Like all great ideas, the genesis for The Urban List came from a margarita. Or rather, where to find a good one.
After graduating from Brisbane’s QUT, website founder Susannah George made the move overseas where she was confronted with the dilemma many of us face when moving to new cities: not knowing where to find things, or whether they are good. With time spent in Paris and Los Angeles, George was annoyed at the difficulty of having to compare and contrast established city-culture directories in her quest to find good pizza or bars.
“Our audience has grown more quickly than our peers. The subject matter might be similar, but the tone with which we address it is quite significantly different”
“I found there was directory upon directory, but nobody was filtering these listings down to recommendations that were actually good,” George explained. “Everything was reliant on user-generated ratings and reviews. What I felt I needed was more of a curated guide to the best businesses in a city – a one-stop shop that would optimise my life. I felt if there was a need for that for me and a gap for that in Los Angeles, then there was a gap for that everywhere. That was the lightbulb moment for me when it came to The Urban List.”
After taking a course in entrepreneurship at UCLA, George moved back to her hometown of Brisbane where she launched the website from the front room of her house with the assistance of two interns. Days were spent working freelance as a marketer helping small business owners with their social strategy, while spending nights on the site.
This was in 2011. Five years later, The Urban List now has offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and Auckland. George’s Brisbane office remains the head office for the company. She is proud of the team of 45 staff that she has built up, working across the country. Unlike many other publishers in this space who rely heavily on the work of freelance writers, the staff at The Urban List are full-time.
“One of our standout performers last year was 15 Signs You’re an Inner-city Wanker”
George believes strongly that the infrastructure of Urban List offices around the country is instrumental to its success.
“It’s essential to our content strategy. It’s imperative that you have locals in the know on the ground. Also essential is the premise of developing the majority of our content in-house. It’s really maintained a consistency of tone and an ownable personality,” she said.
It’s a point of difference for The Urban List that many of the newer entrants into the market don’t have.
“Our audience has grown more quickly than our peers. The subject matter might be similar, but the tone with which we address it is quite significantly different,” George said.
With two million readers coming to the site each month, George reports that she has continued to find growth for the site, with the bulk of the readers based in Australia’s food and drink capital, Melbourne:
“Daily UBs are up 12% on last month, which is significant given we’re in our fifth year – double-digit growth in New South Wales, Victoria, and Western Australia. Melbourne is far and away the biggest of our markets. We have two million unique users a month and 726,000 of them come from Melbourne, followed by Sydney, then Brisbane, then Perth, and Auckland.”
Readership of the site skews female, which George is comfortable with, citing a statistic that female millennials are responsible for driving about $50 billion in annual spending.
The readers of The Urban List, George revealed, “overwhelmingly are urban professional millennials with a high discretionary spend.” It’s a readership that George sees herself as a part of. “We love food, we love travel, we love design. Our audience places a high priority on personal health and appearance. Some of the things we’re starting to see emerge is they’re staring down the barrel of adult financial decisions in the near future.”
Like many successful sites, much of the revenue these days is derived through branded content on the site. George and her team are increasingly more strategic about the companies that they partner with, ensuring that stories told are mutually beneficial to the site’s readership as well as to the brand.
The rest of the content on the site is a mix between the directory and editorial content.
“Social and digital trends are a strong pull for us. Last month the most popular article was the best cafés to catch Pokemon. Everybody covered Pokemon Go, but only some of us saw great traffic results off the back of it,” George said before letting slip what might be the secret sauce for The Urban List: its readers are self-aware and like to poke fun at themselves.
“One of our standout performers last year was 15 Signs You’re an Inner-city Wanker.”
Chances are you read the article yourself while drinking an artisanal beer from a nearby microbrewery that only brews with locally sourced ingredients.