Following on from last week’s blog post on the founder of Parwich.org, I interviewed Lisa Reeves, the co-founder of alderleyedge.com, launched in 2009 and already selling out advertising.
Who were the people behind the blog, and what were their backgrounds before setting it up?
I run alderleyedge.com with my husband Martin, we live in the village. Martin built the site, so we own the technology, and I do the rest.
Martin set up his first internet company 13 years ago, and has always worked on internet based businesses of his own. I worked in publishing for 8 years then spent several years running the commercial side of internet businesses before giving up my career to be a stay at home mum.
What made you decide to set up the blog?
I wouldn’t describe alderleyedge.com as a blog, more a community news and information platform. A primary motivation for setting up the site was so that I could have a flexible job that I enjoyed as the children started to spend more time in school. The concept of alderleyedge.com seemed perfect as it allowed us to combine our experience in the Internet sector with our passion for the village in which we live.
We also felt that Alderley Edge was poorly served by its local newspaper, The Wilmslow Express, which seemed very much focused on the adjoining town of Wilmslow, and paid very little attention to Alderley Edge which it also purported to cover – although they seem to be providing a lot more coverage of Alderley Edge since we have become more established.
Whilst alderleyedge.com is a commercial venture we wholeheartedly feel that it makes a positive contribution to maintaining and strengthening the sense of community in the village and has the ability to achieve a great deal of civic good.
To be frank, if our focus was short term financial gain there are many other more profitable things we could have done. We do however believe in the long term commercial viability of what we are doing, especially with the addition of a sister site covering Wilmslow at wilmslow.co.uk.
From a purely personal perspective I also felt it would be a great way to become more involved in the community. Through alderleyedge.com I have got to know a lot of wonderful local people I probably wouldn’t have got to know otherwise.
When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?
Whilst the idea for the site had been at the back of our minds for some time it wasn’t until early 2008 that we started to look at the idea more closely. We acquired the domain name alderleydge.com in March 2008 and then Martin worked on developing the site.
We eventually launched the site in March 2009 using a commercial, but relatively cheap, content management system called Expression Engine. This allowed us to take the site beyond pure news delivery from day one – we have since moved to a proprietary content management system that we have developed specifically to meet our needs.
In terms of getting a flow of news and raising awareness of the site throughout the village I met with local schools, businesses, churches, clubs, associations, police, councillors etc to introduce alderleyedge.com, and advertised the site through posters and distributing leaflets via local businesses, schools, and clubs. I also personally delivered a leaflet to every house in the village.
What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?
We’ve looked at literally hundreds of local blogs and news sites over the years so it is somewhat difficult to identify individual sites that have been influential. If I had to pick a couple of hyperlocal publishers we have kept an eye on in recent times it would be AOL’s Patch and STV Local. Both of these, in our opinion, are getting it right in terms of striking the right balance between original reporting, user generated content, and community information.
How did – and do – you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation? How are you different and how are you the same?
We probably compete more directly with our local newspaper than most hyperlocal sites as we have always aimed to provide comprehensive local news coverage.
Having said that we recognise there are areas where we are not equipped to compete (yet) such as court reporting. We take the approach of ‘do what we do best and link to the rest’, so we are delivering value to our users even in areas we are not covering ourselves.
We are different because we are local people who genuinely care about the community and we are actively involved in what goes on in the village. By way of an example, a new bypass will open later this year that local residents have waited 50 years for. To mark its opening there is a big community event with a charity run and walk along the bypass. We have become actively involved in the organisation of the event by attending meetings and helping with its marketing – something a traditional news operation would be unlikely to do.
We also provide a much more interactive experience than traditional news operations. Our members can submit their own news stories, comments, events and businesses and interact with other local people via the forum.
The local police, councillors and schools value this because they can say what they want to say in their own words and use it to foster their relationship with the local community.
Another key way in which we are different is that we strive to be real time with our news coverage – publishing the news as we get it via the site, RSS, Twitter and Facebook. Whereas our local newspaper publishes once a week and even its web site is only really updated with news stories once per week, although we would assume that will change sometime in the not too distant future.
A the end of the day we are the same in that, to be commercially viable, we need to attract advertising from local businesses. In that respect there is a difficult hill to climb in that small businesses are presently much more comfortable with print than they are with the Internet. We hope to be instrumental in changing that in our small corner of Cheshire through helping local businesses understand how they can benefit from using the Internet and establishing alderleyedge.com as an effective advertising medium.
What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?
There have been a lot of key moments, including a number of occasions where our editorial has generated real results for our readers.
For example in March we published a letter from the Girls Guide District Commisioner looking for a new Rainbow leader. Within the space of a week not only had a new leader been found as a result of the article – preventing the Alderley Edge unit from having to close – but two new helpers also came forward.
More recently in July a local resident phoned me at the crack of dawn to tell me she had won national awards for her preserves the previous evening. I went to her house to interview this remarkable 72 year old lady about her business – a couple of weeks later the story was picked up by the Daily Mail, then we received a call from the BBC One Show which she appeared on that evening.
Getting alderleyedge.com established as a valuable and well respected source of local information was initially a struggle. Neither of us have a journalistic background but I have built good relationships with the local police, council, schools etc. that hopefully now trust alderleyedge.com and value the service we provide.
I am for all intents and purposes seen as a local journalist. I have 24 hour access to the local police and thanks to their support we were able to break a major news story in February when the body of a gangster was found in the village. The story was all over the national press the following day. Overnight the reach of alderleyedge.com went far beyond the local area.
Additionally on the day of the General Election I was given a press pass to attend the count for the Tatton Constituency. Throughout the night I provided regular updates via Twitter and before going to bed at 5am a full report of the night’s events and interviews with all the candidates, including Chancellor George Osborne, was available on both sites.
In July I was given a press pass by the Royal Household and spent a fascinating hour photographing Prince Charles when he visited a local National Trust property.
Given the nature of what we are doing we see every time the site gets a new contributor as a key moment, whether that be a news article, comment, business review or event listing. Our long list of contributors now include the local police, schools, parish councillors, county councillors, sports clubs, and many local residents. We have also managed to appeal to diverse sections of the community and we have even received a restaurant review from an 11 year old.
What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?
Last month was our busiest month to date with 6,483 unique visitors and 46,134 page views. The total population of Alderley Edge is probably less than 5,000.
Since launching the site our growth is best described as steady. Every now and again there is a major news story in the locality which produces a real spike in traffic and brings in a flood of new users.
In terms of unique users we are probably reaching saturation point for alderleyedge.com so, with the site now firmly established, we are starting to focus on monetising the site, getting users coming back more often and driving them to engage even more with the site.
Traffic is now at a level that the site is an attractive proposition for local advertisers so we started selling advertising on the site in July of this year. The advertising has completely sold out each month and we are already sold out for October.