The hyperlocal news website celebrating it’s 20th birthday. Here’s how we did it
Pauline Journeaux, managing director of Rochdale Online, on how a hyperlocal news website serving a Greater Manchester town is preparing to enter its third decade
The Rochdale Online website was20-years-old on 28 June. Launched on 28 June 1998, Rochdale Online is the oldest, most popular, most successful so-called ‘hyperlocal’ website in the country.
Market share and growth are impressive — since implementing Google Analytics in 2011, the site has grown from an average of 58,000 unique visitors a month to 160,000 in 2018.
From inception, Rochdale Online, now based in Rochdale town centre and whose staff all live locally, has strived to serve the Rochdale Borough community (Heywood, Middleton, Pennines and Rochdale) by providing an authoritative source of local news and information, and by promoting local businesses, groups and organisations.
In doing so, Rochdale Online has grown to become a very important resource for the local community. Here’s how we did it:
A couple of trailblazing features that have long since had their day but will be remembered fondly by those who have been regular site visitors since its early beginnings have included the former Rochdale Online Forum (aka Message Board), which ran between 1999 and 2012, and had 6,000 members at the height of its popularity.
A feature ‘before its time’ was Rochdale Online Maps, launched in 2001 — searchable road maps of the Borough of Rochdale years before Google Maps came along in 2005. The maps and associated database were finally retired in 2008 by which time it had become impossible for a minnow to compete with the might of Google’s feature rich maps.
Whilst the site is a comprehensive portal of local information, including jobs, properties, a constantly updated local business directory and a competitions page, the news and events sections of the site are now the most visited sections of the site.
The local news section is hugely popular, with the ‘Main News’ sub-section the site’s busiest pages.
‘Sports News’ carries reports on the town’s professional sports, and a comprehensive array of amateur sports/clubs, including cricket, rugby league, rugby union, football, golf, hockey, running, cycling, swimming, boxing, martial arts, and even regular reports on a local motor rally driver.
‘Community News’ covers everything from small fetes to large community awards events and Rochdale Online still sends journalists out to cover small community events; something that is much appreciated by the local community.
The local business community is catered for in the ‘Business News’ sub-section. In the main this covers news about local companies, but also features regional and national business news that is of interest to our readers.
Since the site’s inception, Rochdale Online has provided free advertising in a very popular ‘Events Diary’, with an average of over 20,000 unique users a month.
Rochdale Online takes its commitment to the local community very seriously. It is important to give back to the community, and as such from the very beginning of the website back in 1998 Rochdale Online has offered local community groups, voluntary organisations and charities a free website hosted and maintained by Rochdale Online.
From hobby to commercial enterprise
For the first three years, Rochdale Online was one local man’s hobby, becoming a commercial enterprise when Rochdale Online Ltd was registered as a company in 2001.
Since 2001 the site has been funded via advertising revenue, however, a voluntary membership scheme is soon to be launched that it is hoped the local community will support to enable Rochdale Online to continue to serve the borough with distinction for another 20 years and more.
I would like to thank all the visitors to the site who have helped make Rochdale Online the success it is.
Also thank you to the hundreds of advertisers who have made the website financially viable, and a special thank you to those local businesses who have advertised with us week in week out since those very early days, companies such as Molesworth Bright Clegg Solicitors, Deckers (owners of the Royal Toby), Northern Employment, and estate agents Adamsons and Ryder & Dutton.”
We are a genuinely local company, based in Rochdale town centre, employing local people, covering the patch in which they live and work giving the local community quality, in depth news and information.
The size of the readership and the trust the site engenders in the local community is something we are very proud of.
Here’s to another 20 years.