Boston-based CitySquares, which just celebrated its second anniversary, is getting about 70,000 unique visitors per month and now has a base of 700 advertisers, averaging $1,200 per year, reports CEO Ben Saren… Roughly a third of the existing advertiser base is in the downtown Boston area, while the others come from adjacent communities… As with most other city guides, the best categories are restaurants and vanity sites –beauty salons, spas etc.
The hyperlocal company, which has raised under $2 million, has seven full time sales agents working for it, and has really built up a well-known brand in Beantown, says Saren. He believes that a large part of the recognition is due to innovative advertising efforts, such as local event sponsorships; quite a bit of viral marketing; and an exclusive deal with Boston Pedicabs. There are 17 Pedicabs cycling around Boston all day and night, and a CitySquares banner is on the back of each one – shared with various CitySquares advertisers, who help foot the bill.
Hey! I drove a pedicab in Washington, DC years ago… Boston must be a good spot for that.
To Saren, the high awareness factor puts the company in good position to “own” the market. He says, in fact, that it is a fallacy that local advertisers are being deluged by a wide group of hyerlocal opportunities. Sites associated with major local media and directory firms, such as The Boston Globe’s Boston. Com, Gatehouse’s Wicked Local and Idearc’s SuperPages, never come up in conversations with potential advertisers, he says. Yelp and Outside.in don’t either. Only IAC’s Citysearch comes up, and Saren believes he is gaining a bead on it.
I wonder about “owning” a region. It’s a tough slog to become the defacto place that local folks turn to on the web. Seems to me that once someone has that spot, they’d be dug in deep… hard to dislodge. This is an opportunity for genuinely local efforts — like CitySquares in Boston, iBrattleboro, Front Porch Forum and others — to get firmly rooted before the giant WalMart/McDonald versions of “local” come to town.
CitySquares is currently looking to expand its hyperlocal approach beyond Boston’s “Route 128” divider. Starting June 16, the company will launch automated versions of communities throughout New England and New York, easily accomplished using its data feed from Localeze and maps from Maponics. Saren acknowledges that the “expansion” won’t be fed with feet in the street and local editorial staff, at least initially. Those will be restricted to Boston. But if Manchester, NH suddenly starts giving us a lot of traffic, he says, “we’ll start a direct marketing campaign and provide prelaunch discounts to advertisers.”
If I had to bet on where they’ll win, I’d pick towns geographically very close to CitySquares early success… and places where they decide to invest real resources. “Build it and they’ll come” won’t cut it.