How Local Should You Go?

local houses row How Local Should You Go?


If you tuned in before you would know… My quest is to uncover what it takes to build the ultimate local blog. I want to attract a pretty hefty amount of local traffic by publishing information that people can use, and actually want to read. I want it to stand out, and compete popular publishers in the area. I want readers to return regularly, or even subscribe to the RSS feed if that is their thing. I’m not sure how many people around here actually subscribe to feeds, but most of them use email. Those email addresses are gold. The content must be credible to gain subscribers.

But what is local? I live in Houston. My natural instinct first tells me to go for the gold and target the whole city. There are 7.5 million people in the Houston metropolitan area… That is a massive amount of people and an ocean of information to cover. That sounds wonderful, but if I want make a truly local site, tackling a city of this size with one web site could be counter-productive.

The competition is fierce and search engines are saturated. With a fresh domain and only a few nuggets of content to start with, I’m going to need a lot of time and a hefty amount of promotion/content to get it ranking high enough to pull steady traffic… Plus, the larger the area you try to cover, the less relevant the articles will be for certain visitors. They will probably not care about the new mixed-use development opening 40 minutes across the city, or the hot new mall being built on the east side of town that they may never visit.



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Old media takes a shotgun approach. New media zeros-in on an area or a niche. In the case of a local blog, we are targeting a geographic area small enough to be relevant to everyone it targets. Focusing on a smaller area has quite a few advantages. You can be certain that although you may want cover many topics, they will all hold some kind of relevance to your readers due to the fact they are close by. This opens up many doors. If I feel like the locals want to hear about sports in the area, I can cover it. If I have want to feature a story about a local restaurant, that is fine also. I want to zero-in on an area smaller than the entire metro-area of Houston, yet large enough to have decent-sized number of potential visitors. I need to be sure an audience exists before targeting it.

Most cities can be broken down into specific regions that are widely accepted. Whether it be the name of a suburban city, a major corridor, a county or simply a side of town (like the Northwest area). The lines have already been drawn by the public. I just need to decide on whether I will fall in line with the accepted “areas” or draw my own boundaries. This all depends on the specific situation. What is good for me in Houston Texas may not be good for you in Colorado, California, or New York. If I were targeting a rural town, I may determine that I need to spread the focus out to surrounding towns also, to meet the audience-size and news requirements for my site.

Of course, some areas are more “close-knit” and active than others. The target population might be packed into a very small geographic area, like in a college town, or in the Northeast. You may even see an opportunity to target a single building or street if you live in a dense area. All you are looking to do is fill a void. The smaller you get, the more involved and dedicated your visitor base may get. Imagine if you found a website that was dedicated only to your specific neighborhood, condo, or apartment building. You would most likely take special note of it. You may not even think twice to give out your email address for updates. The content is so local, it can’t be denied.

Avoid the tendency to shotgun the city. This is hard to do if you like to think big. What happens if you want to grow past that area? What then? Strike that fear by remembering there are more domains in the sea, and you can duplicate the effort if the need arises. But right now, think about the needs of your audience. They appreciate local, and will take note of a site with dedication to their backyard. Backfence was too much too soon. The perception wasn’t personal enough to rally an audience. It also relied on user-generated content, which is not really to goal of starting a local blog. I’m not interested in a site that is clearly set up to be some “national network” destined to fail. If the site is clearly set up to cover MY area and dedicated to it, I know it is the real deal. My audience will too.

Let me know your thoughts on this. How local should you go?

Writer for national real estate opinion column AgentGenius.com, focusing on the improvement of the real estate industry by educating peers about technology, real estate legislation, ethics, practices and brokerage with the end result being that consumers have a better experience.


  • http://www.productivityplanner.com Tina Russell

    I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

    Tina Russell

  • http://www.teamfisher.com/blogs/norm_fisher/default.aspx Norm Fisher

    I’m not sure if this is the proper way to be thinking about blog readership, but in radio programming, at least in my market, they do it something like this;

    Define the market which is most important to you.
    Program accordingly.
    Consider ways in which you can tweak to broaden your appeal always being mindful of your primary market and ensuring that you don’t deviate so much so that other competing stations provide a better alternative for them.

    I would think that you can probably find a certain amount of “local content” that won’t be completely lost on your primary market.

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  • http://LakeForest2Homes.com Vicki Lloyd

    Hi Carson –

    I just started my “hyper-local” blog that focuses on a community of 3,436 homes, divided into 14 distinct neighborhoods. So far, I’ve posted general descriptions of each neighborhood, and the sales, by neighborhood, for 2007, as well as the year-to-date activity for each neighborhood for 2008. In the next day or two, I will be adding my commentary on the state of the market for the entire community, as well as agent advice on fixing and staging to sell, choosing a mortgage, avoiding foreclosure, negotiating a purchase, etc. I also plan to add local social events, with lots of photos, and build a list of local shops and services.

