I thought I would give an update on the progress of Lowell.com. While I launched the site publicly a couple of weeks ago, I have been working on many content updates, adjustments, and additions to optimize the site for search and to promote stickiness. In the past two weeks, the site’s ranking has grown quite a bit (probably because of the new content), but there is a long way to go until I am satisfied. I am not in a rush to generate advertising revenue, so I don’t plan on soliciting advertisers until I feel the site is ready. Although I have had inquiries, I am planning to wait until I believe the site is optimized and ready to roll.
While I haven’t been able to stick to this religiously, my goal has been to add a page of content just about every day to grow the site. It is much more manageable to build a new page a day rather than becoming overwhelmed by adding many pages at a time. Doing this also gives me time to think about different topics of interest in Lowell that might be searched to help drive traffic to the site. I used Aaron Wall’s Keyword Tool to do the keyword research, and I also used Google News results to help me find other topics of interest. Also, I used the tool to purchase a few domain names of keyword strings that were unregistered – such as FrancisCabotLowell.com, and I forwarded them to appropriate pages within the site (thanks to Rob Grant for that suggestion!)
One thing I am very much against are having user reviews on the site. Although it will presumable increase stickiness and site awareness, I don’t want to have to police user comments. If three people post a negative comment about Joe’s Steakhouse, I don’t want to be responsible for making sure the comments are legit and not Joe’s competitors. I don’t want to deal with the legal liability that a forum/review site could pose – at least not right now. Perhaps when the site has grown it will be an option, but I decided against it for now.
I recently added a news section which uses the WordPress blogging platform. I’ve been told blogs are looked upon favorably by Google, so frequent news updates should help the site with ranking. Last week when I was in Lowell, my fiancee and I were enjoying a coffee at a sidewalk coffee shop and happened to have a nice conversation with the patron at the next table. It turns out he is the band director of the city high school, and the band had just returned home from a competition they won in Virginia. Of course, that was a great story that I blogged about – complete with two YouTube videos. While I won’t become a “source” for most news articles, I will write about the happenings in the city that would be of interest to residents and visitors.
I also added two neat features using feeds from other websites. GasBuddy.com has a feature that allows me to create a page with a feed from their site to offer local gas prices in the city. On the Lowell Gas Prices page, I have the ten least expensive gas stations in Lowell listed, and this is updated daily. Additionally, I used the three day weather forecast from iBegin.com and paired that with a chart of monthly record and average temperatures on the Lowell Weather page. While I have a small weather widget on the home page, I hope to drive some traffic from people looking for weather records or a longer weather forecast for the area.
I met with city officials in Lowell, and they didn’t seem keen on the calendar I envisioned. Since they have been building a main city calendar that will be utilized by non-profits and governmental agencies, they asked me to not list those types of activities on my calendar. Their calendar will have RSS capabilities, so I will link to those instead. Additionally, I will be listing various business events – such as happy hours and live bands at local night clubs. This will enable me to link to the Lowell ticket site as well and hopefully generate revenue that way.
Whenever I visit another website (large or small), I always look for ideas that can be adapted to Lowell.com and eventually Burbank.com and Salinas.com. The goal is to drive traffic to the site, and encourage people to return by giving them a reason to come back (gas prices for example).
I will get into a revenue generation discussion more in a week, but ideally the site will be optimized before I go out and solicit business. When I was in Lowell, there was strong interest from the few business owners I met, and I told them I would be in touch. I want to make sure the product I am offering meets my standards before trying to sell it. I want to give advertisers a reason to advertise on Lowell.com other than the fact that it’s Lowell.com (which isn’t a good reason). I want to be able to say, we are #1 for the term “lowell,” #2 for “lowell restaurants”….etc. We aren’t there yet, but that’s what we are working on at the moment.
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