Friday, June 30, 2006

Online Advertising for Small Business

I believe pay per click advertising is a bit foreign to the majority of small business owners out there. However it's such a fast growing medium that it definitely needs to be a bit more transparent for the crowd.

Take a look at Adotas's latest article on this here. They speak of negotiating click rates, tracking effectiveness, and performance based testing. All great stuff and including a regular Internet advertising program into your marketing budget is definitely the way to go considering that 55% of consumers are now looking online.

But, although worthwhile advice, I still think the process is rather time consuming and costly. It just doesn't resonate to me how the busy lifestyle of a business owner has the time to put into this.

Of course, hence our work at MerchantCircle; we do all the complicated stuff here for you. You create the ads, we initiate the buys, we send you tracking reports, and you can tweak your campaigns based on performance. Also, we incorporate all the major ad networks and more for about a quarter of what it would cost to get you in the Yellow Pages.

Sweet deal if you ask me :)


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Abandoned Yellow Pages

So I walked out of our office today after a pretty tough set of discussions (well, one was great with one of the big search marketing networks) and there in the middle of the parking lot was...inspiration.

Another abandoned Yellow Pages sitting there all alone in the parking lot in Los Altos. I quickly took a picture with my camera phone and shared it with my team. This of course reminded me of how much like the Yellow Page companies of today, Kodak and others kept telling everyone; "we are not going anywhere, we have been around for ever and we are better". Well today there are 10 times as many pictures taken with Mobile Phones than are taken with camera's. The Yellow Pages industry is structurally unsound. It will collapse.

On another note, we just pushed several new features and improvements to our site. Take a look at the new feature set in case you've missed it.

All New Picture Showcase -

A picture is worth 1,000 words and we've incorporated a great new way to showcase your business. Pictures of yourself, location, employees, offerings, and most of all your happy customers are now easily viewable on your merchant profile for all to see. And, that's not all! The latest pictures are also showcased on neighborhood pages for the community to marvel. So upload upload upload and get your business noticed with this great new feature.

Community Bulletin Board -

Have an offer you want the community to see? Well, we just completed development of MerchantCircle's virtual bulletin board for communities: Just like the bulletin boards you see at family centers, restaurants, and libraries; you can post whatever you like. Have something to sell? Post it! Have a job offer you want listed? Post it! Want to advertise your business in other communities? Post it!

Monthly Email Reports -

We all know measuring leads is key to proper advertising and so we've included a brand new email report sent directly to you. This monthly activity report will inform you on the latest happenings of your MerchantCircle listing; everything from your profile traffic, to consumer ratings, and reviews all rolled up into one valuable report. Along with this vital information we include tips and suggestions to attract even more customers to your doorstep. So be on the look out for your monthly activity .


Friday, June 23, 2006

Local Matters

One of our engineers pointed me to an interesting article in an older copy of ODE magazine. The article is titled "Local Matters". Although written in February of 2005 it has some general insight and a few astonishing facts I'd love to point out.

Apparently it references a small business in Powell, Wyoming that has managed to stay alive in the aftermath of a Wal-mart store nearby. According to the magazine, "Powell Mercantile, a small clothing store has basically accomplished the impossible".

How you might wonder?

Well, it appears that Powell Mercantile beat the trend because it is owned by the community itself; 500 citizens put up money to launch the store because they didn't' want to see their Main Street boarded up. Now that's what I call banding together against the big box.

This is especially astonishing when in Iowa alone, Wal - mart has bankrupted 555 grocery stores, 298 hardware stores, 293 building supply stores, 161 variety stores, 158 women's clothing stores, 153 shoe stores, 116 drug stores, and 111 men's and boy's clothing stores in a ten year period.

Wow!?! That's just down right crazy considering the relatively small size of Iowa.

We shouldn't stop their either; among the job losses you also have drastically changed economies, higher pollution, and of course more traffic. But, what hurts the most is the community culture that is destroyed. Where is the "feel" of your town? What great spots are located where you live? Who are your community figures? Or is it all lost in the monotonous look and feel of corporate super stores?

