How to start a profitable hyperlocal website

Hyperlocal publishing

On a pleasant summer evening a group of young people gathered in the dimly lit back room of Mitch’s Tavern for a passionate discussion about a new online venture. The bar room discussion between David Milsaps and his friends took place in the summer of 2007, and in the same year went live. The website was a gift from Milsaps and his buddies to the people of Raleigh. It was created to support local-ism and perpetuate the unique culture of the growing city.

Fast forward to 2013 and it was finally time to stop publishing New Raleigh. For five years Milsaps and others shared in the endeavor of creating a distinctive voice of the city, and making a discernible impact on Raleigh’s downtown culture. New Raleigh quickly attracted tens of thousands of users and succeeded in establishing itself as a go to website. However despite growing readership and local support, Milsaps was unable to convert New Raleigh’s influence and leadership into sustainable profit which eventually led to its downfall.

Why are most hyper-local websites not profitable?

Google Adsense is not enough

Hyperlocal websites like New Raleigh are driven by passion and noble intentions, but not backed by a sound business model. Founders put all their energy into building content that begets traffic, and when its time to monetize all they do is sign up as affiliates of third party ad networks (like Google Adsense) and wait for revenues to roll in.

Publishers of a hyperlocal website should know that BANNER AD revenue is directly proportional to traffic, and that it is the least profitable source of income for an online publication. Even large publishers like Times, Huffington Post and BuzzFeed have reduced their dependency on third party ad networks.

Paid directory listings are moderately successful

Another tried & tested monetization option for hyperlocal publications involves creating a promotional space for local businesses and private advertisers. In a blog post entitled 21 things I learnt running hyperlocal news sites, Mike Fourcher – founder of Center Square Journal reveals that there are many contenders vying for SMB marketing dollars. Companies like Yelp, Oodle, Trulia, Move and Groupon dominate the local advertising market, so it's difficult for new hyperlocal websites to get a significant slice of local ad revenues. Fourcher also states that SMBs have a small marketing budget, and they are not comfortable with the idea of risking their meager funds on a new advertising channel. What makes market penetration all the more difficult for hyperlocal publishers is that they lack resources required for deploying a high-performing sales force.

How can hyperlocal websites compete with Yelp, Trulia, Groupon, etc.?

Although big players like Yelp, Trulia and Groupon have a strong presence in local market, their dominance is restricted to specific type of service. For example, Yelp is popular as a business directory while Trulia is a well known real estate website. Hyperlocal publishers can make real impact in the local market, by offering a range of promotional services including: sponsored content, business directory subscription, banner ads, real estate ads, classifieds and coupon sales.

Promotional services to be provided by a hyperlocal website

Offering a wide range of promotional services on one platform, allows hyperlocal publishers to tap into wider cross-section of the target market. However, publishers must also work on enhancing their services in order to outperform competition., Life In Hoboken , The BayNet and Down Town Miami are examples of hyperlocal websites which have managed to gain dominance in their respective local markets. These websites were able to side-track competition, by offering greater value in terms of features and benefits. For instance, the business directory on Life In Hoboken offers personalized listing page to subscribers with option to create a full-fledged product catalog, attach downloadable collaterals and showcase latest deals/offers. Similarly, the classifieds section allows users to create beautiful listing page with built-in photo gallery, contact form and comment section.

What's the best ‘go to market’ strategy for hyperlocal publishers?

Creating a great platform for local advertising isn't enough to bend the revenue graph upwards. In order to get the dollars rolling, hyperlocal publishers need a winning go to market strategy.

Diverting advertisers from Yelp and Trulia

In the local market - business directory, classifieds ads and real estate ads are the most sought after promotional services, and publishers face stiff competition when attempting to woo prospects away from established websites like Yelp and Move.

A better approach is to populate your business directory, classifieds and real estate sections by importing listings from Yelp, Move, oodle etc. This way the new hyperlocal website becomes a useful resource for users. And, when the listings become a source of leads for prospects, publishers can then start approaching prospects for paid subscriptions. Sending-out email updates to let prospects know how well their free listing is doing - inspires confidence and eventually leads to conversions.

Gearing-up for sponsored content

Sponsored content is the most profitable revenue channel for websites. However in order to offer this service, publishers need to position their website as a strong influencer of public opinion. This can be done by putting out editorial features which talk about local brands.

Reviews, commentaries and opinion pieces involving restaurants, spas or vocational training centers – help in attracting the attention of local SMBs and positions the website as a productive medium for content marketing. And once the website starts receiving PRs and review requests, publishers can then start charging a fair fee for putting out sponsored content

Although sponsored content is a highly profitable revenue source for hyper local websites, publishers need to handle it strategically. Putting out to many promotional pieces can lead to disrepute of the website. For more information on sponsored content read Monetization through sponsored content – Implementation road map for publishers

Targeting high spenders of the local market

Medium-sized businesses operating in the local market have a substantial marketing budget, and are willing to spend on high impact advertising. By introducing services like banner ads and deal store, hyperlocal publishers can start catering to high spenders of the local market.

