Dr. Nancy Lam from Embarcadero Dentistry stars in MerchantCircle’s SF area ads.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
I have evaluated CitySearch in the recent past and found their interface to be poor and their business model sticks it to the small guy - not to mention their customer service is weak. I hope you can maintain your autonomy on this one. I smell an exit strategy and if that is true good luck(I dont blame you). It was nice to work with you.
First of all, we began this company fighting for the little guys out there - drawing from a background of growing up around family-owned businesses. The same businesses you see today that don't have the marketing and advertising budgets of say, a Wal-Mart or a McDonald's. It is because of your support, and the more-than 320,000 business owners in our network, that we innovate and think the way we do.
Our partnership with Citysearch is designed to bring you more customers, advertising options, more business neighbors in your network, and did we mention more customers? Our autonomy is never more apparent than now, as we continue to seek out new partners that will benefit and give you the lowest cost, easiest-to-use, advertising products and options anywhere on the web.
The 'little guy' isn't just you, it's us and always has been. Thank you for being part of what we have and Happy New Year to the 'little guy!'
Thursday, December 20, 2007
From the moment we decided to revamp our advertising options and products, our focus was on ease-of-use, because we realized that you have a business to run OFFline. Through our new offerings, we've given you a suite of options that will advertise for you on top consumer destination sites like Google, Yahoo, MSN, Ask and Citysearch - all with the click of a button.
Check out our press release here or find out all about our new advertising options here. We're excited about bringing you more local customers and giving you more bang for your buck.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Through one of our various business partnerships aimed at helping local business owners, Google has given us a holiday gift this year. Rather than send us little mouse pads and pens with the Google logo, this year they've sent us something far cooler.
It's through an organization called DonorsChoose.org where we'll be able to support a public school classroom of our choice. We can give books, art supplies, technology, field trips, or other resources to students in low-income communities.
As the largest online network of local business owners in the nation, who better to ask about local, then the local businesses that make up a community? That's why we're turning to you to ask for your recommendations. Please recommend schools that you know are in financial need or have had to shut down various school programs.
As a MerchantCircle network of over 300,000 members, let's give a great holiday gift this season to some deserving students in a deserving community.
P.S. Please email suggestions to Jennifer@MerchantCircle.com or post a comment to this blog.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
We made a very big announcement at the conference, the first being our partnership with Citysearch, a leading online local guide. You can read what the press is saying about the partnership, which will bring more local viewers to your MerchantCircle listing!
- ClickZ - Citysearch and MerchantCircle to Share Ad Opportunities and Content
- MediaPost - MerchantCircle Bulks Up, Scales Out with Citysearch
- The New York Times - Citysearch Partners with MerchantCircle
- Search Engine Watch - Citysearch Looks to MerchantCircle to Complete Picture
- Kelsey Group - 'Local' E-Commerce: Ready for Prime Time?
Be sure to check out all the changes on MerchantCircle as we roll out a lot of exciting new products through our partnerships with WebVisible and Citysearch.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
You can read the press release here. But don't forget to check out these two articles below that will provide a little more insight. We'll have more details coming up.....
Monday, November 19, 2007
It all comes down to the deals. The coupons. I want to get in on the action!!!!
Take a look at some of these blog posts your merchant neighbors are writing to tout their holiday deals! I'm getting in the mood already!
Thursday, November 15, 2007
For many of us, it influences our decisions and it helps us understand our surroundings as well. Here at MerchantCircle we want to keep you up-to-date with what your business neighbors are up to. That way you can take advantage of deals when they're posted and possibly learn a thing or two!
Check out the picture to the right of one of our newest features - the Neighborhood Activity Newsfeed, found on your merchant dashboard.
I gotta go now, I hear my mom calling about something our neighbors are up to.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Take some time to check them out when you get a chance. Most of it is money hoo hah, but pretty interesting:
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
From the day our first merchants signed on over 17 months ago and now almost 250,000 merchants later, we've become the largest and fastest growing network of local business owners in the nation. That's a fact we're very proud of and we take that responsibility very seriously. From the partnerships we form, to new features we implement on MerchantCircle, we want to make sure we represent you well - getting you seen by as many new customers as possible.
The web may be a complicated mix of adwords, .coms, .orgs, user-generated content, and three letter acronyms, but we want to make sure that's it not so complicated. After all, your business livelihood depends on it. More and more people are turning to the web to search for their goods and services and it's imperative you be found on top search engines. We want to help you get there, and it's a mission and view we've held steady from day one.
Our recent news, announcing another round of funding, will help us bring you more customer engaging opportunities. We've got a lot more in store for you, as we expect the MerchantCircle network to grow to 1 million merchants by next year. Thank you for all your support over the last year and a half, and we look forward to your business success.
Chairman and Cofounder, MerchantCircle
Friday, November 2, 2007
We look for the best and brightest when it comes to who we want to come work for us. Whether you own the coffee shop down the street, or the accounting firm in downtown, you want to find the people who will fit in best.
Here at MerchantCircle we're excited to announce the addition of our newest teammate - Darren Waddell. Darren joins us as the Senior Director of Marketing and brings with him a wealth of experience. (You can read the press release here.)
Darren may be starting for us at work, but when it comes to video games and Halo - he still warms the bench.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
It's increasingly important for business owners, like yourself, to be on the web and be able to engage customers old and new alike. At MerchantCircle, unlike other online directories, we offer you a listing that you can claim, upload pictures, build coupons and ads, blog, and send out newsletters to your customers - free of charge.
