How To Start A Profitable Local News Website

I was recently reading a Guardian news article bemoaning the death of local journalism:

Small-town Alaskan newspaper seeks new owner. Price: $0

It’s a now-familiar trope: local news is unsustainably unprofitable.

It made me think. Is it really?

I don’t think it has to be.

The problem with a lot of these local news agencies is their large overhead costs overwhelm their often limited and unimaginative monetization.

All of the sites I own prioritize profitability first.

In this post, I’ll show you how I’d approach creating a profitable, local news site with small overhead and focused monetization.

Also Read: Creating A Local Event Site

I’ve also written about starting a local event site- that’s another fun take on creating a local website:

People on conference

How To Create A Local Event Site For Passive Profit

This next niche idea can be a really fun and lucrative one especially if you live in a big city.   The idea here is to create a local event site​ with a focused specialty or theme (music, tech, luxury, etc.) and monetize with sponsored content.   This post will examine the opportunity and discuss […]

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My Neighborhood: Brooklyn Heights

I’m going to use my neighborhood, Brooklyn Heights, as an example.

For context, here’s a map of Brooklyn neighborhoods- you can see Brooklyn Heights, indicated by the black arrow, is one of the smallest neighborhoods in all of Brooklyn, with just over 20,000 residents (Source).

brooklyn heights map

Here’s a view of the neighborhood from my apartment:

brooklyn heights view

A Neighborhood Walkthrough

Getting Started With Niche Sites

Use the strategies on this page in conjunction with my niche site process. Here it is in a nutshell:
  1. AuthorityHacker's Authority Site System (my review): a complete, step-by-step system to start growing your own highly profitable affiliate & authority niche site.
  2. A cloud-based on-page optimization tool: Surfer SEO makes your on-page SEO easier, faster, and more effective than ever using data-driven, real-time signals to rank in search engines.
  3. A reliable and fast hosting solution like SiteGround (my review)
  4. A brandable domain name from GoDaddy (my guide)
  5. A premium theme- I use GeneratePress but there are some cool niche themes on ThemeForest
  6. SEO Friendly Article Writing ($8-$12 / 1,000 words) from HireWriters (read: my HireWriters review)
  7. Powerful Backlinks from Authority.Builders (read: my Authority.Builders review)
  8. An automated social media drip campaign from MissingLettr
  9. An auto-responder to build your email listConvertKit is what I'm using (read: my ConvertKit review)
  10. Finally- you can always refer to my free step-by-step niche selection guide and all of my free niche reports for inspiration

A Local Blog Example

I’ll use the BrooklynHeightsBlog throughout this case study as a reference point:

bk heights blog stats

Suffice it to say, despite a DR 50 score, as of 12/19, it’s leaving a lot of organic keywords on the table because of permalink and site structure issues- but I digress…

I highlighted some interesting features:

Brooklyn Heights Blog Dispatches from America s first suburb

  1. They’re using the Amazon Associates affiliate program as a ‘support’ option
  2. They solicit news tips- a good way to generate content ideas
  3. They have a newsletter- a pretty ubiquitous blogging strategy
  4. They’re monetizing with display ads
  5. Social follow icons help diversify traffic- though we’ll see deeper in this case study that they’re not getting much social traffic
  6. They solicit advertisements/sponsorships- another monetization strategy for a local blog
  7. The ‘nabe chatter’ section highlights blog comments- a good way to build up community

Considerations

I’m going to analyze how I’d approach starting a local news site below- highlighting important considerations:

Market size

You’ll want to make sure the ‘local’ traffic opportunity is big enough to justify targeting. One way to figure it out- I’d use Ahrefs to analyze search term volume. The best way to do this is to find local blogs and see what keywords they already rank for.

Keep in mind- a local blog like this will get a lot of direct traffic from regular neighborhood readers, so organic traffic isn’t going to be your only traffic source.

Keyword Research

I analyzed the BrooklynHeightsBlog using Ahrefs to see what keywords they rank for:

You can see some interesting keyword themes here:

  1. Food queries like “sushi brooklyn heights”, “chip shop brooklyn”, and “friend of a farmer brooklyn”
  2. Service queries like “nail salon brooklyn heights” and “brooklyn heights vet”
  3. Event queries like “brooklyn heights events”, “brooklyn heights halloween”, “brooklyn heights fireworks”
  4. Destination queries like “bossert hotel”, “housing works montague”, and “roebling inn brooklyn”

Keyword research will reveal a lot of interesting data- helping you to figure out interesting topics you can create content for and whether a local area like Brooklyn Heights has enough search traffic.

