Before I moved to New Zealand in 2018, I lived in a British seaside town called Southend-on-Sea — or just Southend for short. With a population of over 300,000 Southend was infamous for its fish and chips, theme park, beaches, theatres, night life, drug use, homelessness, gang culture, stabbings, and very, very long pier (2.158km — long enough to justify its own train line to the end of the pier).
But there's a lot to love about Southend. It has a certain charmingly chavvy energy, there's always something going on, and the council enjoyed parading around its latest white elephant from time-to-time so there was always that.
In 2014, the digital agency I was working at came up with the idea to create a local website to talk about some of the nicer aspects of Southend life. Many of our clients were Southend businesses, so the incentive for us was to have a channel through which to promote our Southend-based clients, for both local SEO purposes and social media marketing.
Love Southend quickly became a passion project for me personally, and I soon took ownership of the entire project.
The blog included local news, reviews, and Buzzfeed-style "shareable" content such as locally relevant listicles and fun facts. Along the way, I also picked up some local, aspiring writers and bloggers who could contribute their own articles, saving me from having to continuously churn content myself while also adding more author names to the page for added credibility.
Local restaurants and venues were also reaching out to me for sponsored posts, inviting me to their establishment to try their latest dish or escape room and write about the experience on the blog. Being the socially awkward person that I am, I could never get used to this. Especially when finding myself in the position of interviewing the chef or business owner, feeling immense impostor syndrome because I'm not a professional food critic nor do I have a press background. But I do love food, and restaurants loved the reviews I published because I very rarely ever have anything bad to say about food. And the social media exposure and marketing went both ways, as they'd link to the review from their own channels.
The "what's on" page ranked #1 for most local event-based keywords (e.g. "what's on this weekend", "local events", etc), with each individual event listing also ranking at the top of page 1 for its own respective keywords. Additionally, the use of Event Schema allowed the website to display events as rich results in Google, benefiting from improved click-through rate.
Initially, I was the one going out of my way to routinely find and upload new event listings manually. Eventually, I was on the receiving end of so many event submission requests, that I could just upload them each morning.
Additional landing pages were created as a result of looking at search demand, and finding opportunities for popularly sought after content based on "things to do".
Location-based landing pages included information, a Google Maps embed, as well as featuring related blog posts and upcoming events at that location.
We had some great photography for these pages as I held a competition for local photographers, advertising exposure to all photographers who enter and all photos used would be credited with a link to the photographer's website or social media profile. Winners were chosen by public vote on our social media, and were featured on the landing pages.
We knew from the beginning that a social media presence was essential for growing the online community.
I grew Love Southend from scratch to:
Also won a couple of awards, which is pretty cool. I'm not much of an awards person, but that's okay.
It got to the point where I was getting emails through the contact form everyday from Southenders thinking it was the council website. I had to add a disclaimer to the contact page, explicitly stating that we were in no way affiliated with government.
All in all, it was a fun SEO and social media marketing experiment that I know I personally gained from. It received hundreds if not thousands of page views every day, built up good authority as a local brand for marketing clients, and scored me free food and tickets.
10/10 — would do it again!