We're happy to announce today, that not only do you have a free web presence that lists you high on search engines, but also gives you easy access to some of the best ways to promote yourself all over the web. It's like a one-stop shop that will proactively make sure you're listed all over the web and have proven, affordable advertising options at your fingertips.
Our newest partnership with WebVisible will enhance our proven record of helping you connect with more of your local customers and fellow business neighbors.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Almost 27 years after the Rubik's Cube was released, one of our most talented engineers, Jason, has finally solved it. To the left is a picture of him as a child, when he first laid eyes on that square object of mix-matched colors. Below right is a picture of Jason seeing the Rubik's Cube for the first time with the same color on each side!
Time has not been so kind on Jason's boyish good looks, but thankfully, this achievement will keep him going for another 27 years. As for now, we're looking into whether anyone else has ever solved the Rubik's Cube.....
Congratulations Jason, from the MerchantCircle team, on this crowning achievement of your life!
Kevin and the Team
P.S. Please let us know how long it took you to complete the Rubik's Cube.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Our life of criticism and analysis has become more and more outbound. It use to be, you kept your thoughts in or shared them with friends and family. Now it's, 'I have a forum on the web.' Whether it's Myspace, Youtube or practically anywhere on the web, we're learning to be more extroverted.
We've written in the past about this wealth of outside critiques, particularly in the realm of business reviews - on our site and in general. Check out this blog post from Greg Sterling about what one business owner decided to do about a business review site, and then opened up a Pandora's Box of online dialogue - much of it, very funny.
This points us back to MerchantCircle. We remain firmly committed to ensuring business owners can engage with their customers and potential customers online - and we don't charge you for doing this. Check out the blog post and let us know what you think.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Showing up high on search engine results is almost imperative for business growth. Take for instance my experience yesterday. I was calling limo and bus services around the Napa/Sonoma Valley areas and I couldn't find any options left until the 4th page of results on Google. Can you imagine how great it must be for those transportation businesses that are listed on that first page of results - to always be sold out or utilizing all resources?
Anyway, not everyone can hire a marketing firm or search engine optimization specialists for thousands of dollars a pop. That's why we at least try to lay out guidelines that will help you come up higher in search engines - thus the 'reputation score' and 'ratings'.
Let me explain: Reputation scores, (like the one above), start off low until you create more content. Each picture you upload, coupon you build, blog you write - brings your score higher. This is to help you understand you need to create more content to get your business listing as high on the search engines as possible. Even if you have a website, it's good to list it on your MerchantCircle page - and vice versa. This is called cross-linking.
Now take a look at this picture:
This is another area where you have a reputation score. It points out whether you are listed on a number of yellow page directory sites. If you aren't, then that's one less chance for a customer to find you on the web - thus the lower reputation score. We do provide you with the links to each site so that you can take proactive steps to remedy the situation.
All of this is free. We only want to make sure that you know you have to be on the web, take proactive steps, and find new customers. We make it easy for you.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
There are few things in life that we need to be so constantly aware of - pedestrians, stop signs, spouses... not as important. But cell phones, man, how did they get to become such an integral part of our lives?
We use cell phones to keep in touch, listen to music, browse the web, check e-mail.... pretty soon they'll have a toothbrush feature complete with spray toothpaste! Anyway, there's no getting past our reliance on today's cell phone. That's why we're announcing a partnership today with Cellfire.
Cellfire is a free service that automatically delivers savings directly to consumers through their cell phones, and provides frequently updated discounts specific to that consumer's geographic area. It's like, 'hey, I'm hungry. Let me check out my deals on my cell phone through Cellfire to see if there are any food deals nearby!'
This is great news, because for you, our merchant, there's even more venues for you to reach new customers. It's even more incentive for you to build new coupons, because, afterall, who doesn't want new customers?
As technology opens our doors to new ways of finding, accessing, and processing information, local is going everywhere. Our local communities and favorite local spots are no longer confined to the streets in our neighborhood that we discover by walking around. Now local is discovered by consumers through online and mobile technologies including video, sms, and even video-games.
Hence, small business are continually finding and learning about consumer behaviors online. But how do you navigate with all the new technology options and new tracking mechanisms including call-tracking and web analytics. As a small business in a complex ecosystem of new options how do you find the right technology?
Those are the questions that we answer and continually explore to better serve our merchants. The big media giants no longer have all the answers and solutions to the pains of small businesses. For us, going to the panels and networking events thoughtfully put together by Pam and John Kelsey and their hard working team, gives us the ability to learn and connect with the right partners so that we can help local be everywhere but manageable.
Its just a matter of working together, learning from one another, and making friends a long the way.
Friday, September 21, 2007
As a generation of youths grow up searching for goods and services on the web and on their cell phones, the need for print yellow pages will decrease. We live in an ever-increasing mobile world, where we don't lug around 5 pounds of yellow pages that leave our fingers black from page-turning. Our options are abundant and the companies looking to help make this local search process a faster and easier one are also vast.
One of the biggest reasons we go to the Kelsey Conferences is because of the wonderful partnership opportunities. We have several companies we work with that help distribute the coupons you build, whether on the web, on 4-1-1 calls, or on cell phones. Our goal is to make sure that you and the other 225,000 merchants on MerchantCircle can be found all over the web and anywhere a customer may find you.
We know the web isn't an easy place to navigate, so we form these partnerships to make sure it is easier and if we can do it for you - consider it done. We will continue to learn and develop to meet your needs, taking the hard knocks from your plate. No one said it was easy finding new customers, but first, you have to step up to the plate.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
We, here at MerchantCircle, are very proud that Laura Lowell, our Marketing Specialist, has written her first book titled: 42 Rules of Marketing. You can find the website here and her company here.
