My Green Lake’s Duncan: Hyperlocal Means Shop Local

SeattleSeattle is one of the hotspots of hyperlocal blogs. Its West Seattle Blog boasts 100,000 visitors per month. Capitol Hill Seattle Blog says it gets more than 120,000 visitors per month. My Green Lake is another Seattle blog, with about 16,000 visitors each month, twice the population of the neighborhood it serves, notes its founder, Amy Duncan. Duncan, a former librarian, started the site in 2009 and runs it as a for-profit business currently featuring more than twenty neighborhood-based display ads and participating in three city-wide advertising networks.

Recently, Duncan, who manages both editorial and advertising at My Green Lake, answered a few questions by email.

What does “hyperlocal” mean to you?
If you can comfortably stroll around the area you cover in an hour or two, you are serving a hyperlocal audience. On a hyperlocal beat, no news is too small if it relates to your neighborhood, and big news can never be big enough if there is no neighborhood connection at all.

Readers and PR professionals send me tips, pitches, and story ideas several times every day. Many of these could lead to compelling, interesting stories, or relate to topics that would bring heavy search engine traffic to my site. But, if a story doesn’t relate to Green Lake, I don’t publish it.

A hyperlocal site is a niche site. Lose track of your niche, and you will lose your loyal niche audience.

The reporter who covers Green Lake for KOMO does not live in Green Lake. I have met Patch reporters who do not live in the communities they cover.

What is the most successful aspect of your site in terms of traffic and revenue?
The most successful aspect of My Green Lake is that it links out to other sites since hyperlocal sites are, ironically, made stronger by partnerships with news outlets that serve other neighborhoods. In terms of boosting readership and from a business standpoint, the most successful aspect has been to enter into formal relationships with the Next Door Media network of north Seattle neighborhood news sites and with Formalized link sharing and cross-posting provides measurable, quantitative benefits to everyone involved.

However, there is more to partnership than numbers. Without the resources of a full news room and a sales staff, a small indie site such as My Green Lake needs friends.

In Seattle, we are very lucky. Seattle neighborhood news publishers have formed a true community of their own. We share ideas, tips, tech support, and general “water cooler” chatter every day, mostly over Twitter. I am certain that I would have burned out a long time ago without the mentoring of Tracy Record and Patrick Sand at West Seattle Blog and the daily comedic relief of [Capitol Hill Seattle blogger] Justin Carder’s Twitter stream.

What’s your sense of what local businesses want from hyperlocal websites?
I firmly believe that local businesses, as well as local audiences, want to feel good when they visit their neighborhood news site. I do not mean that hyperlocal sites should sanitize the news. In my opinion, news should be reported accurately and without bias, whether or not it paints the neighborhood in a rosy light. A hyperlocal site provides more than news, however. It provides a structure around the news, in the form of comments, forums, and social media. I believe that hyperlocal publishers need to maintain a strong presence in these arenas, from the very beginning, and set a respectful and kind tone.

I’m not talking about deleting comments or forum postings, but instead about carefully fostering a culture of civility, starting at launch and moving forward. If a reader leaves a snarky comment about a typo or an inaccuracy in your story, thank them immediately with a public comment acknowledging your error. If a social media follower sends you a short note, follow up right away with a reply, even if it’s a simple “thanks” or a smiley emoticon. If you are followed on Twitter, follow back. Small actions build up a culture of trust and respect. You are in charge of the interactive parts of your site, not through deletion, but through participation.

What do you see as the key to building strong, sticky relationships with local audiences, who have so many choices for content, listings and the like?
Hyperlocal publishers have an advantage. Unlike other niche markets, the hyperlocal audience is neatly tucked away in one geographic location. This means that it is very easy to actually know your audience, in an off-line, real-life way. I go to community meetings and attend business openings. I try to be at the scene when breaking news happens and eat at local restaurants, use my local library, shop at my local grocer and sit in a chair at my local salon.

If you have good, relevant content, people will read it, and your site will be used. But, if your readers actually know you, your site will not just be a site they read and use, it will be a site created by someone like them, someone they know, someone who lives where they live.

This is something that aggregators can never compete with. Frankly, even supposed “hyperlocal” sites, such as those connected with DataSphere and AOL, have shown that they cannot compete with this. The reporter who covers Green Lake for KOMO, the Seattle news outlet that partners with DataSphere, does not live in Green Lake. While there is no Green Lake Patch, I have met Patch reporters from other communities that do not live in the communities they cover.

I live and breathe Green Lake.

The real-life connection that an indie hyperlocal publisher has with a neighborhood audience is very difficult, if not impossible, to replicate in any kind of scaled, multi-neighborhood hyperlocal effort.

  1. April 18, 2011

    As a matter of correction – the West Seattle Blog gets about 30,000 visitors a week. for 2011 we’re averaging 900,000 pageviews per month.

  2. Anonymous
    April 18, 2011

    Hi Patrick, the 28,000 figure we had came directly from the Advertise page on your website, but we have updated it here. Thanks for the comment!

    1. April 18, 2011

      That page is out of date and we apologize.

  3. Tracy @ WSB
    April 18, 2011

    No, actually that’s still wrong. If you want to go by monthly uniques (we prefer to quote weekly) it’s 100,000 … for March 2011, per Google Analytics, 104,643 unique visitors, to be precise. Sorry, stayed up late doing taxes and just jumped into this.

    1. Anonymous
      April 18, 2011

      Ah. Gotcha. I guess we typically think about monthly uniques so I skimmed over the word “weekly.” Huge apologies and now it’s fixed.

  4. April 18, 2011

    “The real-life connection that an indie hyperlocal publisher has with a neighborhood audience is very difficult, if not impossible, to replicate in any kind of scaled, multi-neighborhood hyperlocal effort.”

    100% agree. One of the best ‘hyperlocal’ quotes I have seen in a long time. The power of the “The real-life connection” should not be underestimated IMO.

    1. April 19, 2011

      My line along the lines of what Amy said there is – “the only scale for hyperlocal is one-off.” You cannot templatize, corporatize, mass-produce this. AOL is welcome to lose a few hundred million more before they figure that out, but they could spare themselves the trouble…

  5. April 18, 2011

    THIS is the kind of article I was hoping to see here at Street Fight: People making “hyperlocal” happen.

    I’m Groupon’d out. I’m Patched out. And that’s not what I do anyway. Like Amy (my nearby ‘hood neighbor in North Seattle), I live and breathe my neighborhood. And I wait for someone to stop talking ABOUT hyperlocal and start talking TO hyperlocal. And WITH — a real converstation (best practices, challenges, etc.). I see a real opportunity there, because I don’t see anyone doing it. (Matt McGee over at was doing a great job of it, until he stopped in February, grr.)

    More “craft,” less “industry.” I would LOVE to see more content like that here. (Us little guys are the future, right? Make it so.)

    Ravenna Blog

  6. April 20, 2011

    Love this story!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Can Groupon Guilt Save My Local Sushi Joint?