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How to make your local blog user-friendly

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Hoards of hyper-local bloggers descended on Stoke-on-Trent for the Talk About Local un-conference on Saturday 3 October ’09 to share ideas, debate on the future of hyper-local and discuss common problems with a view to solving them. Sessions ran throughout the day in an informal (hence ‘un-conference’) nature – which meant anyone and everyone who had something to say had their chance to say it.

Following a session for village bloggers, we’ve collated some great practical points about how to make your local blog appeal to readers who perhaps wouldn’t usually migrate towards the web.

Peter Trewhitt who runs Parwich.org shared his hyper-local testimonial with a small group of bloggers who are also trying to connect with the elderly and internet-unsavvy potential readers who are otherwise not really on the web. Following Peter was the founder of Bishopthorpe.net, Martin Dudley. These are two elemental local village websites – both for no more than about 750 residents each. We found there are a number of things you can do to the site to make it attractive for those in your population of readers who wouldn’t normally get their local news on the web:

  • White background, black text

It sounds simple, but many blogs go for stylish designs and forget white space on the page, and big black text will make content easier to read. Many older readers will complain about small text, so make sure you put your readers first and choose a blog theme with easily readable fonts and backgrounds.

  • Time and weather

Martin Dudley says putting an analog clock and the local weather on your blog site will mean it is a quick point of reference for people to come back to – not a bad idea.

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  • Local directories

Bishopthorpe.net started ‘The Purple Pages ‘ – a directory of community groups, local services and businesses, which also allows people to download a form where they can upload their own listing.

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  • Your Local Ward Councillor and Local interest pages

Bishopthorpe.net managed to get their local councillor, John Galvin,  blogging on the site  – he has his own news blog, about page and contact page running through the site – they have also done this for the local Parish Council – which means more readers will come through the site to find access to separate groups and authorities working in the area. This might work equally well for your local police officer – which Manjit Singh wanted to get up and running with his new blog at our latest Lozells Social Media Surgery. Both bishopsthorpe.net and parwich.org have pages with local history and local interest. So bishopsthorpe.net has a page with local travel information, as well as nature notes, and parwich.org has a page dedicated to history and news for the Memorial Hall, and the all important pictures page.

  • Reporting the positive

Every hyperlocal news blog is different, but along with photos, what’s on and local history, both Peter Trehwitt and Martin Dudley said the most popular local stories were always the positive ones. This may not suit or reflect your area, but focusing on positive community based stories will inspire those in the community to keep up the good work in making it a better place.

Of course, these points won’t apply to everyone, and giving your blog the personal touch is key to reflecting the community. But they may give some ideas for how to make sure your blog is accessible to everyone, and caters for your demographic in the right way.

Here is Martin Dudley talking to the Social Reporter about village and rural blogs after the session:

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