Check out her book - I jokingly say that Rule Number 36 is: 'Don't hire Kevin Leu.'
Kevin and the Rest of the MerchantCircle Team
Thursday, September 6, 2007
Every morning we all have a routine we go through. We shave, we put on make-up and every once in awhile we decide to grow a mustache, change up the color scheme or we decide to wear a bag over our head. Well folks, we've changed the way our merchant pages look. It's cleaner, bolder, displays the coupons without having to click away, and has more layout and design options.
Ain't it a beaut? Not to mention our Top Merchant Badges are here and ready to go. I'm still working on getting mine, only one thing left to do...... I want it, I want it, I want it. I think I'm going to shave my eyebrows off tomorrow. Facelifts are good.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
I discriminate just as much as the next guy.
"That store had an indignant employee. That one has food that was too dry. That one has better bread than that one. That one had an uncomfortable toilet seat."
The list goes on and on.... So for all of our discriminating palates, we decided to let our merchants list their favorite stores. Afterall, if we, as customers, like the standards of a particular store - it would make sense to take notice of the stores they recommend.
Check out some of our merchants who are using one of our new 'Local Favorites' feature:
- Eagle's Space, LLC - Owosso, MI
- Family Fun Airbrush Tattoos - Martinez, CA
P.S. My favorite toilets seats are the ones that don't curve down into the toilet. It's too hard to get the sani-wrap to cover the entire toilet seat. Thank you.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Well folks, MerchantCircle is now standing tall at 200,000 business owners signed-on all over the US. While we can't say it was an easy process, we can say it's been a memorable and enjoyable one. We've created a number of new features to make sure that you can reach new customers - and old - all over the web.
As we grow, we're committed to not lose sight of what's in the best interest of you, the small business owner, and who we feel is the heart of this nation. Continue to engage your fellow merchants in our forums and make sure you know, that you'll always have a web presence with us.
Take a look at Northern Mist Gifts if you get a chance. They're out in Wasilla, AK - I couldn't tell you how to pronounce it, but just like many of you, they come from a small city. They built coupons, newsletters, and wrote blogs on their MerchantCircle page and even use our widgets on their official website.
They embody everything we envisioned for MerchantCircle when 'it was just a few hundred merchants': The mom and pop shops finding new customers and not being left behind in this digital revolution....... Now getting home from school in the snow, is a whole other story.
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
So, three weeks later I finally decided to synthesize my experience at MerchantCircle and think about answers to the questions I repeatedly get asked: "What have you learned? "Why MerchantCircle?"
In these three weeks I have learned that one of the most important things is to know your customer. As a new business grad student I learned that understanding local business is pivotal, and something we work hard at. And when I say understanding our industry, I mean getting to know what merchants like, what they don't like, what is important to them and their customers. That is why we are such a big family and growing- almost at 200K merchants!!
I also learned that with passion and determination there is nothing you can't learn and change fast! Part of getting to know your customer is the discovery process. At MerchantCircle nobody takes that for granted and learning about merchants, is a dynamic process in which gathering feedback, developing solutions, and executing fast are what makes our relationship work. On a personal note, this is what I was taught at the d.school at Stanford and what makes working for a startup so exciting...
I also finally understood that local businesses are at the core of our day-to-day lives, like family and best friends...you can't live without them. Local businesses are like our good old neighbors. However as children play video games and adults become dependent on the internet, we no longer take time to stroll around the neighborhood and get to wave at our neighbors. Instead, we email, chat, and find them on Google maps. That is why we must seek to keep our local communities alive as an extension of our lives, which nowadays translates to being online and adopting new technologies.
So, in saving the best for last, I can now answer why I like MerchantCircle. I love the people, their energy, good spirit, determination, and creativity. I love our merchants, who are passionate about their work and about caring for their customers like they care for their families. At MerchantCircle every day brings a new challenge and a new laugh, but I also know that everyone is working towards the same goal. What is there not to love?
Thursday, July 26, 2007
I love you.... no, not you.... you over there. Ahhhh, what the heck, we should spread the love all around! It's clear there's a lot of networking and business partnerships being formed on our network and we're excited to be a part of it. Business owners continue to use MerchantCircle to recommend their favorite businesses to their customers.
People helping people - it's one of America's most endearing characteristics.
We wanted to show our appreciation for the praise you've heaped on us, (you can read them here), and as part of our ongoing efforts, we're recognizing the business owners who exemplify our network of 170,000 strong.
Read about our latest highlight merchant, Angel's Affordable Web Design, here.
Monday, July 23, 2007
This growth means a stronger network of merchants for you to network with as we continue to be the fastest growing and largest online network of business owners in the country. Many of our merchants are finding new customers by customizing their pages and showing up higher in search engines. Don't forget to keep adding new content, like pictures, building coupons and writing blogs - all of it helps.
Friday, July 20, 2007
We have some of the coolest features in the works set to debut this summer, which explains the lack of recent blog posts. It’s super busy and really exciting around the office. Our 3 new employees and intern are now fully in the swing of things and the team gave the okay on releasing some advance buzz on one of our newest features.
You may already know about our MerchantCircle forums, where small business owners across the country are helping each other and trading ideas, but we’re going to take it to the next level - the local local level that is, or hyper local. Now that we have merchants in almost every city in the US, we know that there’s a real need for merchant discussion within cities.
