WordPress and Hyperlocal

My early post on London Hyperlocal rankings attracted a lot of comment and feedback, most of it surprisingly positive. I say surprisingly, because the exercise was very unscientific and involved a high degree of guess work so I anticipated some site owners would be unhappy if they didn’t rank well.

The area for which I have received the most grief is the one which I was planning to avoid initially because it was the most difficult to assess – ranking by traffic. Sites use a range of measurement tools and some stats packages can be remarkably generous. Destination Local’s report ‘Here and Now’ cited the example of Wimbledon Visitor http://www.wimbledonvisitor.com/ which was claiming 79,000 uniques a month in June 2008. Have a look at the site and see if you think that is in anyway credible – the population of Wimbledon is about 65,000.

The number probably isn’t fabricated and may be partly inflated by people looking for the tennis tournament – the site may have enjoyed a temporary traffic surge due to a good search engine position in 2008. Given the static nature of the site the most likely explanation for the number of visitors is the stats package used. Many are not effective in screening out the bots, spiders, image trolls and other non-human sources of traffic.

For this reason, when I was attempting to rank sites, I tried to stick with ones that were using Google Analytics which usually delivers a fairly conservative number. On this basis I concluded that commercial sustainability for a site required it to reach about 20,000 uniques a month and if you could get over 50,000 your site would be highly profitable.

This prompted some people to contact me pointing out that there were a number of sites that exceeded this amount of traffic and didn’t make the immediate leap to commercial sustainability that I had confidently predicted. As they were outside London they weren’t really part of the exercise but this does raise interesting questions.

All of the sites that people highlighted were created with WordPress. In one case the site was claiming more than 100,000 unique visitors and was using Google Analytics to derive these numbers. The site was clearly of a high quality and undoubtedly would have been getting healthy traffic but when monthly uniques are above the population area that a site covers, it has to be accepted that something is amiss.

The issue of high visitor counts for off-the-shelf software is something that I have come across in other work I have done.  Basically as soon as you use any third part code online, an army of hackers will start probing your site for possible weaknesses. It didn’t take much searching on Google to show that this is an issue for WordPress.

It is important to note that, just because visitor numbers for WordPress sites may be overstated, that doesn’t mean that its use a tool for the creation of a hyperlocal site is cancelled out. A large proportion of sites launched in this sector launched since 2010 have used WordPress. It has allowed site owners to easily produce beautiful looking sites with cross platform compatibility. 

However, there doesn’t seem to be a good example at this stage of a WordPress based hyperlocal site that has become commercially successful – please do correct me here if I am wrong. I use WordPress and it is a brilliant blogging tool but maybe that is the problem – despite the existence of some terrific themes to make your site look like a news resource the architecture remains on of a blog. Perhaps it is missing some of the key elements for hyperlocal success and therefore does not represent the short cut that many people believe it does.

On the other hand it may be that the apparent failure of WordPress to bring about a new generation of successful hyperlocal sites has more to do with the increasing difficult of audience acquisition. Longer established sites are willing to admit that their audience growth numbers are not what they were. This isn’t a specific hyperlocal problem – the multiplication of channels has meant that most media is managing audience number decline not growth. It could be that WordPress based sites came about just when the operating environment was getting tougher.








About londonhyperlocal

Musing on the change face of local news provision in London
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2 Responses to WordPress and Hyperlocal

  1. Interesting piece. Couple of thoughts on what seem to be inflated numbers… sites with a lot of content and strong SEO (deliberately or not) will do well on long-tail searches and pick up plenty of hits from people outside the area – even more so if they regularly feature less-than-local content or content with a multitude of angles. So, high numbers may be reasonably accurate just not reflective of a local readership.

    Two other Google Analytics metrics come into play here: returning vs. new visitors and average time spent on site. Combining these with total visitors would probably give a better approximation of penetration rate within the community being covered. This, in my mind, defines success because it suggests that you are reaching the biggest audience that you are directly targeting – and also makes any ad sales conversations much easier – you become the definitive site for your advertisers’ market.

    A side-point on WordPress – while hyperlocals struggle for profitability, moving away from a core blogging platform such as Blogger or WP is often prohibitively expensive. My own recent redesign was intended to use Ruby-on-Rails but the developers I had couldn’t dedicate enough time to it and good Ruby devs with both the time and skill were out of my price range. So, I fell back to WP having been on Blogger.

    A huge issue is whether Google News will recognise WP-sites as “news” rather than “blogs”. I understand that wordpress.com sites are automatically disqualified, but self-hosted wordpress.org sites are eligible. I wonder though (and I’m yet to apply myself, so I’m not bitter about this… yet) whether the WP platform counts against publishers when Google makes those subjective judgement calls? I happen to think that subjective judgement calls are the way to go, but it would be nice to be confident that Google News isn’t interested in platforms and is only interested in quality/frequency/usability of sites.

    • Thanks.

      I haven’t done this formally but when I’ve chatted to site owners they rarely give the importance to SEO that people trying to push these services do. There seems to be a fairly consistent relationship between search engine referrals and overall traffic of between 3-10% The WimbledonVisitor example was probably a bad one to use in this regard because maybe due to a temporarily generous ranking in June 2008 the site did get a surge of traffic with people making searches relating to tennis. Otherwise the algorithms search engines use seem to link ranking to existing traffic i.e. you can’t grow a site by getting good placement in search but your referrals will grow in proportion to your audience.

      The site I referred to in the article as getting over 100,000 uniques a month doesn’t even rank on the first page of Google in a search for the town which it covers so I don’t think the numbers are inflated by SEO. In my view topline Google Analytics numbers for WordPress sites are valueless but your approach at identifying real readership appears to be sound.

      I’ve put your point about the relative value of search engine traffic to some site owners previously and they say that they think a lot of search is local because most referrals include their town name and they believe lots of readers use search engines as a short cut to the site i.e. searching on part of their domain name rather than typing the whole thing into an address bar.

      On Google News – I’ve never come across a site that gets a meaningful amount of traffic from it hyperlocal or otherwise so I wouldn’t sweat it too much. Google seems to be losing a bit of interest in Google News and the index seems to have become quite ossified.

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