Best Small Towns in [State]

We don't yet have an example of what of these will look like, but you can certainly turn to our affordable cities lists for some guidance:

The 5 Most Affordable Cities in Wyoming

The 5 Most Affordable Cities in Montana

The 5 Most Affordable Cities in Minnesota

Step 1: The Data

You’ll be shared a Google Docs spreadsheet of the data from the 5 Most Affordable cities in the state, and this is what it’ll look like:

Here’s how to read it:

The cities are already ranked from 1-5. So in the above Sebastopol is the Best Small Town in CA, while Solana Beach is No. 5.

TOTPOP_CY = Total population in 2015

Drove alone = % of people who commute to work alone

Commute time = average work commute time of residents

COLI = Cost of Living Index. This is not a percent. Look at it this way, the number 100 is the U.S. average. So anything above that is more expensive than the U.S. average, and anything below is less expensive than the U.S. average. The lower the COLI the better.

Amenities, Engagement, Crime, Arts = These are all indexes like the COLI. So 100 is U.S. average. Amenities means what the city has to offer residents, thus higher is better. Engagement means how active residents are in the community; again, higher is better. Crime is, well, crime rate; thus, lower is better. Arts represents the amount of arts-related opportunities there are in the city/town. This number is likely to be small (larger is better) because it's a small town and not much is going on! You don't think of arts when you think of small towns.

2015 Diversity Index:

2015-2020 Growth Rate (Population): This is a figure predicting how much the population is going to grow by 2020.

2015-2020 Growth Rate (Med. HH Inc): This is a figure predicting how much the median household income is going to grow by 2020.

2015 Population Density:

Libes: # of libraries in the community

Health-related data

This helps us look at the health of residents in the community--something that potential movers may be interested in knowing. Health, uh, is important.

Years of Potential Life Lost Rate:


%Obese: This is the percent of residents who are obese in the community.

% with access: In California, this might be mistaken as the percent of people with access to marijuana. But it is not--in any state. It represents the % of residents with access to healthcare.

PCP Rate: No, this does not measure the percent of PCP users in a city. It stands for Primary Care Physician, and this figure represents

Preventable Hosp. Rate:

Average Daily PM2.5

BS-higher: % of residents with a B.S. degree or higher.

SchRate: This is out of 10. Based on GreatSchools rating.

College+University: The # of colleges or universities in the area.

No need to worry about the rest of the data on the sheet. That's all scoring stuff.

Step 2: The intro

50-100 words

The intro paragraph should do two things: It should introduce the reader to the state, highlighting the great things about living in it. Then you should transition by saying something like, "Everyone knows the big cities in [state]. But big cities aren't for everyone. Some like small town living, and that's what we're looking to provide with these lists: Options for those who want to live in [State], but not in its most recognizable metro areas. But, we didn't just base this list on population size, we dug deep into the data to deliver a list that includes five small towns that are also incredible places to live." You get the idea.

Now we’re onto the show.

Step 3: The cities

50-100 words each

For each city, you should begin by going to its city page on Let’s go to Sebastopol, CA for example. What you’re looking for initially is whether or not this city has made another Top 10. Sebastopol has actually made our Best Small Towns list twice: in 2015 and 2016. You'd 100% want to mention this. And any other Top 10s/Top 100s the city might have made.

Whether or not a city has Top 10 accolades, the next big thing is digging into the data. It will be important to note both the median home price in the city, as well as the household income. I’d also mention whether or not a city falls above or below the national average for groceries, healthcare, and utilities. Next, I’d look at Trulia for data on: Average Age of residents, percent of residents that own or rent, percent of residents that are single, percent that are college educated. This will help readers get a better idea of who’s there and what they’re doing with their lives. Here’s a link to Sebastopol’s guide on Trulia. I love this tool. Just type in a new city in the search bar on top.

Finally, let us know about interesting things to do in the city. What makes it a great place to live? Why is it not only an affordable place, but a place that someone would want to move to?

Once you’re done with that, repeat 4 more times.

Step 4: List the cities 5-1.

This way, people have to read the whole thing to get to the best city.

Step 5: Linking.

Make sure to link to each city’s page on the first time you mention the city’s name in the paragraph. DO NOT LINK in the header. So it might look like this:

4. Naperville, IL

It’s no mystery that Naperville is a great place to live, having already twice been featured on other top 10s. In 2015, it made our…yada yada yada.

DO NOT link to outside articles, especially to Forbes and other data sites like ours, unless absolutely necessary. Also no linking to something like the Naperville Public Library. All links should go to other pages on

Step 6: Feature Image

Flickr Creative Commons is your best friend. So too is Wikimedia Commons. Find something beautiful of the state. Doesn’t necessarily have to be of one of the cities.

Step 7: YouTube videos

Find a corresponding YouTube video for each city. to embed it in the article, take your normal youtube link (NOT THE EMBED CODE or IFRAME) and beneath the header, do this:

The code goes like this:

One of those per city and you’ll be good to go.

Step 8: Load into the CMS. Write a deck. Then you’re done.

If you have any questions, feel free to email Chris Pilny  -

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