Local content – the future for online travel guides?

Can hyper local travel guides really be a match for the big travel publishers and OTAs?

I'm delighted to be publishing a great guest post from Darren Cronian. Many readers will know him as the publisher of the highly successful Travel Rants blog. But he's also got other projects on the go. One in I'm really interested in is called MylifeinLeeds. It's a local blog about things to do and see in Leeds, Darren's home city:

Interesting times for local content publishers
This time last year I launched a local guide called My Life in Leeds. It's written by local people who are passionate about the city. The writers feature attractions, restaurants – in fact anything useful to locals and tourists about Leeds and its surrounding towns.

Consumers trust local content
Whenever I travel to a new destination I search for a blog or guide written by local people. I trust the content written from a local much more than travel writer who may have visited the place once or twice and does not know the restaurants, bars, attractions that a local recommends, and regularly visits.

Do you trust local content over an ‘expert’ or professional travel writer?

The love for local deals
I have been amazed at the love for local deals, and you can understand why the likes of Groupon have been so successful. (It's rumoured that Google is looking to acquite it for $6billion dollars.) In the space of eight months I’ve seen over 3,000 people subscribe to my Leeds deals email updates which are sent out twice a month – these are the most profitable emails I’ve ever sent.

Local check-in services
Foursquare is like Marmite (US readers - a strongly flavoured spread that Brits put on toast!) – people love it and hate it in equal measures. Personally, I think it is a great tool to find places close to where you are – I’ve frequently visited restaurants and bars because friends have been there and left a tip or recommended it. I have left tips (with links to individual guides) on Foursquare and I have seen traffic come from these tips. Facebook Places is another service that I can see becoming extremely popular, and I am looking at ways that we can use this to promote our content and interact with new readers.

Hyperlocal news
Around the same time that I launched My Life in Leeds, the Guardian launched their local news blogs for Leeds, Cardiff and Edinburgh. What I have witnessed is that local community groups, charities and so on are getting much more coverage because regional media like the Yorkshire Evening Post focus on news that sells newspapers. Smaller hyperlocal news sites are emerging all over the place. Just this week the South Leeds Life blog launched to highlight news, events and information in towns like Beeston which has over the last ten years received a lot of negative media exposure. I love reading news and content written by locals – not London-based journalists who know nothing about my home city.

The local Google effect
One of the biggest challenges that local guides like mine face is that search is radically changing – search for ‘Japanese restaurants in Leeds’ in Google and you’ll see my guide 6th in the natural search results – the guide used to receive a few hundred unique visitors a week, since Google added in the local business listings, I’ve seen a 30% reduction in traffic to that guide. On the flip side, traffic from social networks like Twitter and Facebook has drastically increased in recent months. I think local content (be it deals, guides or news) is going to emerge in a new era for search in 2011 and I think it is a great opportunity for bloggers and writers to make money from local content. Dare I even say that I even think paywalls could even work in local content?

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the future of search and local content.

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