My friend Eddie reports that he has upgraded and expanded his local Forest of Dean (UK) directory based upon requests and suggestions emailed in by users. The update is complete and includes an expansion into the Wye Valley area. Details at those links.
Also neat is a Screen Cast on how to use the directory.
This is the local directory I always use as an example of how to make a proper local directory and portal: directory + events calendar + announcements blog, using local knowledge that Google maps can’t match. I know that the Forest of Dean directory is heavily used by both local residents and tourists.
If you are going to visit the Forest of Dean area, I recommend you give the directory a good look.
In addition to building web directories I’m a firm believer in hyper-local news as part of the future.
All across America there are small towns that are no longer directly covered by a local newspaper. Once upon a time they probably had their own weekly paper or maybe even a daily but those have shut down. They are probably served by a regional paper, but, and this is the important part, that paper does not report on the meetings of your little town’s government. Therein lies your opportunity if nobody is covering your town government.
Start a blog on your own domain. Best if it sounds newspaperish.
Start a blog. I recommend WordPress for this. Find a newspaper looking theme.
Start attending meetings of your town government. It’s probably one night a month. Take notes ask questions.
Write up a brief summary of the meeting: topics discussed, action taken on your blog. Keep it impartial stick to the facts. Try to explain to your readers why the town is doing it the way they are – why it’s important.
Even small towns these days post transcripts of town council meetings, usually as PDF’s. Most town citizens will never take the time to read those. They are more likely to skim your summary.
Spread the word around town. And hand out flyers to people with your URL.
Put up a contact form, encourage clubs, churches, civic organizations to inform you of upcoming events and post those for free. The local library always has stuff going on, post that.
Make a business directory: you can probably find a plugin for WordPress. List all the local businesses and civic organizations. List the clubs and their meeting places and times.
Everyone has a smartphone with a camera these days. Walk around town. Take photos of interesting stuff. Heck, have Mr. Smith pose for you while he’s raking leaves. Post it on the blog. Or get a photo gallery plugin. People like seeing what’s going on around town at a sidewalk level. People like seeing their name in the “paper”. You can do a heck of a lot just with photos and captions.
If there is no “shopper” newspaper you might add a classifieds script.
Take some good photos of the town. Turn them into ePostcards with “Greetings from MYTOWNNAME” and get an electronic postcard script. Visitors and locals alike enjoy these.
Fill the vacuum left by not having a little hyper local paper.
Cover people’s hobbies when you hear about them: if you admire somebody’s yard and flower garden ask to interview them and take pictures then post. If somebody has a big model train layout, introduce yourself and ask to write a story about it.
None of this costs much except some time. This is perfect for somebody who is retired. You are helping knit together a community again. Go to the library, chances are they may have the archives of the old weekly town newspaper that went belly up 50 years ago. Read through the archives from 100 years ago. Small town papers were folksy a lot of the news was gossipy stuff: Robert Smith’s parents from Peoria are visiting him for a week. Delinquent kids are breaking bottles on the sidewalks in Founder’s Park. There is no reason your little news portal can’t do the same. Get the community involved in reporting news: post photos sent in of the Volunteer Fire Department fund raiser,
You are going to have to play with the scale here. Your town may no longer have many businesses left open in town proper. If everybody has to go to the next town over to shop then list those businesses in your directory.
Keep you blog’s comments open and as easy to use as possible. Use Akismet or other plugins to prevent spam. If you get a fair amount of discussion, consider adding a forum script for the local wags to discuss stuff.
It may take awhile for word of mouth to spread but keep at it and it will. Make friends with the local librarians, they will help you find resources to hone your craft and if they like you they will help informally spread the word.
It’s a good way to become involved, become self informed about your community and give something back by sharing.
A local directory covers a defined geographic area. It may be a region, town, city, county, state. While a local directory lists website URL’s, they are not required. It’s primary mission is to connect the searcher with a location or business. It does this by listing street address, phone number, business hours, URL, Description, map location, comments and reviews. If you think Yellow Pages or even Google Maps you get the picture.
Google Maps and Yellow Pages are also going to be your major competitors. You need to focus on what you can provide that the big nationals can’t: 1. Your local knowledge and experience, 2. your ability to find stuff in person, boots on the ground, 3. free listings.
Local Directories can be a good sideline for a person that designs websites for local businesses.
There are lots of different recipes for a local directory:
Comprehensive Directory that includes several of the above or all of the above.
Note each one of the list above could be a stand alone how to blog post which I’ll write Real Soon Now. If you want me to expand upon something, for now just ask in the comments.
The important thing is you need to look at your area: what does it offer, what do you need to know when you are looking for something, what does the competition overlook? A tourism guide won’t work in an area that has no tourism and nothing to build tourism around. Likewise, a Town News and Event Portal won’t work if your town is well served by a local newspaper. But so many small towns are only served by regional or county wide papers, so if the paper does not do things like cover town government meetings and when the book club meets you might have a niche.
Keep in mind, a local business directory is not limited to just businesses and organizations like churches, libraries and the YMCA. Because you have maps you can also list local natural attractions, hiking or biking trails, scenic outlooks, parks, farmers markets, best fishing spots, bird watching spots, train spotting spots, swimming areas with and without lifeguards, all the things that leverage your local knowledge that Google and Yelp miss.
Directory + Blog
Most local directory types are well complimented by having a blog. The blog lets you have a voice and fresh new content in a way that a directory alone cannot do.
A big city directory (eg. DigiLondon) can probably get by without because big cities are sort of anonymous places. But a dining guide might want a blog for restaurant reviews.
Choosing Your Business Directory Script or Plugin
You can chose between a stand alone directory script or if you use WordPress as your blog there are a number of business directory plugins available for WordPress. Here is my listing of some resources.
One thing to look out for is you want a script or plugin that is being actively improved and maintained. Most people prefer Google maps for their directories, but Google could shut down their API or raise their prices for use at any time so you want a directory script that either A. gives you a choice among map provides right out of the box, or B. is being supported so if Google cuts everybody off the software developer is still around and can switch you to Bing Maps or some other alternative.
Various other scripts can enhance a local directory: forums can add a local social network element for discussion, photo gallery can be a place for people to post local photos. Whatever you think might enhance your directory.
Take a look at a small local directory and personal blog combination: Life in the Forest of Dean. The owners blog about retired life and gardening, they added a local activity section and a first class local directory to give something back to their community. That directory gets a lot of visitors, both from people outside the area and also from local residents. The area covered incorporates a number of towns and villages and it’s just big enough that the local people can’t always know that a new eatery opened in the next town, or where to buy firewood, etc. So the directory serves both locals and tourists alike. Notice that the directory part is ordered by towns with each town serving as a top level category. This is very good organization listing by geography.
You can always start by making a local directory for your own use if you want listing the places you eat at, shop at, go to. And keep adding more over time. Or you can have some other plan for somehting from the list above. The process will work best if you enjoy it, enjoy getting out, exploring, taking notes and pictures.