Thursday, May 31, 2007

Why Fred Thompson and the Gang are Must-See-Web-TV

Fred Thompson
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?Kerry6

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.

Kevin Leu
Community Relations

Friday, May 25, 2007

Merry.... It's in the Name

If you ask me, which you probably shouldn't, the word 'merry' should get thrown around more often. I mean we only use it during Christmastime to epitomize, supposedly, one of the happiest holidays of the year. (Unless you're in college)

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.

Kevin Leu
Community Relations

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Look Back and Beyond

As we begin to approach the one year anniversary since our launch, I can't help but take a look back at all we've accomplished and what's still in store. My co-founder, Wayne Yamamoto, and I started MerchantCircle with an idea that local merchants needed a venue on the web to reach out to customers and interact with one another. Almost 1 year and 120,000 merchants later, I can say with heartfelt conviction that it's truly been a joy to see our 'idea' and our merchants prosper.

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

Cultural Learnings Make Benefit Glorious Company MerchantCircle

Borat Learnings
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.

Community Relations

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Mystery of the Top 6

If you go to our MerchantCircle home page, you can find a list of our Top 6 merchants under 'most popular'. As you may already know, we've essentially built a web page for every business in the U.S. Over 120,000 of you have already claimed your page, but keep in mind, we have over 15 million businesses on MerchantCircle. Still, even at 120,000 we are the fastest growing and largest network of SMBs on the web.

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.

Community Relations

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Gidget Mania!..... or was it Widget?

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 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.

- (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?)

Community Relations

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The MerchantCircle Club for Men, Women and Sanjaya

The high-tech, internet field is almost a world upon its own. Filled with three letter acronyms, fancy degrees that seem unfathomable, and dorks galore! MerchantCircle is a part of that world, well, except for me of course - I'm really cool.
The First Ben's Bar B Cue  Mom (Mrs  Ben Smith) and a waitress
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.
daphne pharmacy
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!
Sy Sperling

Kevin Leu
Community Relations

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Bonfire of the MerchantCircle Vanities

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!)

BonfireSo 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!)


Kevin L.

Monday, May 7, 2007

The Good, The Bad and The Very Bad of Red Herring

Red HerringWhile I can't speak much about the pinnacle of Red Herring power, I'm almost certain it's not what it use to be. I attended the Red Herring Monterey conference last week because we were chosen to speak on a panel about Search Marketing 2.0. The panel addressed concerns about businesses marketing themselves on the web and those businesses missing out, simply because they lack a website. (You can read more about the subject discussion here.)

Alex VieuxWhile 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.

Pounding WineOn another note, my glass of wine at dinner never hit the bottom - so with that said, the conference was a success!!!

Community Relations

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Red Herring Juice

While Red Herring may or may not be in default. There's still a lot of quality folks who work within the organization. They may have received some knocks on their previous conferences - particularly in Cannes, but I'm still looking forward to attending the conference starting today in Monterey, CA. (BTW, I believe everything ValleyWag writes).

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.