Making a local site that can support itself

By Rick Martin

rickmartinAs a part of the planning process for a local site I’m soon launching, I’ve been knocking around some ideas on Google Wave with some friends on how to set up some revenue streams for a website. Yes I know what you’re thinking– it’s going to be one of those ‘monetization’ posts. But stick with me here. I’m pretty sure that there’s at least one idea here that you might not have heard before.

Geo-targeted advertising

My apologies, because you’ve undoubtedly heard this one before. ‘Geo-targeting’ is a big buzz word for 2010 and we probably won’t know for a few years whether it’s the silver bullet many people expect it to be. I can’t help but think that news sites who only sell ads site-wide without looking at the user’s IP are not really trying. Ideally, of course, you want to show different ads based on location. If bloggers can implement this kind of a strategy using common solutions like WordPress and Drupal, there’s no reason why a news site can’t do the same. Those of you shackled by legacy CMSs, message me your address on Twitter so I can send you sympathy cards.

Some specifics to take away: Drupal-heads out there can give the Ad GeoIP module a try, while WordPress users might look into this geo-targeting script (although I have to admit that I haven’t tested the latter). The rest of you check out this post on Programmable Web, or perhaps go have a discussion with your programmers.

Sell ads against specific tags or categories

For local websites, this could means selling ads against content tags corresponding to a geographical location. For example, if the New York Times had a ‘Manhattan’ tag, maybe businesses in that area would buy ads against that content. In a way this is also geo-targeted advertising, just of a different sort.

Stack Overflow is one site that’s giving this a try. Granted they probably have Jedi programmers on the case, but that’s no reason not to try it ourselves. Theoretically it could be done with Drupal by restricting an ad block to show up only on a specific tag page. This isn’t very elegant however, so I’d love to hear if anyone has a better suggestion.

Using content to pimp your services

No, not those kind of services (although pimpin’ is certainly one way to make your site turn a profit). What I meant was, try use your content as a means of publicizing media services that you can provide. Sacramento Press are smartly doing social media consulting (it’s not their primary gig, so it’s excusable!) and is doing event coverage.

Seriously, why not try this avenue rather than beating your head against the content monetization wall?

Spotlight sponsors as community supporters

If yours is a community information website, don’t be afraid to take advantage of the fact that you’re serving the local area. Similarly, any sponsor that supports your efforts is indirectly supporting that community as well. Be sure to publicly thank them for doing so, and encourage other potential advertisers to throw their support behind you as well. The Batavian is a good example of a local site that has successfully brought in local sponsors, and has appropriately thanked them in plain view on their ‘sponsors’ page.

They could take it one step further by pointing this out on their ‘advertise’ page as well, saying something like ‘Show some love for the community by supporting the Batavian‘. Businesses generally don’t allow you to tug at their heartstrings, but if you’re lucky you’ll find at least one exception.

While none of these ideas alone are likely to solve all your problems, I’d speculate that a local news site that implements all four should be a little more capable of financially supporting itself. If you have any ideas to add to this, I’d really love to hear ’em.

Rick Martin is a Tokyo-based freelance writer. Read more from Rick at and follow him on Twitter at @1rick.

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