Monroe on a Budget is currently the runaway hit on the BlogsMonroe network hosted by The Monroe Evening News / Monroe Publishing Co.

But it wasn’t always that way.

It took several months of blogging before I settled into what works and what doesn’t for me. About the time I started reading and making connections with other frugal and finance bloggers to see what they were doing, the traffic started picking up. That was fall 2007.

I also have earned national rankings. WiseBread currently lists me at 86 in its list of personal finance bloggers, MoneyCrashers currently lists me at 119.

The national rankings are incredible for a regional site. I do keep my national audience in mind and send out posts I think they’d like on the blog networks and on Twitter.

But there is a very strong Michigan personality here, and that’s the way my co-workers and I want to keep it. You may have seen my tags: “This post is for my readers in Monroe, Mich.” and “My sales and deals are for the Monroe, Mich., area.” That helps the national readers figure out what posts are meant only for the locals, and skip over or adapt the local information as needed.

How popular are the local posts?

Example: I dropped the local sales and deals posts for a couple of weeks in January 2010 because of a family emergency. I still posted the public service announcements and headlines that I thought were important. But all of my free time was tied up with family matters. If I recall the situation correctly, overall traffic dropped about 20 percent during those couple of weeks. I told my co-workers about the trend, and we came to the conclusion that local sales and deals needed to go back on the blog ASAP.

Example: The most popular post in October 2010 was the trick-or-treat times for Monroe County, Mich. That information is easily found. It does go into the print newspaper. The times also are posted on other local sites including the city and township hall web sites, and my newspaper’s online calendar. One could even just call city hall to confirm the times. But I realized that a lot of people who just hit a Google search and typed in “Monroe Michigan trick or treat” were landing on my blog. So I put the entire list of local times on my blog. That one post had 1,600 page views.

Example: Michigan Department of Human Services is changing the Michigan Bridge Card /  food stamp benefit dates in 2011. There were letters sent in November to every client. There are even instructions on the schedule on how to clip and fold the date chart so it fits into a wallet. Obviously people had lost the schedule despite those tips, because starting about Jan. 1 my November post about the change started trending up and one reader posted a comment with a specific question “If my account number is a 1, what is my date?” In response, I posted the entire Michigan 2011 food stamp schedule. That post has had 900 page views in the past week, and will probably be the most read post for the entire year because date changes are taking effect every month.

Other trending topics and pages during the past year include Food Assistance in Monroe County, Thrift Shops in the Monroe Area, and You can apply for Michigan food stamps on line.

Given those statistics, it’s pretty clear that the Michigan / Monroe information is what is driving traffic to my blog. Nobody else is covering Monroe the way The Monroe Evening News staff can do. We have an extremely veteran staff in our newsroom. I’ve been there 10 years. Some of my co-workers have been in the newsroom for 30 years.

Lately, I’ve been receiving a lot of pitches from people who live elsewhere asking if I’d accept a guest post for Monroe on a Budget. I am quite sure that the national ranking sites are one of the places where they learn about me.

One pitch that I got this week was overseas based on the phone number in his signature line, although neither he nor the home blog he linked to ever said what country he was writing from. I’ve since learned that his area code traces back to South Africa. I also received a pitch this week from someone whose Facebook account indicates she is from in Venezula.

Do people who live elsewhere have any clue about the economic realities that southeast Michigan readers are dealing with, and which tips that would really be helpful to our circumstances?

Based on what I’ve read in the national press and national blogs during the past few years, and the conversations my daughter has with college classmates who are from other parts of the country, the answer, for the most part, is “no.”

I have now updated my guest post policy:

Monroe on a Budget has always been a frugal living blog with a local personality. Therefore, I expect that my guest posts will be from those who live, go to school, or work in Michigan or Ohio. This is very strict, however, I have run into too many problems with national guest post pitches being either irrelevant or embedded with pay-per-links. The only exception I am granting for guest posts from elsewhere is a former newspaper reporter who hosts a frugal living forum of her own and is a long time reader of my blog.

Key points:

  • The article must be relevant to those who live in southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio. I grew up in northwest Ohio and now live in southeast Michigan. I understand and know what my readers are dealing with, talking about and asking about. Your topic needs to click with the local audience, or I won’t post it.
  • If the personal finance article is too general or broad-based, I won’t be interested. Send it to someone else’s blog.
  • Give my readers specific details or examples for the cities where they live, work or shop.
  • I expect the article to include your byline or blog screen name so that readers know who is writing.
  • I will link back to your home blog or your publication’s web site, if applicable.
  • Affiliate links to other sites will be discouraged. You can do that on your own site, not mine.
  • I will not accept paid reviews or advertorial style articles as guest posts.

I have no problem coming up with my own content and scheduling advance posts when I’m taking some time off. That is why I can afford to be so picky.

If you do live elsewhere and would like some buzz for your blog or article, send me an email and I’ll look at it. If I like it, I’ll link to it and quote it. But I’m not going to repost your entire piece on my blog.

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