Can Patch Tap Local Dollars?

For the past several years there has been a lot of talk regarding the local market and how much money there is waiting for those who can figure out how to capture it online. A friend, who also follows this, relayed to me the number often estimated for all forms of local is around $40 billion.

I’ve been placeblogging since 2005 covering the community in which I live, defined by the borders of our school district. I serve a population of 24,000. Our school district has a central borough with surrounding townships. People shop primarily in strip malls and larger regional malls, or in the areas near their work or former residence. We have seen our school population double during the past decade due to an influx of new residents who were either relocated to the area or moved from New Jersey for a better cost of living.

From a media perspective we have two regional daily newspapers and each has a web site. One has a weekly shopper and there is an independent weekly mailed to each home in the community. There are two cable television providers that each offer local news and sports to attract subscribers. There is one non-network affiliated regional television station. There are several local radio stations including an all talk/news station.

My initial plan was to establish “NewsOverCoffee.com” as the place people went to become informed of the most local issues before they left the house each morning. The idea was to establish a central, single source of very local information (Council, Supervisors meetings, school board, etc.). Once established, I’d franchise the concept to other communities. The concept was not very different than what Patch is now trying to accomplish.

People caught on to reading the site, a few organizations began regularly submitting content, SEO was good and for the first four years the site was top ranked for the term “Nazareth News”, but recently when I pinged Google the local newspaper passed me. They had reorganized the site around regions, one of which was Nazareth. On the results page I noticed Patch did not rank, but they had purchased an advertised listing.

Being pretty well established, my readership was right around 400 per day. Last year I began using Posterous to distribute my content beyond my blog site. As a result my average daily visits decreased by about 100, but I believe I’ve more than made that up as people access the content on Facebook, Twitter, Posterous, Friendfeed, and by RSS. Estimated daily readership is now around 500.

I have no earned income from this endeavour. Yes there are Google Ads and if I visit my Ad Sense account I might find there are a few dollars waiting for me to claim, but not enough for a dinner out. At the same time, I have virtually no expenses. I use Blogger, which is free, and purchase a $10 domain name once a year.

I have tried to solicit advertising from local businesses on a few occasions and had no success. I also participated in a program with the local Chamber of Commerce to create a market place site for their members to gain an online presence and eventually promote the site as the place to go for local, trusted businesses and services. After nine months of promoting the site and speaking to members there were virtually no sales.

This brings me to Patch.com. First, Patch is owned by AOL, which recently had a massive round of lay-offs. Many have reported on how Patch’s model simply doesn’t work. Business Insider recently re-examined that position and explained how it could work.

Patch.com currently has advantages over other placeblogs like mine, specifically funding. Business Insider states it is believed that AOL will invest $120 million into the site and its operation. Patch also has paid editors, paid salesforce, and presumably paid programmers and tech staff.

Patch’s platform is shared, so each community site has the same look and feel and national ads are rendered locally. The content isn’t necessarily local focused, and some of what is local is from nearby communities. The site also has a calendar and classifieds.

Traditionally, online advertising has been about audience size, impressions, and click-throughs. Patch can take national advertising and drive it to the local level, but the goal is to tap into local money. To tap into the local money, Patch will need to attract local advertisers.

My experience has been that these advertisers are not looking to advertise online in a hyper-local market. As a result, Patch will need to go head to head with the local newspaper sites, which offer print combined with online to provide better value. Local advertisers know print. It is what they’ve always done. And now they are being introduced to online without giving up print.

I don’t think Patch can compete with the newspaper site and if local revenue is not driving Patch will they have enough local sites attracting 500-1000 visitors a day to earn enough from national advertisers?

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One response to “Can Patch Tap Local Dollars?

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