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Neighborhood Marketing – Part One

Many Internet Marketers miss out on some great opportunities by failing to focus on the potential found in their own backyards. In this new series we’ll be examining the finer points of leveraging Websites that target local surfers. In other words, we’ll talk about how to create an income and promote a business using Web properties that cater to the people in your community, city, or region. You’ll most likely be surprised by the numerous ideas that spring to mind as you read the regular installments in this new article series.

Let’s start with a couple of basic questions. Specifically:

  • Why would you want to start a local site in the first place?
  • What’s the difference between a local site and a niche site?

Why Bother With A Locally Targeted Website?

The overwhelming majority of “how to make money” content focuses on the global reach of the Internet and the immense profitability that arises from being able to instantly communicate with millions of people from all over the world. Hence many people wonder, with good reason, why they would want to “limit themselves” to a local interest Website. Other people may actually like the idea of doing something local but wonder if it’s going to be financially worthwhile. In essence the big question for most people is:

Can I really make significant money with a site that targets the local population?

Put simply: Yes. Virtually every town and city, no matter how small, provides a creative and hard-working online entrepreneur with at least one or more compelling opportunities.

Obviously the size and culture of your local area will present a host of variables to work with. If you live in New York city, for example, you’ll have significantly more options than someone who lives in Johnson City, Tennessee. However it’s important to realize that people are making great money, right now, through Websites that serve small communities. One clever Webmaster in Johnson City, TN (roughly 50,000 residents) built a site that touts the local night clubs and keeps users current with the parties, contests, and celebrations from weekend to weekend. Advertising revenue from club owners provides this entrepreneur with more cash flow than his full-time day job!

Lose the idea that you have to build the next MySpace to generate a nice income stream online. Think about what your local friends and neighbors enjoy, want, and need and ask yourself how you can deliver on this via a simple Website.

The kind of willing attention you get from a captive audience who believes you intend to help them solve a problem or lead a better life is at the core of any successful site, forum, or Ezine. With a locally grown and marketed Web business, getting and keeping this kind of attention is often much easier than with sites that target a global audience. For one thing, you’re an insider. You are part of the community you intend to deal with and this immediately means greater trust and empathy from your target customers. Furthermore, you’re THE insider when it comes to your local Web program. You can very quickly and easily establish yourself as the market leader within a local niche, or at least as the head of your own online community.

It is very hard to overstate the value of being in a position of leadership when it comes to marketing. I’m sure you can think of half a dozen people right off the top of your head who, while not being the best or the brightest in a particular field, still managed to become the recognized and respected community leader in said field. A little effort goes a long way in this regard and, since the average Internet user has absolutely no clue how to set up and maintain a Website, you’ll have instant credibility and clout just because you own an active domain.

You’ll have an easier time developing the community atmosphere of a local site as well. A huge factor in the success of any Website is the level of engagement, or involvement, on the part of the visitors. Making people feel like they belong, like their opinions matter, substantially increases the level of involvement across the board. With your local site it won’t be at all difficult to inspire a great sense of belonging because your customers are also your neighbors and, in some cases, even people you already know!

For optimal results you should offer some sort of social, interactive platform. This could be a simple forum or an email list with a blog so readers can post comments. Or you could go all out and set up a complete membership program. The typical Internet user actually expects some sort of social capability these days so you should expect an all around slower growth rate if you ignore this advice. By leveraging this whole “friends and neighbors” angle you’ll have little trouble finding people to help with stuff like graphics, forum moderation, articles, comments, and testimonials. Plus you’ll find other local business owners are usually quite happy to link to your site or even arrange some kind of cross-promotion.

Speaking of promotion, this area of running an online business is also a lot easier when you’re going local. Again, because you’re connecting with people who share a sense of obligation and pride, relevant to the area, your marketing efforts will likely enjoy a more robust response when compared to a global campaign. You’ll be able to tap into a much wider range of promotional vehicles, such as TV spots and radio ads. Running national television ads would cost a fortune, but you can get your commercials on local TV, all month long, for just a few hundred bucks. With a nominal amount of effort and money you can create the appearance of being the biggest and best show in town!

Local Web promotions are particularly simple when it comes to ranking well within search engine results. Because of the relatively decreased amount of competition for locally specified keywords ([products/services] in [city/state]) it’s a very easy matter to attain the number one spot in your favorite search engine index. Being at the top of Google, Yahoo, and other engines for your ideal keywords not only delivers greater exposure for your operation, it also enhances your credibility in the eyes of your local prospects.

Now that you know a few of the major benefits associated with running a local site, let’s tackle the second primary question.

Local Site vs. Niche Site: Which Route Is Best?

