The core of any hyperlocal website is its content management system, or CMS. With many hyperlocals looking for the cheapest methods of getting off the ground, PHP-based blogging software WordPress has seen an explosion in popularity over recent years.
WordPress is an open-source content management system. Users can either sign up for a free blog on WordPress.com or they can download the core software from WordPress.org and install it to their own web server.
I decided on WordPress.com because of its wealth of features, ease of use and ease of sharingPaul Deach
Paul Deach, director of content at the Surrey Heath Residents Blog, says: "I decided on WordPress.com because of its wealth of features, ease of use and ease of sharing with other WordPress blogs and other social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter."
WordPress is designed to be user-friendly from the start, with the WordPress.org homepage boasting about its "famous five-minute installation." Citing the fact that "I could see it would do what I wanted it to do," Phyllis Stephen of the Edinburgh Reporter says: "I did try Mac based software first of all but it was very clunky and did not do all the things that WP does – such as allowing others to post remotely."
While most hyperlocal websites have their own dedicated domain names, hosting a site through WordPress.com does allow domain mapping, where your site has its own unique domain name but the hosting is still handled by the free WordPress.com service.
When it comes to hosting packages, it is important that your provider supports WordPress. Jon Bounds of Birmingham: It’s Not Shit recommends 1&1 Hosting, who he says he "never had any great problems with." As editor of The West Londoner I recommend Krystal UK Web Hosting, who I find to be reliable and who have a good tech support site for the usual questions first-time website owners always have.
Moving from a WordPress.com hosted domain to one of your own can be a stressful task but is easily completed with some careful backing-up of files. WordPress has a thriving community of third-party developers who create plugins which automate that process. There is also the built-in Export function, which allows you to take a snapshot of your site’s entire content, including custom pages, categories and tags.
Once you’ve installed WordPress and found a suitable theme to customise its look and feel (Paul Deach says "I decided to use the default theme as it works so well," adding "it is not the theme that drives and retains traffic to the site, it is regular relevant content that does that") you then need to concentrate on the site’s focus. This, in turn, will determine whether your content is curated (i.e. gathered from elsewhere, perhaps publishing an excerpt with a link to the source), or whether it is original to your site.
On the topic of curated content, Phyllis Stephen says: "I also use Storify and Cover it Live for liveblogging which incorporate tweets so it is important to keep tweeting and engaging with people out there." Storify allows users to create a webpage which tells a story based entirely on social media posts, which is one form of curation.
Liveblogging, which involves regular short updates relating to a given event, can be popular for a large, fast-moving occasion such as the London riots of last August, which proved very popular in the first days of The West Londoner, gaining the site 1 million hits in 24 hours.
Social media can also be a good driver of traffic to your website. "I have integrated a Twitter feed into the site which is very simple to do," says Paul Deach. He adds: "I also add bespoke feeds so, for example, when we had the snow, I put up a snow feed into the @SurreyTravel Twitter account. I also incorporate our YouTube and Soundcloud social networks into the site."
In contrast, Jon Bounds says "I have a Facebook page and a Twitter feed but they do nothing but pump out the RSS. They’re clearly labelled as such so people don’t expect interaction."
Striking a balance between the two is Anna Williams, editor of The Ambler, who says "I considered separating my personal and work persona [on Twitter], but after talking to various professional journalists, I decided against."
We’re part of the community rather than just an employee of someone’s media empire.Anna Williams
While Jon Bounds says "no" to the question of whether a hyperlocal can become a viable business, citing worries about "compromising the integrity of how you’re seen," and Anna Williams says she doesn’t think her town is "ready" for online advertising, others are a little more optimistic on the business front. Paul Deach points to the potential benefits of "editorial content, videos and photo blogs," as well as button-sized advertisements.
Above all, it is important to differentiate between any local newspapers, whose voice may be rather formal and detached from the community, and your hyperlocal venture. Anna Williams says, "I think that’s one of the points about being hyperlocal; we’re part of the community rather than just an employee of someone’s media empire."