It feels like almost every day a new hyperlocal startup launches which small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) just “have” to participate in. This explosion in content has been driven by the continuing implosion of traditional newspapers.
As advertisers defect in droves, paying for journalists is becoming increasingly problematic. However, building a hyperlocal startup doesn't necessarily mean that users will come.
The key question for the SMB is “why bother?” or “what’s in it for me?”
From the startup’s point of view the stakes are pretty clear…get a cool platform running and have somebody with a gap in their technology or product portfolio rush in and pick up the product.
It’s often less clear why the SMB would invest scarce resources on the project or why consumers may bother to interact with the platforms in the first place.
The perpetual problem with hyperlocal is the scarcity of content beyond traditional news media. Why would you trust an item written by the cat lady next door? What value might it have? It’s a tough call.
Most of these platforms rely on the repurposing RSS feeds, news feeds, and blogs into what may be new looking content. And since most of this content is duplicated, it’s less likely to rank well.
Scarcity is a factor, too. In many cases, the best hyperlocal sites are limited to just a handful of towns. If you live in San Francisco your selection is enormous and the content may well be both original and compelling; if you live in Butte, Montana, much less so.
We spoke to a leader in local search marketing, Andrew Shotland, who has many years of experience helping companies and directories of all shapes and sizes get found in search. We asked him for some comments around hyperlocal and for some thoughts on a few of the leading contenders.
Patch is a highly controversial product, purchased by AOL for pocket change which has cost them a great deal more than that in recent years. Aside from the recent controversy around their editorial practices and profitability it does a decent job of connecting local businesses with local consumers.
Patch's directory allows end users to select the state and then narrow down to the city of interest. In addition to the directory, Patch offers the latest news for that area, any events that are taking place, and traffic reporting.
This comprehensive platform allows the consumer the ability to search for local restaurants, services, health, and other products and services needed within the community.
“Patch always surprises me,” Shotland said. “There is a Patch in Pleasanton, CA, where I live, and it often shows up in Google for local search queries. That I would expect. What I would not expect, is that the content is actually pretty good. Their model of using truly local editors to create the content, while expensive, results in a nice experience and editorial point of view."
Can Patch generate leads for local SMBs? Shotland isn't 100 percent sure.
"It seems like a decent media property for catching up on news, but not necessarily a lead-gen machine," he said. "And even though it’s got decent content, it can’t compare community-wise to our local paper’s website.”
Foursquare is a log-in based site that provides you with information for your area. It rode the wave of checking social media up and there is concern that it may ride it right back down as folks forget why they logged in in the first place.
Foursquare also provides you with suggestions of shops and restaurants to visit within your locale. Key is the ability for consumers to leave “tips” for a specific business or service, it is an interactive site that not only provides information but allows consumers to share their experiences and leave “tips” for other consumers.
“I really want to like Foursquare,” Shotland said. “I have checked in with the best of them all over the world, and there seems to be a lot of people who have tried it, but I personally find the utility of the app lacking, even with their new “Explore” feature, which is supposed to help you find great local businesses near you. I have tried this feature in several cities around the world, and for me, it’s no more helpful than doing a Google search.
Shotland said he's concerned that, even with their size, Foursquare is still lacking in enough data to create enough “density” of content to make it truly useful everywhere you go.
"That said, for a certain demographic (i.e., 20-something’s looking for a bar) it’s probably a great service," Shotland said. "To find a doctor or a plumber – not so much. So if you are targeting people looking for things to do in your area, it might be good to try. It’s certainly a fun concept.”
EveryBlock focuses on 16 specific cities within the Unites States. It is a log-in based site that provides you with the information on your neighborhood and town.
Using local photos posted to Flickr, reviews of local business on Yelp, and channeling pertinent information from Craigslist, its users can chat and post messages about the goings on in their specific location. Given Craigslist's penchant for going after people who use content from their directory for their own purposes, there is some question around how long lived that part of the platform may be.
The jury is very much out on hyperlocal. The moment you stray from real newsrooms you run the risk of being bogged down in the banal, the inaccurate, and the puff piece.
Having said that, if you can establish a genuine voice for your business there is real opportunity to get found both in these directories (which the average SMB probably doesn’t care that much about) and in the main search engines….so puff away!