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Oct 2 2006
Follow-Up on Merchant Circle's Misbehavior
Last week, I got 22 comments within a two-day timeframe on a several-month-old post regarding Merchant Circle. I took all the comments off the blog after noting irregularities among them. Basically, I saw a deliberate attempt by one or more people to create a pseudo grassroots movement against Merchant Circle by writing lots of phony letters. I don�t like that.

But guess what? When it comes to Merchant Circle, it turns out there are lots of angry people. People I have known and trusted for many years wrote or called to let me know I had been overly sympathetic to the company.

Here is a note from a high-level exec in California ...

�I just saw your post on Merchant Circle. ... When I checked out the service (I signed up XXXX as a merchant) it basically spammed a bunch of nearby businesses that they had email addresses for in my name without me even knowing it.�

Here is another note from a colleague in Michigan I have worked with for many years.

�Thanks for writing this. I got one of those calls (�You have received negative comments at Merchant Circle�). I panicked and raced to the site to find it was a marketing scam. I was so mad I�ll never do anything with them for any reason.�

In fact, Merchant Circle�s marketing efforts were far more extensive and misleading than I was led to believe. But there is something else. I now believe that I overreacted by roping all the commenters in together. There were at least three real commenters buried amid the other comments, and probably more. I apologize to them, and thank them for taking the time to warn the community of Merchant Circle�s misbehavior.

Cathy Hillen-Rulloda, who runs the Avante Gardens - florals unique blog, is one of them. I previously used a portion of her comments in my post because they were the most articulate.

Ms. Hillen-Rulloda has taken my mistake in stride. She thinks this should serve as a warning to small businesses that want to be taken seriously to start using their own domain names. �I�m not surprised that IPs and emails of small business owners didn�t jive. Heck, I see local florists using Hotmail, AOL and Yahoo email addresses on their sites � hardly professional or confidence inspiring to a consumer,� she wrote in an e-mail.

�Many small local businesses have a long way to go,� she continued. �It's too bad Merchant Circle couldn't figure out a way to demonstrate how they'd help � instead of using the fright tactics.�
Blog: Local Media Blog
posted by  Peter Krasilovsky at  22:17 | permalink | comments [29] | trackbacks [2]

Oct 2 2006
SES Local: The Long Tail in a Yahoo!/Google World
There is vast opportunity for local niche players in a world that is otherwise dominated by the leading search engines. Moreover, the emergence of search, in all its variations, creates a wealth of local inventory for advertisers smart enough to pursue it. All this, according to speakers at Chris Sherman�s SES Local Conference in Denver Sept. 28. The 10-panel conference had about 225 attendees.

While 85 percent of local searches goes to the top 10 sites, 15 percent goes to niche and regionally strong local search sites, noted Localeze�s Gib Olander. �There is a long tail,� he said. �It is hard to cover all the sites offering local search.�

Marchex�s Gary Roshak echoed the gist of Olander's comments. �There is life after Yahoo! and Google, with plenty of inventory,� said Roshak, referring to the inventory shortage that typically affects major search engine categories. He added that the narrower focus of specialty sites � especially the localized domains that Marchex has been gobbling up � has become �increasingly relevant. Seventy percent of users type in URLs directly, rather than taking links from a search engine or from bookmarks.�

To LocalLaunch President Justin Sanger, the issue isn�t so much an inventory shortage as the challenge of integrating inventory with the needs of the advertiser � something that a consultative Yellow Pages sales force is especially well positioned to provide. LocalLaunch, of course, was recently sold to R.H. Donnelley.

With SEO, SEM, Pay Per Click, Pay Per Call, Profiles and other newfangled ad platforms, advertisers need to �productize their inventory,� said Sanger. �This requires blending mixed buys, pricing efficiencies, and data transfer efficiencies.�

The problem, however, is that many sites haven�t stepped up to the plate, technologically, and are unprepared. �Some organizations haven�t even put their APIs in place,� Sanger complained.

Local Matters CEO Perry Evans, meanwhile, characterized it all as �the battle for the lead.� SMEs will pay more and more for leads, making them an increasingly valuable customer, he said.

But it is a fallacy to start counting the 10 million to 12 million SMEs as shoo-in customers. Evans noted there are three types of SME customers: �winding up,� �winding down� and �coasting.� Obviously, only some of them are likely customers.

Chances to convert SMEs are better, however, if local media companies can show how they help convert the leads. �Certainly, it has been difficult to qualify a lead based on the criteria input to a search box,� he said. But a new generation of local products, such as neighborhood-centric services and �purposeful� shopping guides can go a long way. �Shopping is often the forgotten play.�

On the other hand, Evans feels that inventory control products, such as Intuit�s StepUp, are �something of a pipe dream. They don�t even know what they have (in stock) themselves.�
Blog: Local Media Blog
posted by  Peter Krasilovsky at  22:10 | permalink | comments [1] | trackbacks [2]

Oct 2 2006
Yahoo!: 10 Million Flickr Photos Geo-Tagged
Geo-tagging is becoming a significant part of the local ecosphere and is a very popular feature on Yahoo!�s Flickr service, according to Yahoo! Local GM Paul Levine, who spoke at SES Local on Sept. 28 in Denver. Levine said that up to 10 million Flickr photos have already been geo-tagged since its introduction.

Geo-tagged photos are being used in other ways by Yahoo!. Levine noted, for instance, that they play a vital role in several of the new vertical sites being developed under the Yahoo! Local collection, such as �Late Night Eats,� �Fly Fishing Resources Bay Area,� etc.

Levine said the next challenge for Yahoo! Local is to geo-reference photos from cellphones. Y! Labs is currently developing methods using cell tower triangulation and other methods to enable photos to be geo-positioned and posted. Presumably, this will also have implications for Wi-Fi as well (and maybe even cut down on the rubbernecking that occurs after a car crash).

Separately, Levine gave some updates on Yahoo Local�s reach, noting that it now covers 80,000 ZIP codes and offers 60,000 city pages. It also has broken out 600 neighborhoods � a "next frontier" for local marketing that Yellow Pages companies like and are addressing by syndicating the neighborhood breakouts of

On the sales front, Levine emphasized that Yahoo! Local continues to rely heavily on sales channel partners, such as the Yellow Pages companies. It has at least 12. At the same time, many small businesses are beginning to approach Yahoo! directly. Levine said that more than 1,000 businesses in each of 25 categories have initiated advertising directly from Yahoo!. It makes me think that Yahoo!'s reliance on third-party sales channels might not last forever.
Blog: Local Media Blog
posted by  Peter Krasilovsky at  15:27 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [3]

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