Associated Northcliffe Digital (AND) wants its hyperlocal network of websites to reach 50 per cent of online households in its catchment areas by July.

According to a release from the publisher, the now 70-strong network of localpeople sites reaches an average 25 per cent of online households. But around 80 per cent of the network, in particular the older sites launched six months ago, are already boasting 30 per cent reach, managing director Roland Bryan told Journalism.co.uk.

The network, which was launched July last year with the roll-out of 20 sites in the Bristol area, is intended as platform for local community information, listings and discussions, and not as a traditional news site. Plans for future sites to be launched as part of the series will be announced soon, added Bryan.

The publisher has not released traffic figures for individual sites, but said of the sites launched in July 2009, its Dalston, Tiverton and Bideford sites were the highest performing, with more than 400 people now contributing to the Dalston site. Of those launched since January St Albans, Kingston and Barnstaple have generated the most traffic.

Increasing the reach of the sites will involve a combination of online and offline promotion, said Bryan. The teams behind the sites are encouraged to organise community events, and opportunities to sponsor local events and sports teams are being investigated. Alongside this activity, the sites use social media tools to drive users and traffic and now has more than 12,000 followers across its network of Twitter accounts for the sites.

First-time visitors are highly unlikely to contribute to sites, but the challenge is to engage these individuals if they come back, said Bryan: "It's about breadth or reach and depth of reach. Achieving a depth of reach will drive content creation on these sites."

The group has now launched a free-to-download iPhone application replicating the most-used features of the sites and allowing users to browse news, reviews and recommendations for their local area that have been contributed to their localpeople site.

Before the launch of this app there was very little available for smartphone users interested in reading about their local community, said Bryan, adding that while this was the app would continue to be developed, it was exciting to be first publisher to provide such a product for a hyperlocal network.

AND initially created a core product for the localpeople site, to which it has since added new features such as image galleries, the ability for users to upload photos and more detailed business profiles.

The links with local businesses will be crucial to increasing revenue from the sites, which is most definitely on AND's agenda, said Bryan. Several of the sites are already making money, he confirmed, and selling business profiles to local business has proved a popular revenue stream. The network also recently launched a vouchering scheme allowing local businesses to offer discounts via the sites.

"We see the network as being a needs-based service for businesses, in particular those less high-street-facing names in the local community. Very few of those business have found a place online to advertise directly to their community or catchment area," said Bryan, who promised that a raft of new paid-for products for businesses using the localpeople sites will soon be launched.

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