Our city pages to begin with are pretty cool, take for instance this one in Colorado Springs. You can see all of the city's coupons, blog posts, top merchants and ads, but now they'll be even more informative as community members and business owners can post anything going on in the community. Say for instance a street fair, or block party, or maybe a huge sale, you can post whatever you want. Look for this interactive community engagement to be released over the next few weeks.
Let us know what you think as we make your community the strongest it can be.
Friday, July 6, 2007
As you may know, around here in Silicon Valley, there's a friendly rivalry between the two schools. What's great about adding these two members is that now we can represent more colleges around the nation, including Northwestern, LSU, University of West Florida, UC San Diego, UC Davis and even lowly Santa Clara (just kidding).
Let me take a few moments to introduce Irit Epelbaum who joined us from the Stanford Graduate School of Business where she completed her MBA. She got her Bachelor's in Economics from Yale University. Which translates to - she's much smarter than me. Not that that's any kind of achievement.
Irit will be focused on getting you, our merchants, more customers through our subscription plans. We're proud and excited to have her on board. But we're not done yet, our team is growing to make sure we continue to be the best place for a business to find new customers. Take a look at another of our job openings by clicking here. (If it says 'looking for Community Relations Manager,' I'm in trouble.)
Recently, we've also started to make sure we profile more of our 150,000 merchants. Take a look at this press release to see what I mean.
Saturday, June 30, 2007
Alright, I've already been called narcissistic, so what have I got to lose? So at least several times a day, I Google my name - Kevin Leu - it's a good name. And for awhile I was running second in search results to some champion, child-prodigy flutist from San Diego. There were many nights when I hoped that he would give up the flute and do something more practical with his life, like gardening. Or maybe he could be like a normal kid and play video games all day long or other teenage activities like sitting in shopping carts while getting pushed at full speed into bushes.
Since this kid wasn't going anywhere, I started to think to myself, I have got to do something noteworthy so that I don't lose the battle of supremacy for the name, Kevin Leu. For example, can you imagine what it must have been like to be the other Howard Stern, Howard K.? I was not going to go through life as the other Kevin Leu; this was war!
Right off the bat, I had heard that linking to a site helps bring it up higher in search engine results. Linking is what I'm doing here, with my profile from my last job at Newscenter in Columbus, OH. It's when you create this link going from one website to another that apparently helps out these search results. So I did that a few times from this exact blog and waddya know? My Newscenter bio was starting to come up higher than that champion flutist.... I can't remember his name.
Well this wasn't half bad. I decided to create a blog recently off Blogger - an excellent resource (you can see my blog by clicking here), and start a company, Kevin Leu Productions and Public Relations (don't tell my bosses). Of course I used MerchantCircle to start my business presence on the web (you can see my business here), and I use our blog services as well to write about my business methods. One of the cool things that MerchantCircle lets you do is include all the links you have from any other websites. So I started to cross link all of them - my Myspace profile, my Linkedin profile, my Facebook profile, my blog, Silicon Valley Bachelor, and my MerchantCircle page.
One day later, I checked in and I was flabbergasted! I was now the top 4 results after I Googled my name and 5 of the top 10! I couldn't sleep that night for at least an hour (but then afterwards I slept very soundly, thanks for your concern). Man this was cool stuff. But now let me move on to you, (begrudgingly - I am narcissistic afterall). What this means is that by following some of the steps we lay out for you when you sign up on MerchantCircle, you too may be the most famous Kevin Leu....errrr, I mean the most popular business in local search results. Be on all the different sites that we list for you on your dashboard and link them together. Write blogs and fill in the keywords. And keep tabs on where you show up on Google. It's fun. Believe me - I do it several times a day.
Until next time, sincerely,
(The More Famous One)
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
After hitting our One Year Anniversary since we launched, it's time to take a look back. When MerchantCircle launched in June of 2006, we had 5,000 business owners signed-on. Today, that number stands at 145,000!
We've added a number of new features over the course of this year to help you find more customers and have a more rewarding web experiences. Features that enable you to track what customers are saying about you on the web, features that allow you to engage and communicate with business owners all around the country, features that let you customize your MerchantCircle listing, and features that let you network across the web.
We've added a number of partners to enhance your listings and make sure that the content you create, including coupons and ads, are seen all across the web - not just on MerchantCircle. Those partners include Jingle, Judy's Book, Oodle, Edgeio, Local.com, Topix and yes, Google.
For our efforts and yours, we've been recognized by BusinessWeek, Entrepreneur, CNet, ZDNet, AlwaysOn, and TheStreet.com TV among others. It's merchants like European Esthetics and Wellness, Wedding Supplies Unlimited and Higgy's Pizzeria that make us proud that we can give hundreds and thousands of customers a month access to these business owners.
Does all this activity make us less motivated for our second year? Not at all. We've got a ton in store for you this next year, much of which we're excited to unveil, because we know this will help you maximize your web potential on the web. Also look for us to pass a quarter of a million merchants signed-on this summer!
Many of our local merchants and partners will be joining us this Thursday evening as we celebrate a successful first year. Send me your email and I'll send you details. In the meantime, thanks - for everything.
Friday, June 22, 2007
With 140,000 merchants signed-on to our network, fortunately I'm able to practice my 'love' all the time. A few days ago, Lidia, from Lidia's Skin Care in Palo Alto, dropped by the office. While we don't normally have very many merchants showing up on our doorstep, it was a pleasure to meet with Lidia and talk about her MerchantCircle account. Lidia has almost no computer experience - which means we got along just fine. After several hours, I helped her include a link to her other website on her MerchantCircle page. At that point, I collapsed in exhaustion.
