After two years in operation, CitySquares hasn’t necessarily broken out of the box. But Beantown’s neighborhood-centric directory of local businesses has got about $1 million in venture funding; almost 400 advertisers paying roughly $600 a year, mostly for “deluxe” business profiles; and an 88 percent renewal rate.
In mid-October, CitySquares is going to re-launch using new neighborhood slicing-and-dicing capabilities from Urban Mapping and Localeze, all based on an open-source Drupal platform. The site is also confidently planning to expand beyond Boston, with another northeast city set for Q2 2008, and a third one for Q3.
Cofounder Ben Saren says the site’s re-do reflects a key truism: Hyperlocal is about neighborhoods, but the reality is that neighborhoods are often “in between” other neighborhoods. The new version of the site is going to present searchers with the five closest neighborhoods, as well as proximity options. “They can be five miles or 10 blocks,” he says. That’s the Localeze part of it.
It will also identify neighborhoods within neighborhoods, such as Observatory Hill, which is a section of Cambridge. That’s the Urban Mapping part of it. The ability to sell across neighborhoods will help sell ads for the many small businesses “in between.”
As for existing advertisers, Saren is steadfastly proud of CitySquares’ renewal rate. The 40 or so dropouts either went out of business or “weren’t sold properly.” A few were miffed at bad reviews that appeared on the site, he says.
In a way, then, it is a good thing CitySquares hasn’t done a better job attracting reviews. It only has about 400 or so reviews at this point, and they’re hard to get. “They’re a nice additive but not a real priority,” concedes Saren. “It’s not a focus for us as it is for a site like Yelp.”
But Saren has high hopes for a new feature that is rolling out shortly: a system that enables businesses to contact reviewers via CitySquares’ messaging system. “It will be like eBay’s system and help rectify reviews.”
For the past several months, advertisers have been coming on board at a higher rate, with average spends now approaching $600 per year. Saren attributes the increase to the efforts of head sales guy Phillip Dias, a former Citysearch salesperson who probably knows where the “gets” are in Beantown. There are now eight employees at the company.
Coming up, Saren says he expects more community awareness to be generated as the result of a “Comuni-tees” promotion with JP Licks, a Boston ice cream chain. The promotion is a contest in which community members vote for favorite T-shirts depicting various artists’ interpretations of their communities. Winning shirts will be sold at neighborhood merchants, with proceeds going to a school arts program.