Anyway, I'm pleased to see at least one small business has made it through this unbearable gridlock. Much like the citizens of Powell uniting to keep their store alive, MerchantCircle is aiming to put itself in front of these kinds of situations. We firmly believe that by uniting together, merchant to merchant, you can drive a much stronger force when faced with this type of adversity.

I'd love to hear about any other stories out there on merchant triumphs or better yet any current battles going on and how we might help. Leave me a comment or send your thoughts to and I'll get right back to you ASAP.

Let's keep our neighborhoods, ours!


Thursday, June 22, 2006

The importance of blogging

Time and time again we stress the benefits of blogging. It's just such a great way to reach out to an audience, cheaply and effectively.

The Creativity Factor just posted a great little piece on the benefits here. Great stuff! We agree 100%.

So for merchants out there wondering about blogging; increase your traffic, grow your consumer base, and promote your deals today all through blogging on MerchantCircle.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Small Business, Big Bucks

BusinessWeek has a great article on the Local Internet market and how Google, Yahoo!, The Yellow Pages, and entrepreneurs like us are all trying to grab a piece of the 15 billion dollar market.

Who can blame us when according to comScore Networks, search engines are already attracting 66% of online local-search users, while the Yellow Pages listings get 34%. These are pretty drastic numbers in my opinion and that's not all, check out this exert from the article.

"Researchers at Kelsey Group predict $3.8 billion of Yellow Pages money will move online by 2008. To put that in perspective, the total Internet ad market was $9.6 billion last year. "The local search market should be larger than [Google's] other markets because most people's purchases are local," said Eric Schmidt, Google's chief executive, at an investor conference on May 25."

Interesting stuff! We're pretty much at the birth of the Local Internet and seeing what may come is definitely exciting.

But, what's more important are that the millions of consumers online looking to find relevant local information will have the tool they need and that the millions of small businesses will have the channel to reach them.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Local and Free DA

"The services' national focus enables them to have an easier time of populating their ad inventory, using Pizza Hut and other national companies. Pierz notes that 1(800)San Diego has the best quality service in many regards, and attracts 650,000 users a month. But it has had trouble selling enough ads in the 16 communities it serves to break even.

Going forward, The Pierz Group suggests that the Free DA providers must focus on local sales channels if their ads are to be relevant to users, and if the services are ultimately to succeed."

Local is 'Critical' for Free DA(Directory Assistance)

I believe this is the issue for a number advertising services that have a great opportunity to provide value to the Local Merchants, if they don't develop an effective channel to 1, 2, 5M merchants they will be missing a big opportunity. We remain convinced that this channel has to be a new channel and will not be the yellow pages sales force. Check out the results Jingle is seeing in the space.

On another note, I spent some time with Auren Hoffman who is on our advisory board as he was at Spoke. He is always good for a few insights and a fun guy to spend time with. I think he really understand some of our novel approaches to bringing 1, 2 or 5M local merchants online so they can better capture the opportunity to leverage the Local internet for advertising. As we discussed the different ideas on how to help merchants better express themselves, I became more convinced that providing merchants even easier opportunities to share their views was important to the company.

Auren also had an opportunity to update me on Rapleaf. I think Auren is taking on an important enemy with Rapleaf, the evil minority who use the anonymity of the web to create havoc. His very simple reputation system will help things like Craigslist go even further by helping people have more comfort about the person they are dealing with. It is still early and there are lots of challenges but Auren is tackling an important problem with passion which is the most important step in building a great company, in my humble opinion


Friday, June 16, 2006

Merchant Safety

Here at MerchantCircle we work hard to make our members more visible on the web. And it works. Our merchants see massive increases in their local visibility on the web within days of signing up with us. Frequently they can be found more easily because MerchantCircle local profiles appear among the top links in search engine results. We want to drive as many customers to our members' businesses as we can. However, some local searchers, not surprisingly, are not prospective customers. They're folks wanting to sell stuff - or even scam - our visible members. This seems to be just a trade off of being a highly visible business on the web.