Many marketers will tell you that a locally targeted Website is in fact a type of niche site. There is some truth to this, so a clear distinction in definition is in order to set this series on the right track. For the purposes of this column:

Niche Site: Any Website that focuses on a highly specific interest, regardless of a prospect’s location. In other words, a niche can reach out to global visitors OR people in a specific area.

Local Site: A website that accommodates Internet users who live in a specific town, city, or community.

The degree to which you choose to “niche” your local Web business is entirely up to you and should be based on your own goals, plus the needs of the folks you’ll be serving. Understandably, you might wish to create a strong niche site that’s not limited by geography. As we shall see in the next section, there is very little limitation involved with local sites in terms of genuine potential. Any local site you build will still be available to Internet users from all over the globe, so who says your locally targeted site can’t also make money from products sold to global consumers? You could use the local market as a sort of springboard into the larger, worldwide niche audience.

With a small adjustment to your copy and approach, it’s entirely possible to focus on local customers while still leaving the door open for surfers who live halfway across the planet.

Regarding which route is ideal (local or global), this is totally subjective and depends on your personal experience and interests. Many newer Internet Marketers have an easier time getting a locally grown venture off the ground. At the same time, it’s fair to say that several experienced marketers are leaving money on the table by neglecting, in whole or in part, the myriad local possibilities they could be exploiting in parallel with their other, more broadly-based endeavors. You’ll have to decide for yourself if tapping into a local market fits into your overall agenda but it’s definitely worth taking some time to consider seriously.

Are You Limiting Yourself With a Geo-Targeted Web Venture?

While it’s normal for people to assume a local site will be leaving out a huge chunk of potential traffic and sales, this is mostly exaggerated concern. You may naturally think you’d do better by going for the “big numbers” (i.e. building a site that appeals to people from around the world) but would you really?

Despite the global access provided by the Web, the reality is that most sites just don’t get the kind of massive traffic and response required to generate legendary income. Unless you’re a five-star marketer and you have an earth-shaking idea, there’s simply no guarantee you’ll hit a home run with your globally promoted Website. On the other hand, with a really good local site, you can capture an amazing response from only a small to medium-sized audience. So what if your site only gets 1,500 unique viewers per month? If these folks are super-targeted and really care about your message, you may very well get a couple of hundred paying players out of the deal. Think quality over quantity and you’ll be tuned into what we’re saying here.

Frankly, sticking with a local gig doesn’t automatically mean you’ll have to settle for small numbers. For instance, the main local news site in Erie, PA, is The metropolitan area and immediate suburbs around Erie boasts a population of around 200,000; this is far from a mega city. Yet the GoErie website has 100,000 registered users (of which 60,000 are local) and receives 150,000 visits per month. Notice that a good 40% of these visitors are non-locals, meaning they’re people who are interested in Erie but don’t live in that area. Even moderately sized towns and cities can potentially deliver a load of traffic, especially if your content appeals to surfers from outside of the area as well.

Just because you start locally doesn’t mean that’s where you have to finish. You never know where a business venture is going to take you until you get moving. Who knows? You may find after a few months that your model can be extended to appeal to people in another city down the road, or even to several cities in your state. Many large operations began as small locally grown projects and then exploded into national or even international success.

A Brief Word of Caution

Every business model has a few potential hang ups and problem areas. Local Websites are no different in this regard. If you’re going to build a static, informational Website with no interactive functions you aren’t likely to experience many problems. You’ll almost certainly see slower growth with this sort of site, and it’s unlikely you’ll enjoy a fanatical following with a content only site, but you can expect a relatively, problem free ride.

Community or membership sites on the other hand, are prone to some specific setbacks. This is true whether you’re focusing locally or taking on the whole world. We’ll cover the exact problems and their solutions in later installments. For now I want to offer an important cautionary note:

To the extent possible always avoid public negativity and always BUILD UP your members and your community as a whole.

It sounds almost too simplistic but once you begin interacting with many different people and get a taste for all the social pitfalls involved with online communities you’ll understand why this point is being stressed. Without a doubt this premise is the foundation of your success with a community-based Website. Only express public negativity toward one of your members if doing so is absolutely necessary to protect your other members and your overall program. If at all possible, simply remove problematic and toxic people from your site quietly and without much ado. A small amount of drama and pessimism can spread like an uncontrolled fire through your social Website, so guard against this kind of outbreak with unwavering diligence.

This doesn’t mean you have to avoid being politely critical when it’s productive. Nor does it imply you should squelch all disagreements between your participating members. By no means should you strive to become a Pollyanna (unless that’s just who you are). Just think of yourself like the group guardian and protector. Do not allow yourself to be seen attacking a member or bad-mouthing the city or town you are supposed to be serving. Keep the good of your community and the enjoyment and well-being of your members first, and good things will happen.

This article was originally featured in Mike Filsaime’s print newsletter, “MDC Monthly.” You can get a free trial copy shipped to your door by clicking here.

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