Hyperlocal Blogging: Q&A with Matt McGee

One of the sessions at Searchfest 2009 that really piqued my interest was the Hyperlocal Blogging presentation from Matt McGee. He was kind enough to answer a few follow-up questions. In addition to publishing four hyperlocal blogs with his wife Cari, Matt is an experienced SEO, hyperlocal blogger, and Assignment Editor to Search Engine Land. With that, let’s move on to the questions:

Matt, so what the heck is hyperlocal blogging, anyway?

Hyperlocal blogging is writing about the streets where you live. It’s blogging about local news, local events, local businesses — anything that’s happening in your hometown, city, street, or neighborhood. Hyperlocal blogs often talk about things that traditional media ignores, the stuff that’s too small or not important enough to a wide range of people.

It was apparent from the analytics you provided that hyperlocal blogging has increased your traffic. Has that translated to increased business?

We think it has, but we’ve been very cautious about using the local blogs as marketing tools, so it’s hard to say for certain. We’re taking a very long-term approach. Our primary goal has been to create four blogs that both users and search engines trust, so we’ve not done much selling of real estate services. Only in the last couple months have we added a content box on every blog post that says, “If you’re looking for real estate help, contact Cari….”

ROI seems to be the toughest thing to measure when it comes to blogging. Have you had success in identifying metrics (increased emails, phone calls, links, media mentions, etc.) that have improved since you started hyperlocal blogging?

Cari has had a steady stream of contacts since the blogs launched last year, with only the normal holiday break in November-December. So, while a lot of real estate agents have seen slowdowns, we’ve been blessed so far to avoid that. But getting precise data about which blog is producing leads has been tough. When Cari asks how someone found her, the most common answer is “You’re all over the Internet!” If they say they found her blog, she’ll ask which one … but most folks don’t seem to remember, and they don’t realize that we have different blogs.

When I go “off topic” in my blog posts, the bounce rate skyrockets. How does your bounce rate compare to a more focused discussion of, say, a real estate agent blogging about real estate information. And if it is higher, do you care or does the increase in traffic more than make up for it?

I don’t pay any attention to bounce rate because, really, we never go off-topic on the local blogs. Anything and everything happening in the community is on-topic, so as long as we don’t start writing about a Pasco event on our Richland blog, we’re fine. The focus (still) is to build a readership, to introduce people to the idea that local blogs exist, to get them in the habit of visiting, and so forth.

But I’ll add this: Our most popular blog post ever was a very recent one about Kanye West appearing on BET-TV wearing a letterman jacket from one of our local high schools. No one has a clue how he got the jacket, why he wore it, etc. That post has had 2-3 weeks of record-setting visits and more comments than any post we’ve written, but we know that most of it is from high school students. So that may seem like a loss. On the other hand, that post is giving Google all kinds of positive click-through data about our blog, it was mentioned in the local newspaper, and even got a link from the paper’s web site — and our paper is very stingy about linking out. So there are other benefits at play here.

It seems like hyperlocal blogging would best benefit businesses that serve a pretty broad spectrum of local consumer needs. Real estate definitely qualifies. Restaurants seem like another industry that could benefit. Are there business profiles/industries particularly well suited for hyperlocal blogging?

I think it’s more about the individual and the approach than the industry you’re in. We all care about where we live, and if you remember that you’re writing a local blog — as opposed to a real estate blog, a restaurant blog, a plumbing blog, etc. — you can make it work. There’s no reason a plumber couldn’t write about (and take photos of) the things s/he sees while out and about every day — new businesses being built, school and community events, road closures, and stuff like that. And then you mix in the occasional plumbing content and you’re doing well.

In closing, what do you see as the main benefits of hyperlocal blogging?

I can only answer this based on our soft-sell, low-marketing approach.

1) It allows you to capture a lot of long-tail, local search traffic … which
2) Increases your visibility/branding in the community … and
3) Can lead to new sales/leads/clients.
4) It’s good — or great, if done right — for SEO.
5) It gives you valuable community knowledge while giving back a valuable community resource.

Matt, thank you very much for your time!
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Ed Reese
Ed is the Founder of Sixth Man Marketing, Co-Founder of Rebooked, Co-Founder & Faculty Member of LocalU, and an adjunct professor of digital marketing at Gonzaga University. He's a frequent speaker on the topics of analytics and online marketing and is on the cusp of becoming a three-figure professional disc golfer.
3 replies
  1. Stever says:

    Hey Ed, we met at Search Fest :)

    And Matt, was sorry you took off early and didn’t get to chat with ya at the end of the conference.

    On hyper-local blogging, one of my clients is blogging a bit on his website. A Houston based contractor. Not a plumber, but close, HVAC. It’s not quite the same kind of medium to talk about anything and everything going on locally, like a real estate agent might, but local blogging still plays a role there.

    After Hurricane Ike we blogged about Insurance claims for flood and wind damage and provide lots of links to various state level and local level resources for things like FEMA, Insurance Institutes, etc. Needless to say it attracted a lot of traffic for few couple weeks.

    During the Olympics we listed all the local athletes that were competing in China. After the games we posted their medal counts.

    He also posts job postings in the blog, and those posts attract applicants.

    Other blog posts, to inform his local audience in response to other significant news events, get a fair bit of national level traffic, for example info about the recent new tax credits for energy efficient home improvements, get a fair bit of traffic from across the US but can have good potential for attracting links that help boost the site overall in search.

    I had to preach to him “soft sell” else nobody will read it. Just serious solid info. And its been paying off.

  2. Ed Reese says:

    Hey Stever,

    Great to hear from you! I was looking forward to talking with Matt as well, but I heard from David that he left for the Tri-Cities early to beat the bad weather. Come on, Matt… you live in the Tri-Cities, Man. Bad weather? You get like 300 sunny days a year.

    I really agree with the soft sell approach that Matt talks mentioned. I can just imagine how hard it might be to convince a client of that, though. Was he resistant at first? I know another difficulty is consistancy. I have some clients that will blog for a while, and then before you know it, there’s a month long dry spell. I’ll usually have to go back to the analytics and show them how effective it was when they were blogging on a consistent basis. That’ll usually motive them for a while.

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Stever says:

    My clients are busy running their business and their not true bloggers, per say. So I tell them once a month is enough. The blogs are integrated into their main website so its also a means of just adding some fresh content once in a while too.

    Their simply not ready to make blogging a key part of their overall strategy so by infrequent blogging they add some fresh content to feed the bots and sometimes it’s an interesting post, local or not, that attracts some traffic.

    Over time they may get more adept at it, become better writers, gain more confidence in their writing and eventually blog more frequently.

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