How To Start A Profitable Local News Website
I was recently reading a Guardian news article bemoaning the death of local journalism:
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.
- How To Create A Local Event Site For Passive Profit
- My Neighborhood: Brooklyn Heights
- A Local Blog Example
- Summing Up
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:
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 how best to approach […]
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).
Here’s a view of the neighborhood from my apartment:
A Neighborhood Walkthrough
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- 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:
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:
- They’re using the Amazon Associates affiliate program as a ‘support’ option
- They solicit news tips- a good way to generate content ideas
- They have a newsletter- a pretty ubiquitous blogging strategy
- They’re monetizing with display ads
- Social follow icons help diversify traffic- though we’ll see deeper in this case study that they’re not getting much social traffic
- They solicit advertisements/sponsorships- another monetization strategy for a local blog
- The ‘nabe chatter’ section highlights blog comments- a good way to build up community
I’m going to analyze how I’d approach starting a local news site below- highlighting important considerations:
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.
I analyzed the BrooklynHeightsBlog using Ahrefs to see what keywords they rank for:
You can see some interesting keyword themes here:
- Food queries like “sushi brooklyn heights”, “chip shop brooklyn”, and “friend of a farmer brooklyn”
- Service queries like “nail salon brooklyn heights” and “brooklyn heights vet”
- Event queries like “brooklyn heights events”, “brooklyn heights halloween”, “brooklyn heights fireworks”
- 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:
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.
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:
- A YouTube channel dedicated to the neighborhood- just create a walking tour of your neighborhood, or maybe video reviews of local restaurants, etc.
- Pay micro-Instagram influencers, i.e. neighborhood social media ‘stars’, to shout-out the blog
- Own your neighborhood hashtag on Instagram and Twitter- you can use MissingLettr to automate a lot of social content
- SEO low competition terms- you can see a ton of them in the keyword research table near the top of this post
- Create a local Meetup group to discuss neighborhood affairs
- Post in Nextdoor- naturally include links to your content
- Register with Help A Reporter Out and become a local area resource
- 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
- Interview local dignitaries- maybe they’re local politicians and get them to reshare the content to their audience
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:
You can also unearth plenty of local forums Googling around and peruse them for interesting topic ideas.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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”:
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:
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.
Read More Of My Niche Reports
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.
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:
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.
Here’s another big one- real estate affiliate programs.
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:
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.
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.