Boston.com Ties Hyperlocal, Local Search

Newspaper sites have done a lot of window dressing with “hyperlocal” by adding neighborhood blogs and whatnot. But now some papers are challenging themselves to embrace hyperlocal in all things, as they seek to tame Google and Yahoo in search, take on the Yellow Pages in certain categories, and win back reader loyalty.

A lot of the discussion at this week’s NAA Marketing conference in Las Vegas focused on such issues – both on and off the podium. The Boston Globe’s Boston.com, for instance, is currently on a mission to make its onsite search more relevant at the hyperlocal level by optimizing all its news and features, while crawling local organization sites to come up with content that doesn’t typically come up with Google.

“We’re going for local hockey league schedules and things of that nature,” says Bob Kempf, who was recruited from Gatehouse Media’s WickedLocal effort in the surrounding Boston suburbs to hyperlocalize Boston.com. The site is also striving to clean up its own archives to bring out the relevance of stories during user searches, in part by building out keyword links in ways that Google’s computers probably can’t see.

Kempf, whose skunkworks reports into Michael Zimbalist at The New York Times Co., and may be applied to other company sites, says he is under no illusion that notices of a hockey schedule or clever article links will make the site a default search engine over Google or Yahoo. But he says the effort could extend the newspaper’s mission in a way that the search engines probably won’t. And that should translate to more effective local advertising.

One issue with such a federated search approach, however, is that readers don’t always want such a 360-degree view when they are searching their newspaper site. Kempf says that readers often just want to see what articles a newspaper has published, in their traditional chronological order. The site may have to offer an option to readers of straight articles, he says. It is a challenge to retrain reader expectations.