I think Lidia has a sense now of how to customize her page and create some cool content.
And today, Ryan helped out AJ from Hypnotic Salon & Spa in Las Vegas who called up and asked to find out more about how our pay packages can help bring him more customers. You get a heck of a deal for free, being able to customize a search engine optimized page, track all the reviews about your business on the web, communicate with business owners all across the country, but more importantly, connect with customers on the web. Our pay packages on the other hand, essentially take the pain out of figuring out how to advertise on Google and Yahoo and a number of different venues - we do it for you.
Feel free to contact us, I got plenty of 'love' for you all. (Non-creepy love that is).
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
One of our first blog posts ever was titled "The Little Man" and quoted Alan Jackson's song of the same name. At 140,000, something is being done for the 'little man'. Alan Jackson says it best in his beginning monologue - we couldn't agree more.
Here's to the LITTLE MAN.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
We've always been huge fans of our Real Estate Merchants. They routinely do everything they should to make sure they're everywhere on the web - and that customers are finding them. Merchants like Mission Grove Realty, Pam Westman and Steve Mun are great examples with great MerchantCircle listings, complete with constantly updated content (blogs, pics, coupons).
Recently, Joel Burslem wrote about us on his popular website and blog - Future of Real Estate Marketing. You can read the blog here. It's filled with information and technology that helps real estate professionals. Joel also recently invited us to join a panel of experts at this year's Real Estate Connect Conference being held in San Francisco.
We look forward to the discussion topic: "Social Networking: New Ways to Participate and Prospect". Our Co-Founder and Chairman Ben Smith will engage with reps from Zillow, PropertyQube and Fatdoor. We're excited, not only to be representing MerchantCircle, but to represent what MerchantCircle has become - you, our merchant base. We, as a group, are the largest online network of small business owners in the country. More than 130,000 strong! We will continue to look out for your best interest.
Monday, June 11, 2007
If you don't know, PayPerPost, ReviewMe and CreamAid are all pay for blog sites. You can check out the controversy on TechCrunch and ValleyWag. I decided to check out these sites on behalf of you, our merchants, who have asked whether paid blogs are a viable avenue in online marketing. We realize as the largest online network of business owners with over 130,000 signed-on in just one year, that we have a huge responsibility to take proactive steps to see what could work and what couldn't work for you in online marketing. It's a responsibility that we take very seriously.
I simply went to each of these sights mentioned and entered a campaign requiring a blogger to include a link to MerchantCircle.com and their favorite businesses in their area. Two of those chosen were Wedding Supplies Unlimited and Small Wonders Imaging. Average cost? About $10 a post.
First of all, let me critique these sites. PayPerPost, while the most popular and written about service, was by far, the most frustrating. I had several of my campaigns rejected because of the regimented nature of creating a campaign. Not only that, some of my queries took two or more days to be answered - some I'm still waiting for. (One e-mail question went like this: "Is anyone there?" - No answer.) The best part about PPP was that you could actually choose the minimum page rank of a blogger, how long the blog had to post for and even an Alexa rank. Of course, all of this raises the minimum suggested price. And believe me, I tried to lowball the heck out of them. Once I got going though, the quality of the blog posts were pretty good and consistent. They had depth and you could tell some research was done.
ReviewMe took a little while to approve my campaign, but the cool thing was you could rate and review the blogger who took you up on the offer. They even made it easy to flag a blogger who didn't follow directions. No word on what actually happens to these bloggers though. Overall, I saw some of the best blogs posts from ReviewMe and some of the worst. Although an e-mail about not having to pay these bad bloggers was quickly answered. One drawback, I get the feeling that ReviewMe does not have a large stable of bloggers since they took the longest to reach the maximum number of posts.
CreamAid was one of the easiest to get started. I don't even remember having to be approved - my campaign started almost immediately. And CreamAid had my number one favorite feature by far - you chose whether or not to purchase a blog after reading it! (How great would that be for dating? "Um, I don't think this is going to work out. I'm not paying for this dinner.") This feature was extremely relevant for this site though, a number of blogger were just flat-out awful. Broken English, grammatical errors, and sometimes a complete copy of another offered blog. I would say 70% of the bloggers on this site don't reside in the U.S. But hey, you don't have to pay them if it's not what you're looking for.
My results were inconclusive. I didn't see an immediate change in the businesses that bloggers chose to write about. Many of the MerchantCircle business pages they chose were already well-placed on search engines. I didn't ask the bloggers to write favorably about businesses, but almost all of them did - at least proving that customer service is not a lost art. Now if only those Swedes would take a cue or two and allow international returns.
P.S. This blog post was paid for by ValleyWag - with fierce competition from TechCrunch who ultimately refused to meet my $3 demands.
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
It's so true though. The Borat routine is getting to be a tired one amongst inebriated friends. I don't even feel the need for a courtesy laugh anymore. Nonetheless, Borat would "like" our new features.
For instance, we added the option to include more links on your MerchantCircle page. We realize a lot of you are on a number of different networks - and you should be. Now a customer finding you on MerchantCircle can find you every other place you're at. (Just watch your back when you're in the John. And don't drop the soap!)
Another new feature is our 'Local Plus' meaning you can now find customers outside of your business area. So if you're located in Fort Worth, you can add an extra city to your search parameters. In this case, you'd almost certainly want to add Dallas so that customers can find you in search engines while looking for businesses in Dallas.
And widget mania is not over. Thanks to an overwhelming response to the original release, we're adding a coupon widget as well as a blog widget. That is freakin neat! I can't wait to see what cool things you guys and gals will do with these new tools. Now you can have sexytime all over the web!
