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One of the homespun stories of interactive local media is the rise of HelloMetro, a city guide company that started in 1999 as an entrepreneurial effort in Louisville, Kentucky, and has since grown to include 15 staffers, including five direct salespeople.

The company, which has hundreds of Hello(City name) city guides, made $7.5 million in 2008. It is on track to make $9 million or more in 2009, says CEO and Founder Clark Scott.

A key to the company’s success has been its use of Google AdWords for “pretty much anything that mentions the name of a city,” says Scott. The company started with a $100 budget for Google, and now spends $350,000 per month. Scott says he tries to add “a little more” to the Google budget every month.

Content-wise, each of the HelloMetro sites features all the rudiments of a standard city guide, including Yellow Pages listings, events, weather, dining and movies. Lately, it has been bulking up more on original content — a strategy that other geodomain-oriented sites have also focused on.

The content efforts include mapping out neighborhood info on a Google map and hiring 15 journalists to cover their local markets. The journalists are mostly out-of-work newspaper reporters, who are not hard to come by. The reporters typically get paid for 20 to 25 hours a week. Scott says he plans to keep hiring more.

“We picked out our largest cities to give us the biggest bang for a buck,” says Clark, noting they add a human-but-professional touch to the site that can’t be equaled by remote reporters or most bloggers. Focus areas for articles include what Scott calls “the four corridors of content”: local attractions, restaurants, events and nightclubs (a little).

Nightclub and social information will never be the focus of the site, however, says Scott. HelloMetro’s audience is somewhat more mature than other sites, he notes. “We don’t want to be MetroMix.” Indeed, users are typically in their 30s and 40s, with perhaps 60 percent coming from in-market, and 40 percent coming in as tourists or business travelers. (The ratio of national traffic is higher, however, in tourist meccas such as San Diego and Orlando.)

The company has also branched out into mobile sites, which all use a Hello(Cityname).mobi address. On an aggregated basis, the mobile sites are receiving 250,000 unique visitors per month. While the site has some Google Mobile ads, it hasn’t begun selling its own yet.

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