Sunday, December 5, 2010

Are Yahoo! & AOL Tapping into Local Content Goldmines?

Small Town Saturday Night, by Malcolm MacGregor.
...and are some towns just too small to matter?

Local content. This buzz phrase has been building to a roar for the past year, or more. Savvy writers, such as Pam Gaulin, have been preaching it to fellow online writers for longer. 

Search engines turned content providers AOL and Yahoo! are banking on converting loyal readers into profits, with Yahoo! Local (beta) and Patch. But will these new hyper-local sites, both in infancy stages, be focusing on areas where reporting is needed most--small town America? Would it be worth it?

Both sites do cover cities with populations under 20,000. For example, both are testing the waters in Birmingham, Michigan, population 19,291. But what about towns with under 5,000 people? That will be the interesting part of the hyper-local experiments--if coverage is given to these rural areas.  

Interesting, because smaller townships pose a unique challenge, in that most residents have been trained that local news, and in some cases any information, in their hometowns is scantily available online. How do you provide content for readers who may have given up on searching? 

Connecting through social media is an obvious answer. This is something that would probably happen organically, as that one or first hundred searchers discover a site with a hub for their town. They will share with friends, who will be converted as readers. 

So readers can eventually be obtained, but will it be worth the time and investment put in? If you capture the interest of the whole town, that is still only 5,000 users. A demographic that would mostly be valuable to local advertisers. But will these businesses be willing to invest their advertising dollars? Will they even be asked? 

It's not obvious, but the answer seems to be a tentative, "yes." Y! Local is running ads for Groupon, a group coupon site that focuses on local deals. Patch has some advertorial-style content that promotes local businesses. These pieces are not noted as advertising, but the bottom of every page contains a link encouraging local advertisers.

Which is a good thing and honestly the only way I see small towns receiving coverage from these venues. If the sites can connect the writer, readers and local advertisers into a profitable chain.

I am not a writer for Patch, so can't begin to guess where the platform is going, but am a part of the Yahoo! Contributor Network (Y!CN). Some of my pieces on my hometown, with a population under 5,000, have appeared on Yahoo! News. This gives me hope that at least Yahoo! may be willing to give tiny towns a chance.


Of course there are Y!CN writers who have been tapped to cover test areas for Y! Local. 

Have your experiences with local content given you some insight into the subject? Feel free to share in the comments!

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