How to Build Profitable Hyperlocal Websites
I’m often asked what kind of sites I’d be building if I wasn t running Copyblogger Media. Actually, I’m in the process of producing a few new projects, and they are all of the hyperlocal variety.
Hyperlocal websites provide content related to a very limited geographic area, such as a town, neighborhood, or even a single zip code within a city. The content can range from local news and politics, to information about schools, restaurants, and other businesses in the area.
There has been much sound and fury about the possibilities of hyperlocal, adding up so far to mostly hype. My interest in building these sites stems from the fact that I made a lot of money from them between 2002 and 2005, back before I started Copyblogger.
We’ll get to that in a bit.
First, let me frame the way I think about profitable hyperlocal websites, which is generally in sharp contrast to the way many approach them.
How to Avoid the Briar Patch of Hyperlocal
The most well-known hyperlocal enterprise is Patch Media, a subsidiary of AOL. Patch had established hyperlocal sites in more than 500 communities across the United States, which sounds like a lot until you realize how little of the US that actually covers.
Patch isn’t very interesting to me as a business, and not just because it reportedly lost $100 million last year. It’s not interesting because it’s basically just a traditional media concept (the community newspaper) shifted online, which is a very AOL thing to do.
Patch performs traditional local journalism funded by advertising. Everyone is having a hard time with that model, and yet Patch is clinging to it and wondering why money is being liberally burned in the name of hyperlocal.
I’m not saying community journalism is a bad thing, because I think it’s a vital thing. It’s just not a good business as currently practiced, and tends to overwork editors at the hyperlocal news level with marginal if any returns.
Adrian Van Klaveren of the BBC said is best when it comes to my approach to hyperlocal:
We need to move beyond news to information.
That, and you need a revenue model that makes hyperlocal worth your while. Let’s talk about how you might enter the hyperlocal game and end up with a highly-profitable business.
The New Media Real Estate Entrepreneur
The way to make hyperlocal profitable is to think of yourself as a new media producer whose foundational revenue source is from real estate transactions.
Back before “hyperlocal” was a buzz word, I built a virtual real estate brokerage out of a collection of websites with that exact mindset.
I got started in 2002 by creating content-rich sites focused on affluent Dallas-area towns. No one else was doing this, so it wasn’t long until my sites were ranking extremely well for searches done by people looking to buy homes in those areas.
Google has evolved over the years since, but a similar strategy will still work exceptionally well today. Create a mix of local news, anchored by evergreen historical information (think of the town Wikipedia entry, except better), insights into area school and the local political scene, and reviews of restaurants, bars, and local merchants.
Then get realty specific by offering up information about neighborhoods, writing up features about homes on the market, and providing helpful details about the rental market. Stick with this for 6 months to a year, and you will have a significant presence in the local search results for your chosen area.
To produce enough foundational revenue to make this effort profitable, you need to generate qualified leads that result in real estate commissions. Whether you build a virtual brokerage like I did, or run a referral-based operation, you’ll need a real estate license. This is not a hard thing to achieve, and you’ll be able to create a model that brings in much more revenue than advertising can begin to match.
You’ll also need a real estate license in order to display MLS real estate listings on your site. Once your content is attracting targeted local traffic, the real estate listing section of your site is where the leads come in. Visitors view home listings and contact you for more information and showings.
As the real estate markets around the country begin to recover from the crippling recession, it makes sense to get started building hyperlocal sites right now. Of course, you may be asking why existing Realtors and brokers shouldn t just build these sites themselves, right?
Yes, they should, but very few are. Just as in 2002, the real opportunity is for someone like me (or you) to take the lead in hyperlocal, because obtaining a real estate license is the easy part compared with convincing an existing brokerage to reinvent itself as a content-focused company.
As for me, I’m thinking that joint ventures with existing quality brokerage firms are the way to go. All the leads and commissions generated by the joint venture entity (in other words, the business that results from the website) will be shared 50-50%. I do what I do best (content marketing and conversion) and they provide excellent real estate services. Everyone wins, including and most importantly, consumers.
Let’s now take a look at what a well-produced hyperlocal site looks like. The business model here is indeed real estate, but from a different angle.
How to Own an Area
Let me give you an example using a site I m producing. It’s called Your Boulder, and it’s all about the unique lifestyle in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado.
The site produces week-daily content about events, outdoor recreation, restaurants, shopping, and homes for sale in Boulder. We also do feature articles that have appeal to people who live anywhere.
By focusing on the geographic area first and creating content about that area, both people and Google begin to view the site as an authority on Boulder, Colorado. By also adding real estate content into the mix, the site should begin to rank well for the terms that will bring in brokerage leads for a real estate business model (I’ll keep you updated).
Will the average real agent or broker create content-rich sites like this? Maybe not the average anyone, but there already are exceptional agents and brokers building these types of sites and both Google and their clients love them for it.
Plus, there are also pure content producers building these sites and making referral deals with brokers and agents thanks to our AgentPress program. Beyond real estate, they can also move into native advertising, local events, and marketing services arrangements.
This is how you make hyperlocal work.
Something to Think About
It’s obviously beyond the scope of this article to detail the ins-and-outs of the real estate brokerage business. And despite the word count, we ve only scratched the surface of this topic.
I’m just giving you something to think about. Every year for many decades, starry-eyed entrepreneurs obtain a real estate license hoping to make their fortune (or at least a living) from the business of buying and selling homes and other real estate.
It’s all about getting clients. That’s the hardest part for a new Realtor, but it was the easiest part of the business for me.
We’re talking content marketing 101 here. It’s the content that gets people to know, like, and trust you, while also helping you dominate high-value local search results.
A well-produced hyperlocal website can deliver you more leads than you can handle. And that’s a good problem to have compared to the alternative.
Sure, this particular entrepreneurial approach isn’t right for everyone. But give it some thought the great idea you’ve been looking for might be right outside your front door.
Brian Clark is Editor-in-Chief of Entreproducer, a multimedia email publication exploring the business of independent digital media. Get more related content on Twitter.