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Never a dull moment in local these days as I learn of new sites almost daily. I spoke this morning with Ben Saren, CEO of Boston-based Citysquares, another “hyperlocal” site focused on building out neighborhood listings and community. Right now the site only covers the Boston area but Saren envisions expansion and scaling.
We discussed all the usual problems of building consumer awareness/traffic and acquiring local advertisers, as well as replicating that success in new markets. There were a few points from our discussion that I felt were particularly interesting:
- Only a year out of the gate, the site is getting renewals (Citysquares uses a telephone sales channel). Saren reported to me that an owner of a Pilates studio told him she’s getting more customers from Citysquares than Google AdWords. This goes to the “more qualified buyer” phenomenon on vertical/local sites.
- Also interesting to me was a promotion, “Citysquares All Stars,” that smartly built merchant and consumer awareness and drove traffic and reviews on the site. Saren said his team went into local businesses with direct mail pieces/postcards and had business owners promote voting to their customers (”Go to Citysquares.com and vote for us”). Even though there was relatively little awareness of the site, these business owners still were interested and did it according to Saren.
Furthermore, the organization of the site according to neighborhoods, rather than as an area-wide listings directory, may speed collection of reviews and enhanced data from business owners. Saren bought a database (he’s not entirely happy) but says that business owners are showing up and correcting them.
There’s greater local affinity at the neighborhood level than at the metro level. In other words, Citysquares is more “approachable” and “friendly” than one that simply covered all of Boston without breaking it down into more bite-sized chunks.