Friday, October 17, 2008

Getting local on Squidoo

Buy at Art.comThanks to yet another happy accident, I've become quite good at developing lenses on local topics. Well, maybe good is stretching it, but I have had some interesting successes with lenses specific to Dallas (which is what's local for me) and the surrounding areas.

Now, back in the spring, I was looking for some new ideas when I was trying to get to 50 lenses to make Giant Squid. Another lensmaster, Colleen Lane, AKA SemperFidelis, had mentioned something she was up to with lenses about her area in Washington state. She had taken on some topics like the county fair and car shows and was having a bit of success.

So I tried it myself, looking ahead to the summer and the various festivals being held around the Dallas area. I hit up music festivals like National Polka Festival and Wildflower! and family events like Dallas Blooms at the arboretum and balloon festivals.

There were some hits and some pretty bad misses. I came to the conclusion that what I needed to do was give people a complete package on the day - help manage their expectations about what they'd get at the event and plan their time. As a result, pictures and videos become crucial "value-adds", as do maps, weather, area restaurant reviews as well as your own personal advice and thoughts.

So here my thoughts related to making your own local lenses. (And if you make any about stuff in Texas, don't forget to add them to the Texas group!)

Local lenses are hyper-cyclical – If you're writing about a specific event, you could/should see a huge spike in traffic leading up the event. But expect to see next to nothing during the rest of the year. (Although, I'll admit to some strange exceptions to this rule. I have a lens on the local renaissance festival that pulls in good traffic all year round.) How to get around this? Look for local topics that are more landmark in nature than event-driven so there's a reason for people to be looking year-round. And manage your own expectations of the traffic pattern.

Local lenses can follow a formula – When I started working on my set of local lenses, I studied Colleen's quite a bit to see what kind of information she was including and how she set things up. Here's the formula I came up with and use to start any new local lens:
  • Official sites in link list
  • Cameras for sale
  • Book on taking better pictures
  • Google blog search
  • Videos
  • Video cameras
  • Wikipedia on something related
  • Google map to the location
  • Weather module if it's an outside event
  • Guestbook
  • Featured lens module back to my DFW lensography

Local lenses can be harder to monetize – Most of the time, people are searching for an event or a place because they're looking for basic information – cost of tickets, how to get there, hours, etc. They aren't looking for the zoo because they want to buy a stuffed tiger. So I've found it a little tougher trying to figure out what they might want to buy or might need. I automatically add digital cameras and video cameras to the lens, but those aren't selling. I have a great book I found on taking better pictures of your kids. Nope. I add books, related items and toys,scrapbook pages, you name. I have yet to hit on anything that really seems to click. I think the biggest issue here is that (outside of the cameras) the things I can think to offer are items people would want after the event. And they don't necessarily search for the event after the fact. Ideas?

Local lenses can have tougher competition – With big local attractions and events, the odds are good that they already have their own websites that should be coming up first in Google. So how to compete? The best (and only) real way is by providing information people won't be able to get or find on the official website (or that just might be next to impossible to find on the website). That might be videos of the bands who are playing the festival or special tips about where to park or which day is the best one to arrive. This is also where the weather module, pictures and videos come in to play.

So if the traffic is sporadic and I haven't hit on a monetization formula yet, why do I keep making local lenses? Several reasons, actually. First, I know it's a niche area that won't have a lot of competition on Squidoo. I don't have to worry about being the 14th person trying to make a lens about a movie or book or person. Second, these are local competition keywords that are high traffic at a specific time of year. This means it's fairly easy to get on the first page of Google and get some of that traffic, even if you're ranking just behind the official website. And lastly, I'm creating an expertise that I can promote outside of Squidoo as someone to ask about Dallas events and activities. This can go a long way toward something that can be monetized.

What's your local area? Have you ever thought about doing lenses about it? You can use the regular Squidoo format like me or try out the new SquidZippers. (I have got to get one of those!)

(Aren't on Squidoo yet? Want to be? Here's where to get started.)

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