This is part three of my series on local search.
Today I wanted to touch on another easy way to make some local cash, and make some new business contacts along the way.
Starting a local website that helps people move to your area is a great way to make a few extra bucks, and there's no real cost to you. Well, besides a domain and some web space. But if you've got a reseller hosting account, you're set.
First, get a good domain name that people will easily remember. Even a .info is ok, but I suggest a .com if one is available. Examples for a town named "Thaxton" would include:
Now that you've got a domain name and some web space, hop on over to Open Realty, download and install the newest version.
Next, find a nice template. There are plenty of free ones, or if you've got a few bucks in PayPal go ahead and pay for something nicer. Remember, you're trying to make a nice looking site, so if your design skills leave something to be desired, spend the few bucks to get a nice looking site.
Now that you've got a nice looking site, spruce it up a bit with local keywords and phrases. Add a few widgets, like local weather, maybe a page of links to other interests (keep these to a minimum though), things like the local theater, emergency numbers, etc. This is a real estate site so think of your visitors as someone who is considering moving to your area. What would they most likely be interested in reading about?
Next, visit sites like apartments.com and duplicate all the local apartment complexes to your site. I suggest you only put the minimum information, such as address and phone number. Here's where you can make a little money. By only putting the minimum info, people will call/visit these places for more info. Most likely the apartment places will ask their visitors/callers how they heard about their establishment. If people keep mentioning your site, they will probably check it out. Then they'll see that there isn't much info about them on the site. Here's where you cash out.
Tell them that there is room for a lot more info, such as amenities, photos of their 'campus', local establishments, etc. This info can be added to the site for only $29/month (Paypal subscription). Assuming they're getting calls and already have interest, they'd be crazy not to pay that.
While I'm on the subject of money, let me warn you not to sell yourself out cheap. Even if you need the money bad, offering one of these companies a listing upgrade for just a few bucks a year is a disservice to yourself. You're working hard to get this site going, and you deserve to be paid for sending these people customers. Don't go cheap on 'em.
Back to your site. If you've got some php programming skills, consider adding some fancier things to your site. Allow local real estate agents to sign up and add their listings for free. Then let them upgrade their listings to a Featured Listing for, say, $19 bucks each. Once again, assuming you're getting traffic, they'll be glad to do it. If you've got some good php skills, consider offering these agents a monthly price for 3 or 5 Featured Listings for one price a month. They can manage their own accounts, you just collect the cash and make sure your site stays running.
None of this work will be any good without a little SEO/SEM, so consider buying some local keywords for the lowest rates and drive a little traffic that way. Visit local fairs and put flyers on all the cars in the parking lot. Do the same at the local grocery store. If you've got a few bucks, get some of those cheap cardboard signs like the Open House ones you see and stick them around town, close to the borders where out-of-towners are more likely to see them. Local marketing doesn't always mean online.
If you've got a few dollars (I say that a lot, don't I?), consider hiring people to write reviews of the local apartment complexes, maybe $8 bucks or so for 300-500 words. Good or bad, they'll provide you content that you can submit to article directories (with your links at the bottom, of course!)
Lastly, if things are slow, add Google's Adsense to your site (link in upper right of page). I'd say do this only as a resort during slow times, because when people click on the ads you lose a visitor. You may make a little money (probably not much) but I don't think it's worth it for this type of project.
There's a lot you can do with a local real estate site. Getting people to the site is your first battle, and then coming up with new ideas on how to monetize your site is the next. A good local site can bring in a decent amount of money if you invest some time to do it right.