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Local News Sites and Search Threaten Newspapers

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Local News Sites and Search Threaten Newspapers

Local News Sites and Search Threaten Newspapers

MediaPost (reg req’d) writes about a new Borrell report about the potential rise of “independent local sites” as another threat to the newspaper industry (just add them to the list, right?). Well yes and no.

T’he MediaPost piece focuses on the assertion that their “intuitive” appeal and URLs such as “Arizona.com,” “SanFrancisco.com” or “Houston.com” may eventually trump local sites operated by newspapers. Because our ILM conference starts today, I don’t have much time to go into this. I’ll just say that the reality is somewhat more complicated.

Many of these so-called “indepent local sites” are not in fact going to offer meaningful competition for online metro dailies (or Google or Yahoo! for that matter) in the long run. But they have the as-yet-undemonstrated potential to do so.

It’s going to depend in the end on the user experience, the content and whether they’re ultimately part of some larger network. And, in fact, many of the “cityname.com” sites (e.g., SanFrancisco.com) are owned or operated by Boulevards New Media, which is itself a weekly/community newspaper initiative.

Our last “UserView” survey of online consumer behavior indicated there was a statistically significant decrease in traffic to city guides, while there was a comparable rise in the use of search engines for local lookups. So the whole category of city sites is losing—not gaining—traction.

But let’s take the Boulevards sites—again a newspaper initiative—for example. Their UIs are pretty nice and they are part of a network. This means that over time, if the user experience and content continue to improve, the general Borrell prediction could have merit. If that comes to pass, however, they wouldn’t just be a potential treat to the metro daily sites but also to Google Local and Yahoo! Local to a similar, hypothetical degree. At the moment, local is not a zero-sum game; in fact, just the opposite—it’s more and more fragmented.

The Boulevards sites are right now positioned chiefly as travel sites (where I’m going rather than where I am)—although they do have classifieds listings. They’re less likely to be used by “locals” in their own city. Again, if this network, which is more like the old areaguides.net affiliate network before it was acquired by Local Matters, than Citysearch, creates a good user experience with good content people will use them. (They also become an acquisition target.)

Local metro daily newspapers have traffic and brand equity, but they face loads of competition from a whole range of sites focused on local. Indeed, local metro dailies have many challenges in competing online (mostly internal), but right now these city.com sites are just another—and not particularly significant—among them.

Greg Sterling, Local Search and Convergence Columnist – Greg Sterling is managing editor of The Kelsey Group who also writes the Local Media Journal Blog.

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