Knight Reviews Patch Local Sites

I came across a two-part article on Patch by Anna Tarkov on Knight Digital Media Center at about the same time I got a promotional message from my local Chamber of Commerce for Nazareth Patch.

The message read in part, “The Nazareth Patch is THE local, online news source for all things Nazareth. Nazareth-area businesses now have the ability to reach potential customers in the Nazareth area through a medium that is 24/7 (not newspaper!) and LOCAL. Patch is a division of AOL; specifically AOL’s local news channel. Pricing on the site ranges from $75-$600 per month depending on placement.”

This is not unusual as our Chamber sends announcements for members on a regular basis. Being in the local space since 2005, I have a decent sense of the market and would be surprised to see too many local businesses paying these amounts (the two ads running today in right sidebar were for a Pfizer product and CitiBank).

I had a range of ideas related to monetizing my site through the years, I tried text ads in posts, ads in the top of the far left column, and I tried a program with the Chamber to build a marketplace for local businesses. In each instance, owners showed interest, but the commitment wasn’t there to try something new or spend the money. All advertising on my site was $50 or less and marketplace was $75 set up and $10 month thereafter, with a portion of the money going to the Chamber as non-dues revenue.

So AOL’s $75-$600 looks a bit steep for the local space.

The other interesting points, THE local and not a newspaper but 24/7.

We’ve had 24/7 online placeblogging for four years before Patch showed up (not just my own but a few others as well), and our two local newspapers have significant online sites that post throughout the day, one even has a Nazareth section that gathers all related articles and connects to local blogs.

There is no lack of local content.

So the big issue for advertising is readership. The cost is based on eyeballs.

The Nazareth School District Area, which is what I define as “Nazareth” for my site, has a population of 24,000.

From Patch by the Numbers:

Patch President Warren Webster said that when Patch launched, the goal was to have 50% of each community using the local Patch site. Meaning, if a town had 20,000 residents, 10,000 of them would be Patch readers. According to Webster, that goal was hit in 2009 and has since been exceeded. He added that some of the “older” sites, the ones that launched earlier, are now attracting 80-90% of the community. To measure this, Webster says that Patch looks mainly at unique visitors and also what they are doing on the site: are they subscribing to newsletters, commenting, coming back more frequently, etc. Again, none of this can be verified since Patch has been unwilling to release any traffic stats.

The article includes a link to this article from Business Insider that includes leaked monthly usage traffic from a disgruntled employee regarding Southern California Patch sites.

On page 15 of the linked report it notes Coronado, CA had 10,750 unique visits in March of 2011, with population of 24,100.

I find this to be incredible. To begin, population includes all living folks, birth to near death. Internet world stats report (as of March 2011) states that 78% of North American internet users are online.

Given those two statistics, 18,798 people in Coronado are online and 57% of them go to Patch each month.

Here are five years of my site, the middle line is 350 top of graph is 700 for a five year period May 1, 2006 through May 1, 2011. Of Note, the downward trend on the right reflects when I began distributing content via Posterous (read post regarding it here). I figured there was no advertising happening so why not go where the readers were? I do believe if you add up all the places people are viewing the posts this move resulted in more of the content being read, but less coming to the actual blog to read them.

Five years, 60 months, 7088 visits per month (note, not unique, many readers visit every day), and even that only represents 30% of the population.

During that 5 year period, my site was top ranked on Google for “Nazareth News”, it has since been passed by both Patch and the local newspaper, but remains in 3rd.

So how can Patch have achieved such tremendous results?

1. Content on Patch may originate on one Patch site but be shared on neighboring community sites. In this way visitors from multiple communities are reading the same content, one has to wonder how this is being measured. It could be inflating each community’s unique visitors.

2. In the quote above it notes that unique visitors is only a portion of what is measured to determine how much of a community is using Patch. This leads one to believe that they are aggregating several sources and estimating usage as oppose to having straight figures. Plus anyone who cleans cookies will be viewed as a new visitor, even though they’ve visited before.

The article also notes they do not share their data.

Given my experience, I don’t think even 25% of any Patch community visits the site each month, nor do I see local advertising being pumped into the service now or in next five years.

What is your experience? What are your thoughts?

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