Nonetheless, we want to help our merchants avoid scammers. In our book, they're not much better than Tony Soprano. There are a plethora of Internet scams, and we want to help you avoid them. Here's a list of Internet scams that our merchants should look out for as well as measures to take if they feel they're being taken advantage of:

1. Internet Advertising Hoax: Beware of companies wanting you to purchase Internet advertising packages. These companies frequently call prospects directly because they're promising to increase your traffic -- guaranteed. Of course, no one can guarantee results. Not even us. And that's why their pitches arrive via phone, because putting that guarantee in writing would expose their nefarious practices.

2. Phishing Scams: Phishing is the term used to describe criminal attempts to fraudulently acquire sensitive information, such as password and credit card data, by pretending to be a trustworthy business or official communication from a business you may know. If you're contacted by someone requesting billing information or other account details, stop. Never give out sensitive information. At MerchantCircle, we only request identifying information at signup, and we don't contact our merchants for additional updates. If you have any issues with billing or any other information, please contact our support team at

3. Fake Prizes: We love to show our appreciation to all our merchants from time to time, and so we often give away prizes randomly. However, when receiving a notification of your prize, you'll rarely be contacted by phone and most importantly you'll never be asked to divulge personal information, such as your credit card details. If someone contacts you claiming to be a MerchantCircle representative, they can easily be spotted as fake if they ask for personal information.

We're excited by the opportunities the Local Internet offers to local businesses. That's why we started MerchantCircle - because we want to see local businesses thrive by leveraging the Internet to drive more local customers to their businesses. When it comes to scammers, however, we have zero tolerance. If you feel you may have been contacted by a scammer, report it to us at Include as much information as possible so we can track them down. We'll fight on your behalf and on behalf of all our merchants.


Thursday, June 15, 2006

Guerrilla Marketing Expert Advice: Go online and focus on a highly targeted market

Jay Conrad Levinson, ad agency veteran and author of Guerrilla Marketing: Secrets for Making Big Profits From Your Small Business, cautions that radio, TV and metropolitan newspapers are far too expensive and unfocused for most businesses. Instead, he sends business owners online for less expensive and far more effective LOCAL customer acquisition. The one-two punch to drive more business? Post a succinct description of your businesses, complete with contact details, and offer free information to your customers.

Read more about Levinson's book in Scott Reeves' review from

Join Now to create a business listing and share your expertise with your own blog.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Time Saving Results

MarketingSherpa released a rather interesting study on local advertising with Google. I found this extremely interesting because of the elaborate amount of time it took, or for that matter, that anyone would have to take not using MerchantCircle to generate a web presence.

Take a look at the steps they had to do to generate some traffic to their business.

Talk about intensive and I highly doubt merchants have the 10 plus weeks to devote to doing something like this. This all just signifies the beauty of MerchantCircle even more.

With a MerchantCircle account, you can accomplish a lot of this up front and can gain even more with our additional tools and services. Not only do we focus on Google but we also run ads with Yahoo and don't forget our own ad network of merchants sharing deals. We also have the ability to create coupons instantaneously and best of all, all these advertising avenues are tracked in our system, which provides you with the details you'll need to measure the effectiveness of each campaign.

Check out Cambric of Los Altos, by having fresh content on their site and by utilizing all the features of their account they're continuously showing up on both Google searches and Google local queries all from our FREE account.

Imagine what kind of results you can gain from one of our premium accounts.


Sunday, June 11, 2006

Social Media and MerchantCircle

Update 6/16/06: Great article just released on Small Business Trends: MySpace, Not Much Value to Most Small Businesses

I want to take a bit of time to explain social networking online. Being of the MySpace generation it's been obvious to me what these networks can ultimately become and hence the value I see for merchants using MerchantCircle. However, for business owners not of the generation, it leaves a bit to be explained on how a site much like MySpace aims to help grow their business and build their relationships. Granted today's plethora of social sites are centered on youth culture, but the tools and communication that is happening within these sites cannot be ignored for other markets (ie. MerchantCircle). I recently stumbled onto an interesting article on the growth of these communities online. Most interesting about this article is the fact that these tools are assimilating outside of youth culture and presenting themselves in other business markets.

