to roll this model out to other ‘less competitive’ destinations but, I want to make sure that it works in Leeds before doing that.

  2. Walthamstow Scene January 3, 2011 at 5:16 pm #

    Hi there

    I found this article really interesting. I set up my hyperlocal blog in November 2010, partially because I used to be a local councillor and a lot of people on the doorsteps said that they liked my councillor site because it had really local information on it.

    I’ve got some big plans in 2011 and thought this was an interesting insight as I’m also looking at other hyperlocal sites and trying to learn from them.

    Best wishes
    Nick

    • dcleeds January 3, 2011 at 9:28 pm #

      Hi Nick,

      Thanks for leaving the comment.

      Nice hyperlocal blog, great idea. I launched My Life in Leeds in December 2009, so have just gone through the first year, with a few challenges. In the short time you’ve been writing the Walthamstow Scene what do you think have been the challenges?

      • Walthamstow Scene January 4, 2011 at 9:04 am #

        Hi

        From a writing point of view, I’ve had two main challenges so far. The first has been around being clear on what the blog does. It’s not a listings page, it’s not a news site, I’m approaching it as a “community interest” page.

        The second has been about keeping discipline about locality – I’m very strict about only featuring local events and if there is nothing happening for a day or two, I have to resist the urge to blog about something outside of the local area.

        From a technical point of view, yes I can see your point about appearing in Google searches. But I’m not so worried about that. For example, my local MPs blog has been going for ages and is on about page 3 or 4 of a Google search for “Walthamstow” so I’m using other ways to promote it, both social media and face to face. But I have only been going for a couple of months so perhaps that will be a bigger issue as I become more established.

        • Darren January 4, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

          Hi Nick,

          Interesting point about being clear what the blog does. I think local businesses think that our site is a listing site – it’s a guide written by locals. That’s certainly the angle that I am going with.

          On the Google searches, I think as you become an authority place in Google’s eyes, then yes, it is much easier to rank high, and keep there. Also I think towns/villages will have a lesser impact on what Google is doing as they seem to be targeting mainly cities at the moment.

          • Walthamstow Scene January 4, 2011 at 6:17 pm #

            Hi Darren

            One other thing I’ve noticed is how important it is to not be judgemental about events. I know a few blogs where the blogger basically covers the things they like doing, and ignores other stuff. But for a local blog, you can’t really cover, say, a local folk night and be be dismissive about it because some of your readers will be interested. It’s quite a challenge on the internet to not be judgmental!

            • Darren January 4, 2011 at 7:08 pm #

              That’s a really good point Nick. BTW, I have linked to your Wathamstow Scene blog on the sidebar, hope it helps bring a few new readers 🙂

  3. Darren January 10, 2011 at 5:33 pm #

    Mmm I am sure Google aren’t reading this blog (Ha) but I have started to notice that for some search terms I am appearing above the Google business pages. So, maybe it’s not that bad after all.

    I am also starting to appear above Trip Advisor and Qype too.

    We’ll see. Will report back.

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  1. Pingback - Sarah Hartley - January 4, 2011

    […] Five things I’ve learnt about publishing a hyperlocal guide « Stuff Last year was a learning process for me and I wanted to find my steps publishing local content. (tags: hyperlocal guides) […]

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