This time last year, on a barmy summer’s day, an idea struck and evolved into a glorious hyperlocal website and today that website celebrates its first birthday.
First off I would personally like to thank everyone we have worked with over the last year, particularly the local businesses who have featured on the website and interacted with us on Twitter and Facebook. Now I must warn you this post is pretty long, but I have tried to be as honest and as transparent as possible, hope you enjoy.
The penny drops
Last June whilst living in an apartment overlooking Soldier’s Field and looking out at all the happy park goers I realised the potential for a local informative website, especially as areas such as Street Lane and Oakwood corner were blossoming with new businesses and they was a real buzz around the area.
My head was spinning with ideas, but I didn’t know where to start. I already had web hosting so I found a free word press theme and built a dummy website that I exhibited to try to attract potential contributors and advertisers straight away.
I set about looking for contributors first and posted a free advert up on Gumtree to look for them. The advert was a massive success. I stated in the advert that it was a casual ‘free time’ position open to anyone and that it didn’t pay but offered plenty of on-line exposure. This didn’t stop people sending their CV’s and asking questions regarding pay and hours, but I eventually got my team of contributors none the less. I emailed everyone who showed interest, but was disappointed with the drop off rate, almost 75% didn’t reply, but the ones that did I can happily report are still writing for the website today.
Now I have to admit a year ago I didn’t have an ounce of business knowledge, and maybe I was a bit too hasty trying to get advertisers on-board at such an early stage. My reason, and still is now, for trying to bring in a little revenue is so it can fund my head of ideas and push the site forward. I realised early on that no one would want to advertise on a website that published one piece of content a day, had 20 daily visits and didn’t have any following on Facebook or Twitter. Therefore I offered free advertising to a handful of local businesses to really kick start the site.
I figured in a small community word of mouth could go a long way, so myself and my girlfriend with postcards and flyers in tow hit the local farmers market at Oakwood to promote the website. It was a very successful visit as not only did we strike up great relationships with the organisers but also plenty of the stall holders too. We produced a popular article on that weekend’s market and for me that was the turning point for the website.
Whilst on a high from the success of the market we decided to swing by the local eateries around Oakwood and Chapel Allerton to promote the site further and offer free advertising on the site in the form of an article devised from a dining review and/or a competition to feature on the website. I found that this ‘trade like procedure was a more successful way of accruing advertisers than charging them on a monthly basis. We ran a successful competition with a new deli in oakwood and soon after a great dining competition with a popular Thai restaurant in Yorkshire, both receiving hundreds of entries (the latter thanks to someone posting the competition on a money saving forum, that resulted in hundreds of entries from all over England making the draw slightly more tricky logistically).
We were still however struggling to produce content that wasn’t reviews or competitions. Emails I were sending were flat-lining, so I looked outside of the north Leeds bubble for content. This resulted in quite a few spun and sponsored articles that didn’t really have relevance to the north Leeds area other than they were in Leeds. These articles, such as the popular Zombie chase article certainly drew in the crowd, but the bounce rate of these hits were 90%. People were not sticking around to explore the site so I decided to follow up the article with similar posts whilst the event was still hot, and even bought a copy of Dead Rising for the Xbox 360 to give away to celebrate the event’s success. We also published a front line report written by one of the zombies on the day that was also highly successful and meant September in terms of site traffic was fruitful. This was partly thanks to the organisers advertising us on their Facebook fan page and the fact the zombie event had a high search count on Google and a big portion of that traffic ended up at our door.
The lull, re-birth and the spawn!
After a successful September, the site slowed down drastically in terms of content and traffic up until Christmas time, we were back averaging 20 hits a day. This was due to three things, myself running out of ideas, moving back to South Leeds and deciding not to focus on news outside of north Leeds as much. I felt I wasn’t giving the site’s local visitors the information they wanted, and was close to throwing in the towel. Being out of the area was really de-motivating. Then a few small advertisers came out of the blue coupled with a very useful contact in the music/entertainment industry we now had enough support and resources to produce consistent articles. We were now regularly writing reviews on local gigs around north Leeds (and the odd review at the 02 academy) in exchange for free tickets to allow our contributors to do so. This populated our entertainment section brilliantly, but if anything it was too consistent as we didn’t have enough writers and the site was beginning to be drowned by articles purely focused on music. I didn’t want to have a repeat of before, but also didn’t want to lose the contact therefore Leeds Gigs Online was born. We moved all the theatre, comedy and gig reviews to this sister site (even the north Leeds reviews) and to date have reviewed, and interviewed the likes of The Stranglers, Newton Faulkner and The Maccabees (coming soon), and at the same time given great experience to a handful of student writers to boot. The uptake of this new gig website is still ongoing, being a one man editing team across two websites, and 12,000 kms away (did I mention I have been in Australia since November? Shhh) is quite time intensive.
A spring in my step, and the odd meteorite
Spring this year was when people really started to take notice of our website. One morning whilst looking at my Facebook feed I noticed a few of my friends had posted about some sort of strange sighting in the skies above Leeds that night. I immediately hit Google but couldn’t find any useful information so as more info came through from my friends statuses I began to piece an article together (it was Sunday morning here, I had nothing better to do) along with a video of the sighting on Youtube that clearly showed it to be an amazing meteorite. Due to the fact there was no mention of it on Google the article was a massive hit with over 400 visits in 24 hours as people woke to the news and searched for it, ended up on North Leeds – News. The difference with these visits was that the bounce rate was considerably less, people were sticking around to see what else the site had to offer. This motivated me to source more local content, so I turned to Twitter for help.
Twitter is excellent for hyper-local websites like North Leeds – News. I have been active on Twitter advertising new articles on the site since launch last June. The last two month’s I have upped my time spent on Twitter tenfold and our follower count, retweets and mentions have gone through the roof. We now do over 75% of our communication through Twitter, networking with new and existing local businesses and organisations which usually generates six new local articles per day, and results in over 100 unique visits per day, and over 250 daily page views. In May alone we had more unique visits than the whole of October to the end of December! The only thing that has stopped is the contributions. This however is my own doing as I now tend to source the articles and write them myself. I do have a few reliable contributors chipping in from now and then, but this is mostly for the benefit of Leeds Gigs Online than NL-N.
The last fortnight
Thanks to an article on the queens jubilee and an article featuring a vintage tea party business in Harrogate the last two weeks has seen a major influx in traffic. The site has received hundreds of hits via google from users searching for ‘harrogate jubilee celebrations’ and coming across the article we wrote about tea parties. The Tea party business is relatively new, and the article has received over1000 unique views, leading to bookings and a busy jubilee for them. The sites overall traffic jumped from 100 hits a day to well over 200 hits a day and more than trebled the monthly visit count to 3,300, a timely boost to the end of years figures.
This year’s goals
If you have got this far, a big well done for hanging in there. Something I want to build on this year is our Facebook following. I currently publish all articles to our Facebook group, and it does generate a lot of referral traffic, but the traffic tends to come from other people’s Facebook groups as they share their article. I also want to hit 1000 followers on Twitter, something I feel is very achievable in the next few months as we have obtained around 200 new followers in the last 2 months alone.
Below are our end of year Google Analytics statistics. Over the last year we averaged over 1600 (1375 unique) visits a month, we want to increase this to 2500 a month this year.