Friday, June 1, 2007
I decided to put a widget on this blog linking to our MerchantCircle page, where you can see all the cool reviews you've been leaving us over the last year. Those nice reviews make what we do worthwhile. You can put that same widget from your MerchantCircle page on any other website. Cheers to your business success.
Click on this logo below - see what it does. It's like a magic trick! The internet is amazing. It'll be around much longer than Tickle-Me-Elmo, or Beanie Babies - I really feel those Google boys are onto something.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Next year's presidential election is turning into one heck of a shindig! It's kind of like that feeling you get when you see an awesome movie trailer months before the premier and can't wait. (For me, it was Basic Instinct 2)
Who will it be and what will they say? Barack? McCain? Hillary? Giuliani? Edwards? Heck, I've even heard New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will run as an independent with Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel! And if that isn't enough, toss in a possible run by Al Gore (whom some insiders say is 50 - 50).
The real question is to see how crafty these candidates will be on the web. Howard Dean really set the war path - or should I say web path - in 2004, banking gobs of money on the web, when other candidates didn't even know their URL from their KFC. No doubt, they'll be on every website from Myspace to YouTube, and organize much better campaigns using web wikis. Watch out for those e-mails though, according to the Bush Administration they can be easily lost!
I've even offered John Kerry, who so far is staying out of the race, a forum to communicate to our more than 120,000 small business owners across the country - the largest network on the web. Kerry became chairman of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee this year. It's great they put people in charge who understand the plight of the small business owner.
I sent the e-mail a few weeks ago to two different e-mails, but didn't hear back. But it's okay, who knows what blue-collar activity he's up to?
At some point, our merchants will need to hear from the candidates, but more importantly, the candidates will need to hear from the more than 15 million small business owners in the country.
I'm certain we'll see some crafty web activity from the candidates over the next year and a half. I'm on pins and needles. But if you see Sharon Stone around, give me a heads up, so that I can hide all my sharp objects.
Friday, May 25, 2007
Why can't people be like 'merry Monday' or 'have a merry day at work' or even 'you're merry obnoxious'? Anyway, there's a reason I'm on such a merry trip. We were just featured in Merry Maids' quarterly newsletter in a section about how their franchises can better market themselves by signing their business onto MerchantCircle.
You can read the article in the newsletter here.
Well, we couldn't agree more! But let me show some humility here - we're flattered you included us in your newsletter and we hope that your franchisees will take advantage of all the cool tools we have to offer. There's even a forum where they can communicate with each other no matter where they are.
Merry Maids is the largest home cleaning service in the world - that's awesome. Thanks, and have a merry weekend.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
From Healing Therapeutic Massage in Claremore, OK to Wedding Supplies Unlimited in Warwick, RI, our merchants are getting more than just hundreds and thousands of impressions to their MerchantCircle page - they're definitively getting new customers. From Kelvin A. Schroeder's August Jewelers in South Milwaukee, WI to Sims Plumbing Company inc in Des Moines, IA we're bringing new businesses to the web and giving those already with a web presence more tools to play with.
10 years ago, if you asked me to upload a picture onto the computer, I would have needed someone with a computer science degree to help me out. Today, thousands of dry cleaners and contractors are uploading pictures onto MerchantCircle without any help at all. The web began as a way of bringing the globe of information to every user. It's now bringing every user a way to connect to a globe of people, either thousands of miles away or right down the street.
Small businesses create about two thirds of all new American jobs. Not only do local merchants deserve to have the local internet brought to them, but they deserve to not be strong armed into paying thousands of dollars for a print listing in the Yellow Pages. Local merchants are the key to building vibrant local communities. That's why from main street in Los Angeles to main street in Fairhope, Alabama downtown rejuvenations and redevelopments can always be found centered around small businesses.
The future for small businesses on the web is now. At 120,000 merchants signed onto MerchantCircle, we know there's legitimacy in that statement. Merchants are signing on in our nation's biggest cities, but far more frequently in cities many of us have never heard of: Van Buren, AR, Cedar Lake, IN, Lutz, FL, Parker, SD, Mcdonough, GA, Priest River, ID, Atascadero, CA and I could go on.... We are going to bring the local internet to millions of merchants, because millions of merchants today, do not have a website of their own.
As a child growing up in Alabama I learned a lot of valuable lessons from my parents which I now pass onto my own two kids. The joy of this experience is a huge source of pride for me. As I read our MerchantCircle Forum, I gain a similar source of pride watching as merchants from California to North Carolina give tips to a merchant in Florida on coming up higher in search engine results or merchants offering each other tips on blogging.
The internet is fundamentally changing how local businesses operate. Consumers can now express themselves on the web to a legion of viewers. Venues to vent about businesses continue to increase. We realized the mounting concern for merchants to keep track of every place their business shows up and what people are saying about them. That's why we introduced a feature that scours the web for all content on a business so that a business owner can take proactive steps in either changing their business practices or moderating their online reputation.
We're not done evolving because we realize the needs of a business owner are not getting any easier. Many merchants are beginning to get themselves out in a number of different forums on the web. They're creating profiles on Myspace and even Facebook, both outstanding services to network and engage, and we want to make sure their personality on the web can be found on their MerchantCircle page. We're including a section where merchants can list and link their entire web presence for a customer to see.