In order to sustain a multi-dimensional business model, hyperlocal publishers must put in place a supporting technological infrastructure. This involves building an online system through which clients can buy and manage promotional services. BlackMonk - web publishing platform allows publishers to deploy hyper-local websites - equipped with full range of publishing and monetization features.

8 Practical Ways to draw an audience to your web portal!

With such a low barrier of entry, nearly everyone can set up a blog in 10 minutes and start publishing. A tonne of content is published on the internet every day. As a result, a lot of online publishers find it difficult to draw the attention of their audience to their web portals. They struggle with the same old question: How to build an audience for their web portals?

This question has been asked millions of times and has been answered quite ambiguously. Let us take a simple approach to it and find out exactly how to do it.

To build an audience, you have to place yourself in the shoes of your customer and be everywhere they go. Online users behave similarly as they do offline. They like to connect and interact. For that you have to reach out to your audience and be open to interaction.

Everyone knows about SEO, ad campaigns and social media profiles. The key is to use them effectively to be visible to your audience.

Let's see how we can do that.

1. Be searchable

Although, SEO is very well known, it still remains the number one point on the list. With the way that the Internet has evolved, search engines have indeed captured the central position in the online world today.

Locate the keywords that your target users use on search engines to find what you can offer and focus your SEO activities around them.

You can find out the keywords and know the frequency with which they are used by using Search engines’ free keyword tools.

Be aware that many CMS’s are not very SEO friendly. Look for a CMS that can help you with SEO. Eg. BlackMonk is a CMS that is made specifically for publishers and allows them to take care of SEO with almost no coding required.

Besides SEO, launching ad campaigns from time to time can hasten the process.

2. Give them what they want.

Now that you are searchable and also know what your audience searches for, address the pain points and provide them what they look for. Tailor your content to match the needs of your audience.

Look for the topics where your expertise can help users find solutions to their problems.

Make a content marketing strategy by deciding upon the topics and writing on them with a good frequency. This process requires patience, but is a sure shot way to build a loyal audience.

This is exactly why many business owners today have begun making their own blogs rather than relying on big publications only, for their content promotion activities.

3. Jack of all trades, master of one.

You already know that social media profiles are necessary. They are the platforms where your target audience already frequents.

Although, it can be quite daunting to take care of so many social media profiles. The good news is, you do not need to be very active on all of them.

Have your presence on all the social media platforms, but focus on the one that you find is the best to convey the message about your web portal and interact with your audience.

I personally prefer Facebook. Make a page and update it frequently with posts that either help your audience or have some entertainment value.

The fact is that once your profile starts getting traction on any one of the platforms, your profiles on other platforms would get audience with little effort.

You do not need to update others as frequently.

4. Strike when the iron is hot.

Many people would agree, a quick way to get heads to turn is by being controversial.

Stay tuned to the news and happenings around the world that your target audience takes an interest in and publish content at appropriate times.

Content delivered at the right time, at the right place, can get the number of your daily visitors to shoot overnight.

Let us take an example. A week ago, the whole world was down with the FIFA World Cup fever. Many noteworthy happenings were witnessed from Suarez biting on the field to Neymar Jr. getting hurt.

All those posts written about them on all platforms got great views and a lot of interaction.

It’s all about connecting with your audience. Use this weapon smartly for your web portal.

5. Guest blogging and PR.

This is the best way to establish yourself as an expert in your niche. Although it’s not easy to get published in well known web portals, you can definitely start with your own, move towards higher blogs and work your way up to your target web portals.

It requires both patience and smart work. Make a list of the portals you want to target first and find the areas where they lack in. It’s easier to approach them if you already have some reference articles published on your blog.

Write to them directly, with a good cover letter and sample articles and some of them would definitely get back to you.

These blogs may even offer to review and write about your portal for some cash. This is one way to break the ice.

It’s always great to have a third person or blog talking about your product or portal.

6. Go an extra mile to support your audience.

If your users can create something on your web portal, they’re bound to share it with their friends and family. Let your audience market your web portal. They would return the favor if you help them promote their businesses, events etc.

Reach out to local businesses, event managers etc and invite them to post on your web portal. Make the posts shareable and see users flock to you.
You may not want to charge money initially to post, consider this an investment.

7. Focus on key people.

This can be done by introducing your portal to some of the trendsetters of your industry and get your name out in front of the people that matter.

It is just like LinkedIn did it. They approached the top players in various industries and honored them by making them the influencers on their network. This helped them in attracting their respective followers easily.

This also makes your platform much more credible in the eyes of both your audience and PR industry.

8. The Viral Effect


Lastly, let’s discuss how you can get your posts to go viral on the internet.
I had a word with Gauri Lokare, Video Editor for and with her experience in the publishing industry, she told me that for anything to go viral on the internet, it has to be ethical, logical and emotional.

It’s all about connecting with your audience. If your post can spur emotions in a reader, he’s likely to share it.

These emotions can both be negative and positive. Emotions like hope, happiness, anger and excitement go a long way.