You can see that the primary term “Brooklyn Heights” gets 20,000 searches a month, which is strong- and there’s a lot of long-tail traffic.

The BrooklynHeightsBlog, for example, evidently realized that it makes sense to cash in on traffic opportunities from neighboring communities like Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn Bridge Park and Cobble Hill:

brooklyn heights blog

I bet if they could do it over, they’d choose a different domain name.

They could have branded themselves something like “brooklynblog” and silo’d different neighborhood content on the site. They might have lost some of their ‘hyper-locality’ but gained valuable search real estate for nearby neighborhoods.

It’s really a judgment call- I’d advise choosing a domain name that gives you some flexibility to expand as needed, rather than locking yourself into one neighborhood.

Traffic sources

One advantage of creating a hyper-local news site is that it should be easy to get email newsletter signups and legitimate direct traffic.

People should be pretty eager to sign up for a local news site because of its tremendous relevance. They’ll also type your site directly into their browser to get up-to-date news on their community.

According to SimilarWeb, the BrooklynHeightsBlog gets the majority of its visitors from Direct traffic:

Brooklynheightsblog com Analytics - Market Share Stats Traffic Ranking

Traffic Ideas

  1. A YouTube channel dedicated to the neighborhood- just create a walking tour of your neighborhood, or maybe video reviews of local restaurants, etc.
  2. Pay micro-Instagram influencers, i.e. neighborhood social media ‘stars’, to shout-out the blog
  3. Own your neighborhood hashtag on Instagram and Twitter- you can use MissingLettr to automate a lot of social content
  4. SEO low competition terms- you can see a ton of them in the keyword research table near the top of this post
  5. Create a local Meetup group to discuss neighborhood affairs
  6. Post in Nextdoor- naturally include links to your content
  7. Register with Help A Reporter Out and become a local area resource
  8. Network at local events and practice word-of-mouth marketing- you never know who you’ll meet at these events and how they can increase site awareness
  9. Interview local dignitaries- maybe they’re local politicians and get them to reshare the content to their audience

Content ideas

Nextdoor

If you live in the neighborhood, you can register with Nextdoor.

Nextdoor is a hyper-local, community forum. In Brooklyn Heights, there’s a lot of engagement- with people discussing anything from lost cats to stolen Amazon packages.

These are easy topics to pick through to create content.

Below is a sample screenshot from my own Brooklyn Heights Nextdoor feed- it includes “peanut problem in parks” (a fun, easy topic idea) and the frequently recurring search for a quality cleaning person:

brooklyn heights nextdoor

Local Forums

You can also unearth plenty of local forums Googling around and peruse them for interesting topic ideas.

Google Alerts

I’d also create a Google Alert for various neighborhood terms so you’re quickly notified when your neighborhood is mentioned.

This way, you’ll be quick on the draw when your neighborhood is in the news and you can capitalize on trending topics.

Subscribe To Other Blogs

Subscribe to other local area blogs- this way you can see what topics they’re covering and the sort of offers they’re marketing to their readers.

Content types

Not Doing SEO

As I’ve touched on a bit, another fun thing about a site like this- you don’t need to ‘SEO’ everything.

Since you’ll be courting direct and email traffic, you can write a 150-word post on a lost cat getting reunited with its owner, with some fun, credited images, for example.

This will help keep the site fresh with content- you want to satisfy your direct traffic!

Doing SEO

The way I’d approach it, I would divide content types up- figure out what you want to ‘SEO’ and what sort of content you want to write for other traffic sources (direct/social).

For example, in Brooklyn Heights, there’s a huge construction controversy about the Brooklyn Promenade:

heights promenade (Large)

The Brooklyn Heights Promenade, also called the Esplanade, is a 1,826-foot-long platform and pedestrian walkway cantilevered over the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

It’s one of the preeminent tourist destinations in the city and there’s been a huge controversy regarding its planned closure and potential ‘reformulation’.

In a nutshell, the promenade and the highway beneath it have been neglected for a very long time and repair proposals would have a drastic, negative effect on the neighborhood, with one plan essentially installing a major highway in the heart of the neighborhood.

As you can imagine, there’s a ton of local interest in this topic.

This is an example of a topic I would ‘SEO’.

I’d create a single post optimizing for this keyword and keep it up to date with trending developments.