So if you take a look at what the youth are doing on sites like MySpace and then implement it for say business purposes, you have the makings of a very valuable tool. For instance, the youth on MySpace are creating content. This content comes in the form of blogs - web journals focused on issues at hand and pictures - usually to enforce the narrative in their blogs and or to create identity for the user. Among this content and the most centric part of MySpace and related sites is their unique ability to build and expose relationships online. Now it's here that the value resides. Users of MySpace and the like are creating unique content to share with their friends, family, and acquaintances online.

Keeping this in mind, let's shift for a moment back to MerchantCircle. Much like MySpace we bring the same ideas but to local businesses. Each individual merchant can create unique content; blogs, pictures, newsletters, coupons, and advertisements for their relationships online. A merchants relationships can consist of it's customers but also of fellow business owners, whom they promote, send referrals too, and overall just support in the community. So much like the youth creating for friends and family, merchants are doing the same. It's this network, this referral mechanism that helps make MerchantCircle great. This aspect combined with additional tools and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) help merchants connect and grow online without the complexities of promoting and building their own website. It's all about using current tools to simplify the web.

Simplicity is always much better, especially when you have a business to run.

I hope this act's as a better explanation to merchants trying to understand social networking online. I'll be glad to expand further if you have any more questions. Just leave me a comment and I'll get back to you ASAP.


Friday, June 9, 2006

MerchantCircle Launch Party

MerchantCircle had it's quiet launch party last night in downtown Los Altos. It was a great event with family and friends.

A bunch of people who had been at Spoke were there, including a couple of my favorite investors from Spoke; Rob Thies and Philippe Cases along with some of our current investors like Sharon and her family from B of A and Mark Menell from Rustic Canyon.

We also had a couple of our local merchants attend, Cambric, Delegate to Me, and Intero Real Estate Services joined the festivities. A group of people from Topix were there as well. Skrenta always has something to say interesting that make me stop and think. Chris Kelly, who is now with the Facebook but former GC and CPO from Spoke was there as well. Prasad who also worked with me at Spoke attended. It was great to see him at Cydelity where I am fortunate to be on the board and had just had a major win in online fraud protection. There were also a bunch of other people there as well including Mike, Joe and Arin who worked with me at Spoke and are now at Topix. On another note, Topix just launched some really interesting things in the classified space and we are looking forward to getting our merchants the ability to advertise there as part of our bundles.

The evening was particularly exciting because some very interesting things had just went live with one of the map services from a big search engine right before the event. I am not going to talk a lot about it because I don't want to mess it up, but we're excited they had taken our idea on what to do with our RSS feeds and implemented it. Now, they did not tell us and we found it by chance, but it was still great. Let's just say if you are a merchant getting other merchant reviews, having coupons and having consumer reviews; it is a very good thing.

As the night was coming to a close and as we were washing the dishes- or should I say as David was washing them, we had some great discussions about how to better help merchants leverage all of the picture content they are putting on the site. I expect some amazing things out of the team in this area during June. I am sure you all have great ideas on what we should do as well. Send them in...we all know that you guys are the ones who know what we should be doing.

p.s. check out the pictures from the launch here.


A few questions answered

A few questions have been floating around on other blogs lately, namely about Yahoo and our exit strategy. I thought I'd clear up a few of the questions.

Were you aware of Yahoo! Local Listings as you developed your product?

We were very aware of Yahoo Local when we created the product.---How could anyone miss the ads in the Wall Street Journal trying to get people to use it. But serious, we believe that bringing the Yahoo inventory and visibility opportunity to our Merchants is an important part of our solution. As you noted, we already make sure our pages are being picked up by the search engines since this where were Local Consumers often first enter the Local Internet.

Part of our current paid programs includes Yahoo Search marketing. We continue to work to expand this with Yahoo and other sources of great opportunities to be visible on the Local Internet for our Local Merchants. Paul Levine and his team at Yahoo are doing some great things. We hope to continue to expand that dialogue so that when we bring 5M merchants online, Yahoo is part of that solution.

What's your exit strategy?

