I just got off the phone with Walt Duflock, Director of Marketing for MerchantCircle, who told me that the site had 70,000 local businesses that had claimed their online profiles. (That’s not equivalent to paying advertisers but impressive nonetheless.)
Duflock took me through their new, expanded strategy. The most compelling piece of that strategy involves a dashboard where local merchants can see all the reviews written about them on the major review sites: Yahoo! Local, Citysearch, Yelp, SuperPages, Judy’s Book and so on.
User-generated content is here to stay and increasingly important for consumers and thus merchants as well. A Yahoo! survey (done by Harris in October, 2006 n= 2,766) found that 79% of consumers were likely to be influenced by online reviews. (Kevin Newcomb wrote up some of that data today in his SearchDay post.)
This brave new world of user reviews creates something of a problem for local businesses. Most don’t have the time/energy to effectively market themselves online, let alone manage their reputations across dozens of review sites. MerchantCircle gives them the ability to see all those reviews in a single place.
This is a timely development for MerchantCircle. I’m unaware of any other site offering a comparable service. The company then offers a range of tools and suggestions to merchants (here’s where the business model comes in) to help them try and manage and/or improve their reputations online. Of course that’s a much more complicated proposition.