    We’ll see what it evolves to, but in the first 2 weeks since I started it, I’ve had 171 unique visitors (they may all be my agent friends who are checking it out, but at least someone is looking!)

  • http://katiewethman.blogspot.com Katie Wethman

    Interesting questions, Carson. I’ve struggled with this, and have not as yet really gone “hyper-local”. Another twist is to consider whether you’re going after buyers, sellers, or both–they have different reading needs, so can one effectively serve both consistently in the same series of posts? In my experience, buyers rarely know exactly what neighborhood they want to buy in, so I wonder just how effective these posts are in attracting buyer clients.

    “Hyper local content” might be the Real Estate 2.0 world equivalent of an old world “farm.” I was advised that a farm should be 300-500 homes to be effective. Seems that the leveraging ability of the internet should result in a larger target area, but my guess is that it still needs to be closer to that end of the spectrum.

  • http://www.zillowblog.com Drew Meyers

    Speaking of definitions of areas within a city, I’d love to get your thoughts on how accurate the neighborhoods we have for Houston are. If you’re interested, you can download the Texas file from http://www.zillow.com/labs/NeighborhoodBoundaries.htm

    I’m with you though — go super local!

  • http://www.onlykaty.com Carson Coots

    Tina – Thanks!

    Norm – Good method… I found that there are plenty of stories all around that are never discussed. It’s like you have to develop an eye for news. I tried to adjust my thinking and ask questions about the area around me that have yet to be answered such as ” why does that store go through 4 owners and rebrand every year”. What is the deal with the huge broken X that has been sitting on the side of the road for 3 months? Should there be a light at that intersection? What is the story behind the bum standing at my turn every day? What is the best sushi restaurant in our town? I could go on and on, and although those seem petty, to me and my neighbors they are interesting. They are literally “close to home”

    Viki – I like the site. I have)n’t gotten into discussing what type of content to feature but I have been exploring all kinds of topics… non real estate related also. I’m not aiming to gain leads, just local traffic. What I choose to do with that traffic becomes the fun part. A realtor may use this approach to build a base and level of trust/exposure in the community.. The leads will follow. It’s like an indirect sale.

    Katie – One part of the equasion to consider would be the amount of active “internet users” in your chosen area… I would not limit myself to a certain number of households. You know your area best and I would use your instincts to determine the scope of the site. You don’t want it to be boring either, so a simple neighborhood might not suffice unless you can dig up enough dirt to make it useful for a resident. You can even make the “online” version of your homeowners association newsletter and discuss hot topics such as where the trash should be picked up.. front or back, but keep in mind your own liveliness. I couldn’t stand being confined to writing about an area too small unless I was truly passionate about it (or lived there).

    Drew – I downloaded that file and finally found a way to open the database. Your houston section looks pretty accurate. I would make “Katy” a section (rather than just west houston). I would ex out the “greater” in greater memorial, heights, etc… You covered all the areas but the locals refer to the “cities” like Conroe, The Woodlands, Friendswood, Cypress, Katy, Spring, Baytown, Clear Lake, etc. But I guess it is a matter of preference. (check spelling on Pasadena, AKA Stinkadena AKA Pasa-”Get Down”-Dena.)

  • http://www.longbeachrealestatehome.com/ Laurie Manny

    My blog is hyper-local. It gets a lot of hits. A lot of hits become a solid steady stream of leads. When I write to sellers, buyers contact me – they like what I am saying. When I write to buyers, sellers contact me – they like what I am saying. I have a solid base of community information that gets a steady stream of hits. Market reports get many thousands of hits, local residents are starving for solid local numbers from an area professional, these numbers are deemed to be more reliable than the absurd and erroneous numbers produced by the media. My hyper-local blog is boring to the 2.0 world, that’s OK, it isn’t written for the 2.0 world, they don’t produce revenue for me.

    Is it akin to more traditional farming? Yes and no. Local farming was expensive – paper – ink – postage – flier services – advertising costs – all to reach a small area of 3000-5000 residents on a steady and regular basis. Yet we were only able to provide small amounts of information, exactly how much can you fit on a postcard or a flier? So we spent the money on promotional advertising – just listed – just sold postcards, hey I can sell yours too! We spent large dollars to produce new business so we could earn large amounts of money to pay for the next round of advertising expenses. It was a vicious circle.

    Blogging opened an opportunity to move large amounts of information from our desks and our heads to the community. It gives us the opportunity to stand up in front of the community and to actually communicate with them – all of them. To be the local resource for local real estate and community related information. That is what homeowners in your community want. When they want county or national information they turn on the news, pick up a paper or go to a local news site.