Our goal is simple, we want to bring every small merchant online. Every small merchant from Mom and Daughter carpet cleaners who can't afford the Yellow Pages, to the corner Pizza joint who is wasting money on an ad in a book that in a couple of years no one is going to open. We want to do it because it creates an enormous opportunity for Local Merchants to use their one advantage that Starbucks and Wal-Mart, they are Local and they understand and value the Local Community. We don't think about exit strategy (ok so maybe late at night- say 3am when we are trying to get to sleep), we think about getting to every local merchant from Soldotna to Fairhope.


Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Why Merchants Join MerchantCircle

Kate Kaye of ClickZ News wrote a great article about MerchantCircle today in which she interviewed one of our customers, Mark Cermak of EcoClean Carpet Care, about his experience to date with MerchantCircle. For me, her article brings to light a couple of key points:

1. Local businesses, like Mark's, are abandoning traditional advertising vehicles like "newspaper classifieds and Yellow Pages" for online advertising.

2. Businesses are integrating MerchantCircle into their other online marketing efforts; in Mark's case, "a separate Web site and . . . . online press releases.

3. Merchants are willing to pay for online advertising, even when the results are so far somewhat unclear, because intuitively they know it works.

4. Certain providers, like Jingle and Quigo, "get it" and are modifying their business models to serve local advertisers in similar fashion to the "big boxes" that were previously their main customers.

For me, this article helps to highlight why we've been able to grow to more than 5,000 merchant customers nationwide in only a few short months. Early adopters, like Mark, understand that Internet advertising delivers better results than the Yellow Pages, they understand that MerchantCircle will increase their online visibility and provide them access to networks previously reserved for the Wal-Mart's of the world, they are willing to make a monetary investment in order to compete with the big guys online, and they are happy enough with us that are telling their friends (most of our growth comes through referrals!)
Because of great merchant advertisers, MerchantCircle has been growing faster than we had ever imagined possible. Thousands of merchants become members of "The Circle" each month, and we are always on the lookout for more: more merchants to serve and more partners to help us serve them.

To date we've provided many services for our local merchants and have lots of valuable ideas for the future. What are your thoughts?


Monday, June 5, 2006

MerchantCircle Official Launch

Today, we officially launched MerchantCircle, letting the world know we've found a path to an answer to the question that has stumped many a local advertising expert ... How do you connect the 10 million local businesses in the U.S. with the $97 billion local advertising market? We believe we have a better answer than the current approaches.

Over the past few months, with the help of our members, we've been refining our service. The response has been outstanding. We are blowing past our goal to have 5,000 local businesses joined when we started, and they're actively building their business networks by inviting other businesses in their communities to join, too. Our members are also advertising and expressing themselves online, using a wide range of tools we offer, including blogging, online coupons and keyword advertising. They are also reaching out to their favorite consumers to get them involved.

Take a look for yourself at several local businesses with fabulous listings on MerchantCircle.

Several bloggers and reporters have already featured MerchantCircle this morning:

  • Rafe Needleman, CNet, "MerchantCircle: World's Easiest Small Business Web Sites", "At its free service level, MerchantCircle is absolutely worth a try for any small business. But the free product is just a tease. For $29.95 a month, MerchantCircle will put one paid ad a month on engines like Google and Yahoo."

  • Mike Bazeley, SiliconBeat, "Going Local with MerchantCircle", "The 'circle' in the company's name comes from the idea that merchants will create networks of affiliated businesses by adding their names to their profile pages and swapping ads with each other."

  • Adotas - Where Interactive Advertising Begins, "MerchantCircle Connects Local Advertisers to Local Businesses", "It's [MerchantCircle] hit the 5,000 merchant mark, a tally that's been steadily doubling every 4-6 weeks, and contains more than 14 million listings and aggregates more than 10 million RSS feeds full of local business and marketing information."

We're excited to keep bringing our members more features to help them tap into qualified traffic on the Local Internet. This is just a start! We have a long way to go over the next year to bring even a small part of our vision online. But we do everything in small steps, so you will see new stuff even later this week and a big push for new capabilities by the end of the month.

