Metro Publisher: Building a CMS for Hyperlocals

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Two years ago,  publishing consultancy firm Vanguardistas saw a demand by small and medium-sized publishers for a CMS capable of integrating more dynamic digital content. In response, it created Metro Publisher, which has now created back-end solutions for a variety of regional and city-level content providers, servicing sites from Berlin and Barcelona to Miami Beach. Now, with a recent retooling of their product (and its price), the company is targeting hyperlocal publishers with a stripped-down, simplified back-end that it hopes will rival WordPress.

Street Fight recently spoke with the company’s VP of business development, Mark Pratt, about how small publishers can get beyond CPMs to sell their value to advertisers, and to what degree hyperlocals should be thinking about mobile.

How can the hyperlocal publishing process be made more efficient?
When you have a system like WordPress and Drupal, there are a lot of buttons that people don’t actually use.  It’s kind of like they’re building a great version of Microsoft Word with a lot of bells and whistles which are mostly useless. By exclusively saying: “We only work for publishers or broadcasters,” we can cut out a lot of things that aren’t required for their workflow. So simply by tuning the way the system works so that it fits our audience, we immediately increased efficiency.

We’re also now really in the habit of asking our clients to show us how they work and from there, we figure how we can create small improvements to make their daily lives easier. For example, with our slideshow generation tool, we trimmed what used to be a five-step process into something that can literally be done in one step.

CPMs are a notoriously shallow metric and are particular problematic for hyperlocal media in which quality, not quantity, of audience tends to be the selling point.  How can publishers demonstrate a richer, more rounded, evaluation of engagement for their advertisers?
You have to ask yourself who is your advertiser? If you’re talking about a national brand, like Coca-Cola, then they will want extreme detail. But for local publishers — maybe not hyperlocal publishers quite yet — what we’re seeing is a general trend in which publishers are helping their advertisers to reach an audience.

A banner ad by itself does not sell that advertiser’s story. You need to do more. It’s also important to make sure that these advertisers are well introduced into the community and can participate in a constructive way.

At the end of the day, the advertiser does not want to know all of the details; they just want to make sure that people are coming into their store, buying their product, or are at least aware of what they are producing. I think that in terms of ad campaigns, it should begin with sponsorship; advertisers should be sponsoring a section exclusively, or in a rotation with others.

But a banner ad by itself does not sell that advertiser’s story. You need to do more. It’s also important to make sure that these advertisers are well introduced into the community and can participate in a constructive way. For example, if they have something to contribute, you could invite them on as an expert where readers can ask questions. Or in the case of an “enhanced” listing, it’s important to help them with the copy because for the most part, small advertisers are very challenged in terms of coming up with good copy and telling their story.

If you talk to small business owners, they are very much like the editors who are running these hyperlocal sites.  They are passionate about what they do; so, the goal is to help communicate that passion.  If you can see your products as delivering a different level of engagement, I think you will have a lot more success than trying to sell a square, a rectangle.

What do hyperlocal publishers need to do to expand their mobile presence?
The mobile space is pretty messed up.  There are a couple reasons for it.  For the most part, it’s still a very expensive proposition.

So as a hyperlocal publisher, I wouldn’t sweat the mobile application aspect too much at the moment. I think in two years time, the world will look quite different. They will have a lot more choices and will save themselves thousands of dollars. Their initial focus has to be on building their audience; they can do that both on mobile devices, as well as on the Web, via Facebook, and through newsletters online. I think hyperlocal publishers in particular, really should not get snookered into the mobile space.  Let it shake out, let mobile become a little bit more sophisticated, and then I think we’ll have some great mobile apps.

Search Engine Optimization is an important aspect of Metro Publisher’s product. How can a hyperlocal site expand its presence across the Web without breaking the bank?
The part of SEO in which consultants are valuable is in helping people understand how to use it editorially, not in how to tweak the code to increase engagement. SEO is less and less about individual tags, and more and more about software talking with other software. It’s not about gaming something. Google has an interest in finding your information. Your job as a publisher is to make sure that your information is delivered in a way that it is easy for it to understand.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.