    While we will occasionally report on local news and events we are not reporters, we are Realtors, spreading the word about real estate and our communities.

    You ponder, should I blog to the entire city or take it down to hyper local within your city. Why wouldn’t you blog to you entire city AND to an assortment of targeted, hyper local neighborhoods within it? Why would you limit yourself like that? When you blog to an entire city you build a solid reputation with the residents as well as with the search engines. If you decide to start writing about a neighborhood you hadn’t really addressed before your blog has the power to make you visible in that neighborhood very quickly. If you have something of value to offer they will read you, it will likely turn into more business, if you are any good at it.

    Before I discovered blogging, I approached the title companies in my area about appropriating an email list for the entire city. I figured that a title company or perhaps insurance companies would likely have a high percentage of local email addresses for a targeted community and would be able to pull that information out of their computer relatively easily. While dissecting how that would work, one of the title reps and myself realized that it was a potential disaster. If one agent got their hands on a list like that in a very short time many more would also.

    Try to imagine an entire city having to change their email addresses because hundreds of emails would be spamming them daily. It just didn’t work, no matter how we broke it down. Unless a small handful of Realtors had exclusive use the potential for abuse was too great.

    I am rambling on here, I could go on about this for hours. But the bottom line is that my blog is hyper local, I get between 2000 and 3000 hits a day. This last month the roof blew off it, I am getting 5 or more leads a day. I have hired a buyers agent, am referring to 3 agents in my office and am looking for 2 more buyers agents.

    Do hyper local blogs work? Yes, they work very well with the right lead generator on them. Unfortunately most blogs don’t have the right stuff.

  • http://www.stpaulrealestateblog.com Teresa Boardman

    If Ihad to do it all over my blog would cover a couple of neighborhoods. On the other hand by having a blog about an entire city it is just about impossible to run out of content.

  • http://www.stpaulrealestateblog.com Teresa Boardman

    Oops I would like to add to that . . my blog generates more leads than I can handle. Very soon I will be forming a team of three so I have more time to follow up on th inquires I get and generate more content.

  • http://www.mackperryhomes.com Mack in Atlanta

    Carson, as you can tell I’m in Atlanta and have a slightly smaller population than you to deal with. I have not limited my audience by specifying a small farm area in the Greater Atlanta market. After all I can always refer out a potential buyer or seller from an area that I am not as familiar with. Teresa is correct that it becomes very difficult to run out of topics to write about and after all content is king.

    Late last fall I wrote about the drought situation in Atlanta. It was viewed over 800 times in less than 36 hours. I received emails from several people showing concern and establishing a dialog about Atlanta’s water problems. No one has purchased property from this post but we never know where a client may come from. Just using this as an example of writing about a larger area and how an interesting local topic can generate traffic to your blog.

    Good luck with your “Houston Real Estate Blog”.

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  • http://www.neworleanscondotrends.com Eric Bouler

    My market is the New Orleans Condo market, it specific enough and know now what most ppeople are looking for. I try to incorporate there questions and the same ones get asked over and over again so I write about that. The life-style angle is a great addition and blogs are idea to deal with these small subjects. I just started my blog but have had my websites for a while. http://www.neworleanscondos.net You are right next door in Texas but a million miles away in life-style

  • http://www.mymcclellanville.net Daniel Bates

    I blog about my town of 500, how is that for hyper-local? Truly though my blog appeals to a large rural market outside the town limits. If you’re running out of things to blog about you must be doing something wrong, because even in my small area I don’t foresee ever running out of local topics in addition to the ever changing real estate market. I too believe in the value of capturing emails. With no advertising other than word of mouth I grew my email subscribers to around 70 (again town of <500, so not too shabby) The value of blogging over other type of marketing is that you can portray who you really are and build a relationship with people that you might not see on a weekly or monthly basis. These people slowly build a loyalty toward the person who has been providing them with all this great information and look to you when they sell or buy a home as well as refer you to their neighbors.

  • http://www.blackrockonline.org Gail Robinson

    About a year and a half ago, I started a community blog for a section of Bridgeport, CT which has about 9,000 households. I’ve had over 10,000 unique visitors and get about 40 visitors per day. It places pretty highly on Google for “Black Rock real estate” and “Black Rock Community”. Sometimes it’s #1 on page 1. I don’t use metatags, so Google has apparently decided to rank it high on integrity. I’m careful not to link to any site that doesn’t directly deal with my community. I have 200 e-mail subscribers for e-mail updates on the blog. I give my e-mail subscribers a choice of just getting updates on community information or also getting real estate information. I publish a few articles on local real estate from time to time, but mostly focus on local news and have a community calendar, which many people rely on. I was already the #1 listing agent in my market area when I started the blog, but it has definitely given me greater credibility and keeps me top of mind with more people in the community.

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