Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Small Business Directory Inadvertently Opens Door for Competition

LOS ANGELES, CA - Like most everyone else throwing their two cents into the discussion over the 2012 edition of Merchant Circle versus the community we'd all grown to know and love, I'd like to personally take this opportunity to state on record my opposition to MerchantCircle's 2012 overhaul of the site design and functionality.

Merchants who contribute content should be rewarded for their efforts, and before January of 2012 they were. Now, our blog posts aren't even featured on our company homepage, nor are our products, photos or coupons. The fact that MC has shifted focus away from those creating content and towards those paying for placement is a move that will undoubtedly upset a number of business owners in addition to myself, opening the proverbial door of opportunity for competitors to move in on the space the old MC had occupied.

Merchant Circle's 2012 overhaul has angered users, opening the door for competitors to move in.

Instead of the 2011 profiles, which largely featured a merchant's contributions on his or her own small business' homepage on the site, those pages now have more ads to competitors' pages and websites, with only reviews displayed beneath the company bio on company homepages. The category links that once appeared on my Merchant Circle company homepage are now gone, as is the Google +1 button (although it remains on some of the pages that haven't yet adopted the new design).

Many formerly free features now cost far more than fair market value based on pricing for similar services at those few companies who do charge for them.

Rather than labor for the benefit of companies with the resources to pay to be prominently featured on my Merchant Circle company homepage that doesn't even link to my recent blog posts, photos, coupons or deals, I will instead most likely be spending more time on similar sites --- alternatives to Merchant Circle --- preferably sites that won't use bait-and-switch tactics to trick users to generate loads of free content, only to see the commercial benefit of said content be taken away from them.

One such site is called StoreBoard. At StoreBoard, you have a company profile, such as the one I have already created for
Egan Medical. Like Merchant Circle, companies get their own blog, and can add coupons, list products in the marketplace, post images, classifieds and even links to their company's respective site-within-a-site.

The company blogs are superior to those at MC as the option to add photographs to posts actually functions properly, meaning the photo actually appears, and all text and HTML show beneath the photo also appears on the page for each respective post. As most users of Merchant Circle who've tried to add photos to blog posts without completely coding the entire page from scratch, the photos usually don't appear, and all text/HTML appearing beneath the photo does not appear either. I once lost more than an hour's work because I forgot to independently save a copy of my MC blog post on my own computer, and lost it when I attempted to include a photo in the post, only to find that all photos and everything appearing beneath them just gets deleted on MC blogs. StoreBoard blogs also give the user superior formatting options compared to those offered by MC.

Here is an example post by Egan Medical Equipment about a new line of products (maternity supports, to be specific) which now are available for purchase through the company's online store:
Egan Medical Unveils New Line of Maternity Supports.

Obviously, the site is newer and not as powerful, so the benefit of your activity there won't have the immediate and meaningful impact being featured prominently at Merchant Circle once had.

In fact, each company gets its own links page, and as long as the links don't violate the company's terms of service, users can pretty much post anything they think their customers will appreciate, be it links to products, articles, news stories or whatever else might be useful.

Like Merchant Circle, all that is displayed on a given company's homepage is their bio and contact info (including website link). However, I haven't seen any ads for competitors either while logged in or out, so if they exist they're minimal and out-of-the-way, and you won't see your hard work serve to benefit a larger competitor with a bigger advertising budget.

While we're on the topic of new competitors to the Small Business Online Directory business, one not-so-new player is making a new and significant push to add features that might lure users away from competitors such as MC. Well known, established directory site Manta has added a number of features that will definitely appeal to merchants, and which are superior to the comparable features offered by MC.
Take for example this product page, which is more like a general category page about maternity supports (basically an orthopedic support for women during pregnancy) than a singular product page. The maternity supports page was recently created for a small business profile at Manta. Observe the large photo of the product, the ability to list either a singular price for a specific item or a price range for a class or group of items. Also, observe the length of the product description, which far outpaces the amount of space given by MC for product pages, and even then there were no links to the actual product page on the merchant's website. Manta has all that and more. While I'm no profit, it would seem a logical conclusion that Manta may be soon offering merchants the opportunity to blog directly from their Manta profile, which would get Manta up-to-par in terms of everyone else in the business with regard to the amount and extent of features available to merchants willing to spend their time creating content for the site for free in exchange for a small but sometimes meaningful bit of a promotional opportunity and benefit.

Unless and until Manta and StoreBoard "pull a MerchantCircle" and revokes the most appealing features of its site for the benefit of a handful of each industry's largest and richest players, I will likely be spending as much if not more time developing Egan Medical's presence within the StoreBoard community as I will continue to spend here on Merchant Circle.

I'll also stop paying for a certain Merchant Circle paid upgrade if said upgrade (they know to which one I am referring) fails to reappear on my company profile within the next 7 days.

Anyway, I hope someone at Merchant Circle is eventually made aware of all the displeasure among business owners and their respective employees about the recent overhaul of Merchant Circle's design and functionality, and I sincerely hope the big MC can get it together and make real improvements rather than changes that prey upon small business owners as much as they help them.


  1. Hi Pam. I'm reserving judgment on the changes at MerchantCircle until I see what happens. As the changes are new and still being tweaked I think it is a bit premature to come to too many conclusions just yet.

    But your article highlights something that has mystified me from the outset and that is why the focus is so much on third party websites and directories - before ensuring that the main website of the business is as tight and well optimised as can be to draw traffic - visitors - to the main event which is the website that belongs to the business and over which the owner has absolute control.

    There are many no and low cost actions that can help a website to generate visitors from the target area that can convert to sales. Too often these are overlooked while energy and frustration is directed at what is at best a support site to add a little help to the web program, not replace our own patch on the internet.

    Happy to help if you want some ideas to do that. Be well.

    1. Hi Lindy! Thanks for commenting.

      Before I respond though, please allow me to make clear that I am not Pam. My name is Peter, but most people online know me as "Fat Lester".

      I haven't arrived at a final judgment on MC's changes either, but there's no denying that the majority opinion of the regular users is one that is steadfast against the overhaul.

      The issue many people have is the use of the bait-and-switch tactic to get business owners and marketers to invest time and in some cases money on activities and/or products which were taken away from them with no warning.

      For example, I would not have published anywhere near as many blog posts at MC if I knew they'd be devaluing them as much as they could a year down the road.

      I'm pretty familiar with traffic generation. I've worked in the business for 8 years now. Back in 2006, I accidentally killed a company by generating too many sales, too quickly (although I did warn them multiple times). The problems they had fulfilling orders led to internal chaos, finger-pointing and a complete loss of employee morale - to the extent that the owner opted to close the company rather than deal with the thousands of outstanding orders his company was ill-equipped to deal with.

      Since then, I've done hands-on work for outside clients here and there, with tremendous success in each case. All are still clients, although I'm working on finding someone as good as myself to take over their accounts as I now work for my own company, and would prefer not to have the burden of managing other people's sites (ironic, I know).

      I'm always looking for outside help, so feel free to call or email me with specifics in terms of the services you offer. If I think you can help me advance my own goals, I may well take up your offer, and/or discuss whether you'd be a good fit for the accounts I no longer want (NOT because they're not profitable, but because my new business doesn't afford me the time to do them justice without sacrificing personal time, which I've done too much of over the past year).

      Visit, call the number listed (not the toll-free one), and tell Mark that Peter asked for you to call the store to get his (my) cell number.

      You've caught me at a good time, as my business is growing (thank the good Lord) and outside help is needed, at least for now.


Build Your Own Website in Minutes