Most Affordable Cities in [State]

After the resounding success of our Affordable Cities Top 10, we branched out this year and began providing affordable cities lists for each of the 50 states. We are slowly but surely making our way through all of them, and there’s a good chance you’ll receive one of these articles as an assignment.

Here are a few examples of some so far:

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 Bloomington is the Most Affordable City in IL, while Springfield is No. 5.

POPEST2012 is the population of the city.

Groceries, Utilities, Health, Misc are all indexes, meaning they are a representation of the national average. 100 is the national average, so if they’re below that, the city is below the national average in cost for these items. If above, they are above.

Housing = housing affordability (lower is better).

Gini is a number that helps express income distribution in a city. 0 would represent perfect equality (everybody makes the same income in the city), while 1 would represent perfect inequality (One person makes all the income in the city).

HHIncome = Household income.

LivScore = Our patented LivScore. Higher is better. I wouldn’t be too concerned about expressing this in the article. This just helps us rank cities better.

Step 2: The intro

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, “even though it’s freaking amazing, there are still plenty of affordable options. And by affordable, we don’t just mean cheapest. We’ve analyzed the data and found cities that are both great places to live, as well as affordable.”

Now we’re onto the show.

Step 3: The cities

For each city, you should begin by going to its city page on Let’s go to Naperville, IL for example. What you’re looking for initially is whether or not this city has made another Top 10. Naperville has made two: 2015 Best City for Families, and 2014 Best City for New College Grads. These are both important accolades to mention for an affordable city, as both of these groups will probably be looking for affordable options–particularly near Chicago! So write about them and link to them.

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 Naperville’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 or Natasha Lorens.

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