You can promote this content over and over again on social media and doubtless get a lot of referral traffic and links from sources like Nextdoor and news aggregator sites.

To summarize, I’d figure out the different types of content I want to produce- news items, restaurant and store reviews, real estate. There are a lot of different topic areas to explore- each might require different writing and research requirements.

You can source these ideas from forums, keyword research- or just walking around your neighborhood, noticing that a new nail salon opened.

Outsourcing

If I were doing it, I’d create a standard operating procedure for transforming posts on Nextdoor into fun news items on the site.

Here’s a post about “peanut problems in parks”:

Peanut problem in parks — Nextdoor

A writer could easily summarize some of the comments in the thread to generate content. You could even reach out to Nextdoor users for quotes and take some pictures of the park with your smartphone for unique images.

This post could be 300-500 words and be a fun news item to keep the site fresh and the direct traffic returning. Remember- a news site that goes stagnant will quickly lose its direct traffic readership!

You could use HireWriters or someone from UpWork to quickly create this content.

Choosing a theme

The Newspaper theme is one of my favorite WordPress themes. I like how easy it is to create gorgeous homepage layouts like this:

local news wordpress theme

They also have a ton of post formats to make your content effortlessly pop. A magazine-style theme, in general, is the sort of layout style you’d want for a news site to encourage readers to click multiple pages per session, across common interest areas.

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Monetization

Display Ads

AdSense, Ezoic or Mediavine are great display-advertising options.

That said, I wouldn’t run ads until I’m getting ~250 sessions a day.

Since ad rates typically are calculated on a per 1,000 session model- if you’re managing a $10 CPM, for example, you’ll need some decent traffic before you see solid ad revenue.

Affiliate/Lead Gen

You can try to monetize some of these local search terms utilizing an affiliate program like HomeAdvisor’s.

According to their affiliate page, “HomeAdvisor’s industry-leading partner program offers aggressive payouts for qualified leads or calls.”

Look at how some of the big players monetize local service queries- Reviews.com has a pest control landing page that’s top-notch:

The Best Pest Control Services for 2019 Reviews com

I’d definitely ‘SEO’ a term like “brooklyn pest control” and construct a landing page using some of the affiliate programs BestReviews uses like Orkin and Terminix, and even HomeAdvisor.

Another option- Caviar, the food delivery service, has an affiliate program. They write:

“Caviar delivers food from the best restaurants in cities around the country directly to you in the comfort of your home or office, enabled by technology. Browse a picture menu, customize your meal, and get delivery straight to your door. Only restaurants that meet the uncompromising standards of the Caviar tastemakers qualify for Caviar delivery.

Once an order is placed, the customer can track their order with a real-time GPS. Join the Caviar affiliate program and you’ll be promoting delivery for the love of food.”

This type of offer could do well in an email- you can write up a post about local Caviar delivery options and circulate it to your list.

Real Estate

Here’s another big one- real estate affiliate programs.

Realtor.com is currently paying $5 per lead through Viglink and Foreclosure.com is paying 25% commissions:

brooklyn heights foreclosures

You could optimize content for “Brooklyn foreclosures” and even have a dedicated email capture on this page just for people who want foreclosure alerts in Brooklyn and then market foreclosure listings to them via email.

Once your site gets some traction, you can solicit sponsored content- perhaps a local business will pay to post on your site or access your email list.

The Skint is a local event site I’ve written about before- here’s one of the sponsored emails I recently received from them:

skint newsletter

The 92Y apparently paid for access to The Skint’s email list.

If I were creating a local event site, I’d sign up to ALL the local sites and see what they’re promoting.

I’d keep track of these sponsorship opportunities in a spreadsheet and, if I had enough traffic to warrant it, I’d reach out to the 92Y and ask if they’d be interested in sponsoring content or an email broadcast.

Summing Up

If I didn’t have so much on my plate, I’d consider starting a site like this.

To make it work, it’ll need some time and dedication- it’s not worth ‘half-assing’ with low-quality content like your average affiliate site.

The upside here- ideally you’re living in the neighborhood you’re blogging about. You have a tremendous opportunity to create genuine and unique content that a small number of people love.

Ryan Nelsonhttps://nichefacts.com
​Ryan Nelson is a NYC-based Industrial-Organizational Psychologist and a full-stack online marketer. He created NicheFacts.com to help people discover and build profitable, content-focused online businesses.

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