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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!

Searchfest 2009 Recap

In my best Joey Lawrence voice,… “Whoa!” Talk about a great search engine marketing conference. Big props to the SEMPDX crew for putting together such a top quality event. Though it’s a six hour drive from Spokane to Portland, I’m going to join so that I can go to their monthly meetings and talk with the very talented search folks in P-Town (and check out a Blazer game or two). If you are an SEO anywhere near Portland, it’s a no-brainer to join SEMPDX. OK, now for my brief recap. I’m keeping this one short as I’ll be writing more detailed posts on topics over the next few days.

Keynote: Danny Sullivan
Danny was entertaining as always, with a great blend of technical insight, industry experience, and humor.  The format of his presentation was largely driven by audience questions generated prior to the event. The majority seemed to come from Cecily Stout, a great SEO out of Fort Collins, Colorado.  I always enjoy talking with her at conferences.  One of his more interesting points, in my opinion, was the way he broke out social media into several different categories.  I’ve personally felt that there are so many different types of social media that it never really made sense to lump them all together.  However, this was the first time I’d seen someone really break them apart into more logical categories.  It will really help in my discussions with clients.

Local Search: Mary Bowling, Matt McGee, David Mihm, Greg Hartnet

David really did a great job in putting this session together.  In fact, I found out later that day that he had a big part in getting the A-List SEO line-up for the conference in general. Nice work! I found the local search session to be one of the most valuable of the day. It provided great content and balance for both agency search marketers and in-house folks. Here are a few high notes:

Matt McGee really got me thinking about, neigh,… planning to join his hyperlocal blogger army. His presentation included the only true case study-esque data of the day, which I appreciate. The crux of his hyperlocal blogging presentation is that if we can believe all the news articles about traditional media dying off, there is a huge opportunity for marketers to present valuable local information to the community and benefit from the additional traffic. He provided some really great data and insight. I’m planning on writing more about his presentation in the next few days.

Then Mary Bowling rocked the house. I’ve seen her present three times now. Every time she presents I can’t help but think “What could possibly be left to talk about?” She just lays it out there. Examples, tactics, strategies, specific advice, etc… Her session convinced me to finally look into using hcards. It also showed my how to better use GLBC attributes to better rank outside of your geographic area (but within your service area). This has been a problem for quite some time for clients. I’m looking forward to implementing her suggestions. Thanks, Mary!

Technical On-Site SEO: Susan Moskowa, Vanessa Fox, Aaron Kahlow

I went into the session looking to get three technical questions answered. Not only did I get them answered, I learned a few other details in the process. Here are my three take-aways from this session.

1) Use webmaster tools more than you do. There’s always a tendency (at least for me) to use other tools first. Their demonstration of questions that can be solved within Google Webmaster Tools quickly reminded me that I should be using it more.

2) Submit both XML and HTML sitemaps to Google, Yahoo, and MSN. Many people (myself included) are a bit too Google-focused. Sure, it’s by far the dominant player, but do you really want to ignore 20%-30% of the remaining search traffic out there.

3) Bookmark Vanessa Fox’s Jane and Robot web site and go there often. After nearly every technical question that she answered, Vanessa followed the answer with “There’s an example/code/case study/etc. on www.janeandrobot.com.” I checked it out when I got home. It’s awesome! Take a look for yourself.

The big downside of attending at multi-track conference is that you are bound to miss some great presentations. Fortunately, Rebecca from SEOmoz was on the other side of the divider wall and put together an amazing summary of the presentations I missed.

Well, that’s probably enough for one post. I’ll separate my re-cap into three posts and then delve into a few more details. All in all, a great event. For those who missed, I’d definitely check it out next year.