Web companies like Craigslist, InsiderPages, StepUp/Intuit, and Topix have set the stage for future development and innovation in the local internet space. Craigslist was one of the first websites that gave people from all walks of life a voice on the web and an easy-to-use experience that influenced a generation of potential entrepreneurs. Insider Pages taught us the relevance of finding local businesses using the wisdom of friends and neighbors. StepUp and Intuit have been making life easier for business owners to manage their store online and off. While Topix is inspiring engaging and meaningful discussion on news and events that local people have made relevant. It's exciting to be a part of the local space these days.
We share a passion for local that we believe will get us to 3 million merchants in just a few years. We want to make sure we can always deliver 5 things to our merchant base:
- A voice for them on the local web
- The ability to manage their online reputation
- Simple and effective ways to tap into the value of web advertising
- A permanent presence on the web
- The ability to engage with new and current customers online
We've been fortunate in the fact we have a small cohesive team at MerchantCircle. Everyone in the office chooses to be here, not because they need the money or couldn't find another job, but because they want to be here and believe in what we're doing. My Co-founder and I, wrote our first blog post about MerchantCircle before we launched in November of 2005. You can read it here. Not much has changed, besides the fact that the idea turned into a reality.
So as I look back, I also look forward - A vision is only so grand before something must be done about it.
Ben T. Smith, IV
Chairman and Co-founder, MerchantCircle
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
There's low-tech and then there's me; here at work they call me No-Tech. So if I get something, which isn't often - that means we're doing something right. We realize at MerchantCircle that the overwhelming majority of you did not grow up with the internet. In fact, this year's graduating high school class is the first generation of kids who can't remember being without the internet. (Don't ask me for my sources, I read it somewhere. Either that, or I dreamt it and it made a lot sense to me when I woke up.)
We're not trying to insult anyone, (unless it's me), we just realize that we have to make things easier to understand. We want you to build content on your pages so that you can appeal to customers. For that reason, we now have a getting started guide behind your Merchant Dashboard and just completed a video web tutorial that will teach you how to blog, upload pictures, build ads and coupons, and create a newsletter. I think we're pretty darn easy to use.
I was reading this article in Newsweek about a program called Y Combinator. One of the companies mentioned in the article was called Weebly. They bill themselves as the 'easiest way to create and publish a website online.' I was super stoked because I've always wanted my own website. The other thing that I took notice to, was they received funding from Ron Conway, a guy who also invested in us. For that, he's a visionary! But really, his early investments included Google and Ask Jeeves.
So I check out this site, and it took me nearly two hours to build my website. You can check out my site by clicking here. I probably could have finished quicker but the pages were slow to load and I still didn't figure out how to keep my profile picture from disappearing - which should explain the lack of a picture on my home page. I think Weebly is really cool though, just slow and definitely hard to navigate. I can't imagine what it would be like for someone new to the web. Even though they call me No-Tech, I'm still immersed somewhat in web navigation.
Websites that let you build a website are cool, but my learnings on the web still show that built-in networks, such as MySpace (friends, family), Facebook (high school and college students), LinkedIn (business professionals) or even MerchantCircle (business owners, entrepreneurs), are easier to use and much more engaging and relevant.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Back to the Top 6 - the interesting thing about that list is that two of the merchants have not claimed their business listing. Both Kimpa Sport Fishing (with nearly 12,000 visitors to their page) and Fina Oil & Chemical (more than 7,000 in the last 30 days) are the lone hold-outs. Far more interesting is the MerchantCircle algorithm that spells out higher search engine rankings for merchants who create content (coupons, blogs, ads) and link to other pages on the web. Obviously Kimpa and Fina have not done that since they haven't even claimed their page.
So why are people going to their MerchantCircle pages? Normally a business may get a huge spike like that if a major crime or controversial news story took place at the business. Or if a huge celebrity like me shows up one day......
For now, the mystery has partially been solved - they're coming up high in search engine results. In the meantime, keep creating content and linking to other web pages, because we all can't be as fortunate as Kimpa and Fina. Take a look at Small Wonders Imaging, LLC and Wedding Supplies Unlimited - they are doing a great job interacting with their customers and coming up high in search engines. As a busines owner, that's what being on the web should be about - if you're not found on that first page of results you're only hurting yourself.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
I am constantly amazed at the savvy of small business owners across the country. I'm also constantly amazed at my lack of web understanding. Since we added our new features, I now have an increased vocabulary for web terms. For instance, Widget - not to be confused with Gidget, is a web code that you can use to put something on a web page, for instance a logo, or reviews from MerchantCircle for that matter.
Take for instance Urban Sports in San Jose, CA. Their website can be found at www.urbansports.info. Check out their page and take a look at how they included reviews they got on their MerchantCircle page. That's a widget! The reviews link to their MerchantCircle page, which search engines love....
Urban Sports isn't the only one to join the Widget bandwagon.
- http://christinasensualsecrets.com/ (although you may have to get parental permission to visit this site)
Go to your Merchant Dashboard where we've included the code you need to post your MerchantCircle Widgets anywhere.
Go Widgets! (Did that sound as dorky as it reads?)
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
For the majority of tech-nerds, they can walk around talking widgets, html (which isn't short for hotmail), or C++ (which I can only relate to because it closely mirrors my letter grades in school - actually if the programming language was D-- that would probably be more accurate). Here at MerchantCircle, while we may be a part of that world, we stay deeply rooted in the world that affects you, our merchants.
Take a look at the picture to your left. That's a picture of our co-founder, Ben Smith's grandmother, in front of the Bar-B-Q restaurant his grandfather founded in Alabama. Over to the right, is a picture of the local pharmacy where Ben had his first job. (The pharmacy has since gone out of business, while Ben's Bar-B-Q continues to thrive.) While Ben has accomplished a lot in high-tech, his soul is rooted in blue-collar work ethic and the plight of small business owners.