In the end it is all about what local merchants are doing on our site. Check out PJ Fitness Corp in Altamonte Springs, Florida and Humbolt County Lines Magazine in Eureka, California and see how they are using MerchantCircle to communicate with their local markets.

This is what inspires us. One thing Mary Lou Song, who advises us and helped drive listening to the community at eBay as employee #2 or something has helped us really think about is this - in the end the merchants know what they need. So, if you have ideas, let us know. You never know. We might have some of them live by the end of the week. And, by the way, I'm still looking forward to giving out the beer or Pepsi to someone who tries on the blogs and does not like it.


Saturday, June 3, 2006

Be a Featured Business

Last Thursday we sent out a special promotion to all our merchants. Just in case you missed the offer here it is again; and REMEMBER to act by June 5th.


SUBJECT: Be a Featured Business on MerchantCircle

We’d love to feature your business nationally on MerchantCircle!

Every day, tens of thousands of local customers visit MerchantCircle. And, since we’ve started our press tour to launch MerchantCircle, even more folks are checking out MerchantCircle, our neighborhood directories, and our member listings. In fact, we’ve already appeared in Business Week.

We like to show our visitors great-looking listings of local businesses, just like you. That’s why we want to make you a Special Offer – Buy a monthly subscription to our Basic package by Monday, June 5th, and have your business listing featured nationally in our Member Showcase for the month of June.

Our Basic subscription package offers you the best deal in local advertising at just $29.95/month.

With Basic, get:
• Google and Yahoo! Advertisements
• Optimized placement in search engine results
• Your ad posted on the listing of every merchant in your community
• More for your money with 4 targeted ad campaigns
• Great looking ads with custom creatives
• 10 times the reach of your newsletter

We’re only launching MerchantCircle once, so don’t miss out on this unique opportunity!

Yes I want to Buy Basic

Tell Me More


I hope to see many many participants! And, if you have any questions just drop me a comment and I'll be sure to get right back to you. Have a great weekend!


Friday, June 2, 2006

Featured Blog

The Pajama Market Small Business Blog of the Day recently featured us on their website. It's great to see that people are understanding what we do and the real benefit we are trying to provide to small businesses. It's all about being local in our eyes!

But, don't only listen to us, see what some of our own merchants are saying about the benefits of Local. Check out the Data Doctors from Phoenix, Arizona; they get the idea, great stuff guys!


Thursday, June 1, 2006

Top 5 things to building a GREAT MerchantCircle listing

We continue to see so many great merchant pages being created on MerchantCircle that we thought it would be great to share some of them as well as our thoughts into getting the most out of claiming your listing.

Here are the top 5 things to do to build a great MerchantCircle page along with some great examples.

1. Pictures, Pictures, Pictures! Everyone loves to see pictures on a website. Use this to your advantage by making use of your listing picture and badge picture uploads on your account. You can also include pictures in your blog and newsletters. The more the better! Include images of your location, yourself, employees, and your customers. Check out Majestic Art Gallery and BBQ by DeVault.

2. Affiliate! Have good things to say about a fellow merchant? Begin Affiliating and Endorsing. Not only does this boost your credibility among consumers but it provides your business with the kind words of your community right on your listing. Check out Blonde Bear Bed and Breakfast.

3. Coupons and Advertisements! Promote specials and deals with online coupons and ads. The consumers coming to your site will want to see what you have to offer. Give them a reason to drop by your store with online printable deals. These specials will also help in completing your page and providing the unique content Google and Yahoo look for in searches. Check out Jaworski Coatings.

4. Blog! Blog! Blog! Let your customers know whatÂ’s going on. Give them an insight into your operations. Blogging is a great way to initiate and carry communication amongst your consumers. Check out Cottage on Mobile Street and EcoClean.

5. READ ALL ABOUT IT!! Newsletters! Another great way to keep your audience educated is with Newsletters. This great feature of MerchantCircle allows you to start publishing quickly and easily. Start sending out Newsletters quarterly, monthly, or even weekly. Check out Mariyas Skin Care.