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.