The struggles and success of business today go into every feature we add for you on MerchantCircle. Our mindset hasn't changed since we launched last June. And there's good reason, over to the left is a picture of my dad and I in front of his burger joint. It's the place I worked at throughout high school and for weekends as long as I can remember. MerchantCircle not only understands internet, it understand business owners and their customers, because, hey, we've lived it.
I'm not only a MerchantCircle 'Executive', I'm also a client!
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
The web is the most vain place on earth. You're defined by a URL, what you do, and how you look. It's a good thing I look good! (2.3 on HotorNot baby!!!!) Since the release of our new features, parades of merchants have taken the torch. In just a few days, more than 500 merchants have customized their URL. Here's a sample:
We pushed hard for this new feature because we realized that a large percentage of our merchants were either, new to the web, using us as their main web presence, and/or finding that their MerchantCircle listing was coming up higher in search engines than their own.
Sorry - guilty as charged!
Don't worry; you can still link to your website if you've already created one. Just don't be mad at us, if you paid someone thousands of dollars, only to find out your MerchantCircle listing comes up higher in search engines! (And it cost you nothing!)
So we may not be torching our vanities just yet,( in fact, just the opposite), but hey, why fight it when it feels sooooo good to be me? (Or you, for your purposes. Although I can be bought for the right price!)
Monday, May 7, 2007
While it's always a pleasure meeting executives from a broad range of companies, spanning bio-tech to media - the true joy of this conference was chuckling at Red Herring's CEO and Publisher, Alex Vieux. Not only did he give one of the cheesiest, cliched speeches I've heard in a long time, I also question if he's got a hole in his marble sack.
Vieux made the rounds throughout the conference, toasting everyone several times personally, patting everyone on their backs, and shaking hands, as if everyone was his best friend. The worst part was when he did this DURING keynote speeches, walking in front of the podium, in front of people, walking back and forth smiling as if you were sitting there naked.
You know it's bad, when seemingly professional professionals stare at each other in mock glazes as if to say, 'what the heck is he doing?!?!' Don't get me wrong, I'm not a hater, but after reading about all of Red Herring's possible troubles, I can put together a very biased assumption of what went wrong. It's a shame too, because Red Herring has some of the classiest employees I've met.
On another note, my glass of wine at dinner never hit the bottom - so with that said, the conference was a success!!!
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Our Co-Founder Wayne Yamamoto was invited to join a panel speaking on "Search Marketing 2.0"
Here's the panel summary:
There is no question about it; search is the hottest topic in marketing. Even hotter is local search, with over 14 million SMBs missing out on the revolution, simply because they do not have a website. Even with this enormous opportunity, many brands are not taking advantage of this opportunity. What is the biggest mistake paid search marketers are making today? Will pay-per-call every truly catch on? How problematic is click fraud? Search has transformed the world of marketing and new technologies are changing the world of search. How can your company best take advantage of this transforming communication strategy? On this roundtable, a group of industry experts will analyze this ever changing landscape and help us make sense of what to expect for the future.
I think we've solved that first part of the equation. We're speaking on Thurday, here's the agenda. Stop by if you've got an extra $2,000 lying around! If not, we'll let you know how it goes from our MerchantCircle blog for free.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Every month we try to push out great new features for our merchants to enjoy and help them find new customers here at MerchantCircle. This month is no exception, we have loads to offer so take a moment, read what’s new, and start taking advantage of our new offerings.
- Custom URL – Want a shorter, easier to remember url for your MerchantCircle listing? Check out our Custom URL feature. You can claim your custom url by 1) Log into MerchantCircle 2) Click on Listing Configuration 3) Click on Edit Business Profile. From there scroll down to the Customer URL field, fill in your desired name space and click save. From then on, it’s yours. Give your new url to your customers, print on business cards, and place on any advertising you do.
- Widgets – Display your MerchantCircle colors on your personal website, MySpace page, and email signature. It’s easy, just go to our downloads page, copy the html next to the example widget and use where you see fit.
- Getting Started Guide – Have questions about MerchantCircle? We’ve compiled an easy to use Getting Started Guide to using MerchantCircle and all the features we offer to find new customers. Download here and let us know what you think.
- Better Forums – We’ve restyled our forums, added a sticky thread feature, included search capabilities, and now have the ability to assign moderators. Check out our forums today and join the discussion. And, if you are interested in becoming a moderator, drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know why you would be a good fit.
- Talk to Me - Ever wish you could interact with your online visitors? Well, we've just created a new feature called "Talk to Me". This feature establishes a 2 way dialog between your visitors and yourself on your MerchantCircle listing. Check back often to see what people are saying or asking of you. Participate regularly and it can drive even more customers through your door.
As always we’re constantly on the look out for the next wave of features to offer our merchants, so if you have feedback be sure to let us know.
I’m waiting to hear from you.
Friday, April 20, 2007
This month we have
1. Helping Friends LLC of Akron, OH
2. Lorenzo Glass Gallery of Port Royal, SC
3. J & S Roofing and Remodeling of Kannapolis, NC
4. Elaine Barnett Pet Sitting of Ruckersville, VA
5. Healing Therapeutic Massage of Claremore, OK
If you're in there area, make sure you drop them a line and let them know you found them on MerchantCircle.
I'll be following up soon with another handful, so if you think your business should be featured and or just have a great story to tell drop me a message at email@example.com.
Look forward to hearing from you!