It's all about intensity. If your post can do that, it’s bound to become viral.

Eg. LOLcats included pictures of cute cats with grammatically incorrect headlines like “Can I has a Cheeseburger?” went all over the internet.


Lastly, the best way to keep your web portal thriving is by caring about your audience and giving them quality content.

Monetization through sponsored content – Implementation road map for publishers

There is a definite shift in the way businesses are spending their marketing dollars. The focus is on connecting with the audience at a much deeper level, as opposed to creating passing awareness through display advertising. Businesses are now targeting online editorial spaces for brand promotion, and publishers have an opportunity to maximize their earnings by implementing a revenue model based on sponsored content.

Sponsored content is a monetization model where publishers get paid for putting-out editorial features that highlight brands, products and services. It has emerged into a mainstream monetization model replacing advertising as a primary source of revenue for online publications. BuzzFeed draws almost all of its revenue from sponsored content, while Forbes’ earnings from BrandVoice (Forbes dedicated platform for sponsored content) amounts to 40% of its online revenue.

If you run an online publication, offering sponsored content as a service is a sure shot way to boost revenues. However, implementing this monetization strategy requires plenty of ground work, so here we’ll provide specific pointers to help you create sustainable revenue from sponsored content.

Sponsored content only works when you have an established reader base. So, if you’ve just started an online publication and if you don’t have an established reader base, work on building an active audience and then get serious about monetizing through sponsored content.

Define services and pricing

Sponsored content is a highly profitable monetization strategy for publishers thanks to non-existence of standard price structure. At one end of spectrum we have biggies like Buzzfeed and Gawker (network of news websites and blogs including Lifehacker and Gizmodo) who can demand fees in the range of $20,000 - $500,000, while at the other end of the spectrum we have small and mid-sized publishers providing sponsored content in the range of $200 - $2000 per post.

Publishers sell sponsored content in many different ways. Forbes has adopted site license model, where clients pay a license fee for the privilege of submitting content for specific duration. Some publishers club sponsored content with display advertising deals, while others charge on per post basis. For starters, it is best to define your sponsored content packages on per post basis.

The brand equity of your online publication is the single most important factor influencing the per post fee. Well known publishing brands are in a position to charge an exorbitant fee for a single post. However, if you don’t have the backing of a big brand name, you can base your pricing on following factors:

  • The outreach and authority of your website within the niche
  • Engagement and share quotient of your website
  • Editorial services including concept and writing/editing
  • Duration for which the article remains on home page or feature zone

Set post limit and editorial guidelines

Although sponsored content yields good revenue, too much of it can harm the reputation of your website. Remember, readers like worthwhile information, expert opinion, and insights – not overt brand favoritism. Setting a weekly/monthly limit on number of sponsored posts and putting strict editorial guidelines in place – helps preserve the reputation and value of your online publication.

Your editorial guidelines should have stringent criteria for content submission. Emphasize the importance of providing useful information to readers and discourage blatant promotion. Also, let it be known that submissions will be reviewed and edited by your staff.

Get on to marketers’ radar

A good starting point is to create a page or section on your website - inviting paid content from marketers. Create an inciting copy to communicate the benefits of running a content marketing campaign on your website. It is a good idea to target specific market segments based on content niche and outreach of your online publication. For example, a local lifestyle magazine can target local fashion brands, night clubs and restaurants, while a travel portal can invite paid content from tourism companies, hotel conglomerates and cruise operators.

Establishing your website as an avenue for content marketing may require some direct selling - at least initially. Arm yourself with collaterals, connect with target businesses and demonstrate the value of your website as a high potential channel for content marketing. Marketers like stats, so make sure your collaterals contain essential stats related to traffic, page views, engagement and sharing.

Also be prepared to offer freebies, prospects may ask for a free review or a mention in an editorial feature. It’s much easier to close a deal when you allow prospects to try your service for free.

Create supporting infrastructure

Managing sponsored content is a tricky business, especially when you have a large inventory for sponsored posts. Creating and I.T infrastructure for submission and management of paid content – streamlines editorial workflow and automates billing to a great extent.

BlackMonk CMS is a web publishing framework that provides ‘out of the box’ support for sponsored content. Request a demo today!

Coming Soon - High potential monetization strategies for online publishers

People are consuming online content more than ever before, but despite growing demand for digital content – publishers seem to be struggling with dwindling revenues. The dire state of finances in the online publishing niche is clearly a result of declining profitability from display ads.

The good news is that online publishers have a rapidly expanding audience base, and this presents an opportunity to create additional revenue channels by implementing a mix of monetization strategies.

We have helped publishers create profitable revenue streams based on content promotion, subscription and online sales. These monetization strategies have worked well for publishers having strong following in a specific niche or geographical region, and are likely to yield long-term pay-offs once publishers put in place an infrastructure for supporting these monetization strategies.

If you are interested in increasing the revenues of your online publication, then stay tuned to this space for invaluable insights on new monetization strategies that will put your online publication on road to sustainable profitability.