BlogTO’s growth challenge

One of the highlights for me of last evening’s CaseCamp 5 in Toronto was the opportunity to hear and meet Tim Shore, founder of freshdaily.ca.

Tim’s company publishes three city-centric websites covering arts, music, film, fashion, food and a bit of local news. They are Toronto’s blogTO, Vancouver’s Beyond Robson and Montreal’s Midnight Poutine. Each site has two full-time editors and draws content from a host of local contributors, with advertisers paying the bills.

In his CaseCamp presentation, Tim talked about the challenge of drawing new readers to his company’s flagship site blogTO. The site has a self-inflicted marketing problem, Tim said, in that it has established itself as a blog brand, yet is moving away from traditional blog styling towards local information and directory services.

[As I wrote last month, the redesigned blogTO has similarities to conventional online news services. And a passing reference last evening to Torstar’s local sites toronto.com and ourfaves.com suggests where Tim sees opportunities to compete.]

Another problem for blogTO, Tim said, is that some potential readers who aren’t into blogs might see no reason to visit his site.

Reaching out to those non-blog Torontonians, blogTO recently launched a series of printed maps for Toronto neighbourhoods, and started providing restaurant reviews that appear in the National Post newspaper. The maps point users back to blogTO for further information, and the National Post deal has coincided with a nice lift in traffic to the blogTO restaurants section, Tim said.

So blogTO is really starting to behave like a media company, looking for opportunities to build its “brand” wherever it can, while staying focused on its core service.

Asked whether freshdaily.ca was considering sites elsewhere in North America, Tim was non-committal. But he said he saw many opportunities to further develop the three existing sites.

BlogTO introduces maps — on paper

Four Toronto neighbourhood maps. Picture: blogTO

The ever-innovative blogTO, one of Toronto’s top blog sites, is expanding into print with a series of local maps available from retailers in various neighbourhoods. The series begins with four maps, shown above.

BlogTO editor Tim Shore sees advertising opportunities for local businesses, as well as a way to draw more people to blogTO:

Each map includes profiles of 80 or more great local spots grouped into categories like restaurants, bars and cafes, art galleries, fashion, furniture and design and beauty and health. Forty of the profiles on each map also come with full colour photos. And the whole thing is also integrated with the blogTO web site. So if you want to learn more about, say, Little Italy, you can go read about it in our new neighbourhood section.

Although the world is going digital, and increasingly wireless, I’m betting these old-school maps will still prove popular for their ease of use. And for their price — free.