The 2008 election is over and so, in all likelihood, are Samuel J. Wurzelbacher’s appearances on cable news shows. Wurzelbacher, better known as Toledo’s own “Joe the Plumber,” gained national celebrity, of course, as the symbolic everyman both presidential candidates hoped to reach with their economic messages.
Joe’s 15 minutes of fame are about up (or are they?)-which may not be a bad thing. His thoughts on everything from Middle Eastern relations to fiscal responsibility are the subject of frequent press ridicule.
Sadly, the economic downturn will last longer than Joe’s 15 minutes. So after his farewell tour of CNN, if he ends up buying that plumbing business he supposedly had his eye on, he’ll need to think up an actual cost-effective marketing strategy to keep its supposed profits at the $250,000-a-year level.
Well, Joe, I’ve got one for you: it’s called HyperLocal Blogging.
What is a HyperLocal Blog?
I mentioned HyperLocal blogging in passing in last month’s column. To my knowledge, there’s no authoritative, Merriam-Webster-style definition for the concept of a HyperLocal blog, so I’ll take a stab…
A website, or portion of a website, whose content is focused almost exclusively on a particular immediate area, often with a smaller radius or with a more targeted set of topics, than a local print or television media outlet might cover.
In Joe’s case this would be the city of Toledo and its surrounding environs. Here are a couple of great examples already out in the wild:
The latter includes a phenomenal list of HyperLocal blogs in the greater Toledo area.
Why should I bother creating a HyperLocal Blog?
While all blogs’ effectiveness should be judged on a sliding scale, all HyperLocal Blogs have the potential to accrue each of the following:
- More content. Benefit: Ranking for more long-tail keywords and keyphrases, meaning more, and more targeted, visitors to your website.
- More incoming links from other bloggers. Benefit: Higher search engine rankings for all phrases, meaning more visitors to your website.
- More links and citations from other local websites. Benefit: Higher Local search engine rankings (see Mike Blumenthal’s excellent summary of Google’s Location Prominence patent), meaning more REALLY targeted visitors to your website.
- Name recognition among key members of your community. Benefit: Direct referrals.
- Name recognition among key members of your industry. Benefit: Direct referrals.
Check out this recent Search Engine Land article as just one example of the incredible benefits of blogging-and by inference, Hyperlocal Blogging-even for an all-Flash website (notoriously poor for the purposes of search engine optimization). And to reap the maximum benefits from your blog, you’ll probably want to host it on your own domain, rather than host it on a third-party platform like WordPress.com or Blogspot.com.
What should I write about?
Joe has a couple of traits that make a highly successful local blogger: he’s outgoing and has the gift of gab (which means he would probably make a good writer, if he tried).
But his content lacks focus.
While the economy and foreign affairs make great topics for political talk shows, Joe will never compete with the CNN’s or the Politico’s of the world in the search engines, and people reading that content aren’t going to convert to potential customers either. Don’t pontificate about macroeconomic issues. No one cares what you think about geopolitics.
HyperLocal Blogging is all about the micro- and the geo-specific. Joe should create an interesting, highly-targeted blog around topics he is an expert in: the plumbing industry and things going on in Toledo that his customers and community members would find interesting.
Since Joe is himself a stereotype, how about writing about where to sign up for a bowling league in Toledo? Less stereotypical but equally useful would be coverage of charity events that the plumbers & pipefitters’ union is helping to sponsor, or a list of all Toledo retail businesses offering coupons for the holidays.
Can I really compete with larger, savvier companies?
In this flagging economy, the awareness of the need for a search engine presence among national companies with local operations seems to be on the rise. So the competition is only going to get stiffer.
Joe’s national competitors may have an SEO team helping them figure out their online strategy, but he has the advantage of authenticity.
HyperLocal Blogging is difficult for national chains to pull off, both in terms of a personal connection to a particular community AND in terms of attention to detail for every single branch location they might operate. And it involves mostly time costs, not financial ones. So with a little elbow grease, Joe can compete effectively with large chains, even with a comparatively tiny marketing budget. Because consumers are more likely to research before buying in a down economy, now is the perfect time to get involved.
HyperLocal Blogs, and blogs in general, are changing the way we consume information right before our eyes. If you need any evidence, look no further than the Christian Science Monitor’s decision this week to eschew its paper version entirely. Local newspapers all over the country have started HyperLocal Blogs on their websites but no longer have a monopoly on content OR breaking news. Knowledgeable, entrepreneurial small business owners like Joe can and should step into that space and develop content and followers of their own.
Author’s Note: Parenthetically, Joe Wurzelbacher might not have been the best hypothetical subject of this column, since he may not know a whole lot about the plumbing business. Several reports have underscored the fact he is unlicensed. In which case he should ignore my recommendation to start a HyperLocal Blog and pursue the only job well-suited for an unsuccessful businessperson who doesn’t know much about world affairs: a seat in Congress.
Still don’t know what to write about? Try these tips:
Even if you are not a Twitter user, you can visit search.twitter.com to find what people in your area are talking about-just do a standard keyword search for your hometown and see what pops up. And if you want to get fancy, use search.twitter.com/advanced and search for keywords related to your industry tweeted by people within an certain X-mile radius of your hometown!
Miriam Ellis has a fantastic series on HyperLocal Blogging complete with a Top Ten List. I’ll excerpt three of her tips on content creation here:
7. Be generous with your expertise 8. Help your new neighbors 9. Promote your neighbor
Look at what other successful HyperLocal Bloggers around the country are doing:
Further reading: Matt McGee’s five-part series on starting a HyperLocal Blog.
David Mihm is a Portland, OR Web Designer and a noted authority on Local SEO. He writes frequently about Local SEO topics at his blog, Mihmorandum. The Small Is Beautiful column appears on Thursdays at Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.