Merchant Circle = LinkedIn + Facebook + Local

After my earth shattering post on using phone numbers for SEO, where I discovered that Merchant Circle had been using small business phone numbers in URLs, Kevin Leu of MerchantCircle pinged me to offer a bit more insight into their SEO strategy. Here’s what I found:

  • 17.5 million page views on June (that’s some nice local search traffic)
  • June search engine referrals were driven by 844,000 keywords (nice keyword volume)
  • Phone number searches generate 15,000 to 25,000 page views per month. I am not sure if this equates to 15-25K organic referrals per month, but this shows that phone number searches are driving traffic. According to Merchant Circle offline promotions are driving the bulk of phone number searches. Apparently MC has been using phone numbers in their URLs for several years. It happened by accident – they were using them as unique identifiers for the businesses in their database.

There are certain categories that drive most of the phone number searches. Apparenly a massage therapist in Michigan gets a lot (Are you reading this Ellot Spitzer?) and other professions that do most of their business over the phone , like transportation consultants.

So the company is generating some impressive numbers.  My initial reaction is:

Merchant Circle = Facebook + LinkedIn + Local

Besides the SEO strategy what really intrigues me about Merchant Circle is that they are slowly but surely on their way to becoming a LinkedIn for local. One of the key features of the site is to allow merchants to invite other merchants (and customers) into their network. They claim the average merchant on their system has three connections. That implies to me that they have been relatively successful in getting businesses to use their networking tools.

They relaunched their site back in December 2007 and they claim they have seen a 10x increase in merchants buying services. According to their reports, 80% of these merchants have no web presence and 85% of them have never purchased online advertising before. Even more interesting to me is that 25% of the merchants in their system are DIYers – people who are using their tools for free. I would suspect that a portion of the DIYers are very active social networkers and could be responsible for bringing in a number of paying customers for Merchant Circle.

While Merchant Circle could be a great marketing tool for small businesses, my point of view is that their system is a fantastic one for SEOs. It would seem to me to be fairly straightforward to set up your client sites with a free Merchant Circle account, network (in a non-spammy way please) with existing members and boost your MC site in the SERPs, which in turn can promote your own site.

More on Merchant Circle’s SEO strategy coming soon…

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29 Response Comments

  • Andrew Shotland  July 22, 2008 at 10:11 am

    Matt’s post is from Sept. 2006 David so I am not sure it’s relevant to a discussion about them today. If you have any recent experiences with them I’d love to hear about it.

  • David Mihm  July 22, 2008 at 10:15 am

    Andrew, check out the comments section. All but two of them are from May 15, 2008, or later. It seems to me that they are still pursuing these tactics…

  • Andrew Shotland  July 22, 2008 at 10:33 am

    I guess it couldn’t hurt If I actually read a page before I responded huh Dave? 🙂

    My POV on MC is not so much about how evil or not evil they are. The thing about them that interests me is that they may have created a great platform for improving search engine rankings for small businesses. It might be in the best interests of your clients to test it out and see what it can do, even if you get a couple of annoying phone calls out of it.

  • David Mihm  July 22, 2008 at 10:44 am

    I agree that MC has done an excellent job with their own SEO–they’re showing up for a lot more searches, and I am seeing their reviews pulled into Google Local with some reasonable frequency.

    Mike Blumenthal has a similar POV to yours despite their tactics:

    My take is that I am not ready to reward companies that do business in such a manner with my own content or my clients’ content, unless those clients are already listed and it is a matter of creating an accurate profile, or I am absolutely desperate for an additional citation.

  • Andrew Shotland  July 22, 2008 at 10:47 am

    I guess I don’t look at it as rewarding them – more like using them for your own purposes. That said, I totally get not wanting to be a part of something that you don’t agree with.

  • Don Campbell  July 22, 2008 at 11:02 am

    @Andrew, @David: This is an interesting discussion – I’ve been struggling with this issue too. I’ve used the Merchant Circle free listings to help boost several clients local search results.

    But I’ve been hesitating using them lately because it involves giving them my clients phone number in the free profile, and then they start getting calls like described in some of the comments on Mike’s blog and Matt’s blog.

  • Andrew Shotland  July 22, 2008 at 11:25 am

    @Don (man Twitter is leaking into everything) chances are your client is getting a lot of DM calls anyhow – as long as you notify them re what to expect seems like a low risk proposition.

  • Michael D  July 22, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    Same experience here. Clients reporting sleazy automated message calls from Merchant Circle regarding reviews (that did not exist).

    I’m all for local SEO opportunities but some of the sites tactics turn me off.

  • Michael D  July 22, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    @Don Cambell Something you may want to consider is call tracked numbers for your clients. You can use them on sites like MC so if they create urls from them you can control the flow of calls (and gather marketing info). Andrew knows some good services.

  • Mr. LSI KeyWord  July 23, 2008 at 7:55 am

    “It happened by accident – they were using them as unique identifiers for the businesses in their database.”

    I hope you didn’t actually believe that. As a programmer, that’s the lamest thing I’ve ever heard. Either they had a naive programmer that didn’t think phone numbers ever change or (more likely) they used it for the purpose of SEO (which is a very smart move)

  • Andrew Shotland  July 23, 2008 at 8:22 am

    You know Mr. LSI, I asked them about that and they claimed it was not intentional. I didn’t really care if it was or it wasn’t. I just thought it was a good strategy.

    Re the numbers changing, this actually works in their favor as long as you redirect to the new url with the new number.

  • Howard A Brown  September 30, 2008 at 8:33 pm

    What are you, nuts?

    Is this the world-wide-web that I am on or some other planet?

    Is this a joke?

    At 3:50 pm ET today I was in the middle of a meeting when my phone rang. Caller ID said Arizona. Long story short: the recorded voice said I had a customer at my Merchant Circle site inquiring whether or not my business was legitimate.

    There was no customer, of course, and the red button the man on the phone instructed me to click would have led to my signing up for Merchant Circle’s paid services.

    I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening reading through their forum and updating my Merchant Circle site. I couldn’t find a way to make my keywords that were more than one word clickable. For example, if my keyword was “web traffic” no matter what I did I ended up with 2 keywords on my site: “web” and “traffic.”
    (Perhaps I should put them in quotation marks!)

    So off I went to download their startup guide only to find that it gave such poor guidance that some of the pages still had what looked like Latin cross top.

    Is this the same Merchant Circle or am I nutty gone crazy?

    Howard A Brown

  • Andrew Shotland  October 1, 2008 at 5:59 am

    Sounds like Howard is not having the best experience with MerchantCircle. While it sounds like their marketing tactics are as aggressive as ever, and their system has some issues that need to be addressed, I still stand by my point that if you are looking to get broad exposure in search engines for your business it is probably worth your while to set up a free profile in sites like Merchant Circle and other IYPs that are doing good jobs at SEO, even if you have to hold your nose while doing so.

  • Frank Crane  October 1, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    “Merchant Circle” are scammers. They make false claims. They’ve listed my business incorrectly. They left a message that there was a video of my business on their site. Not! After many attempts to correct these people I find I cannot. They will not list the name of my business correctly. They don’t offer an e-mail, an address or phone number. It seems the only way is to register with them. Why would I want to register with a business that can’t even be bothered to list me correctly? They are damaging my business, not helping it.

  • David  October 6, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    I’m kind of torn… As an SEO/SEM service provider for local businesses, I don’t appreciate the phone calls they make to me or clients, or some of their marketing methods.

    Also, their service model is faulty IMO. What’s the point of a social network for business owners? So we can spam each other to “get links”? If Merchant Circle would focus their trust on the relationships between consumers and businesses, there might be some ultimate value. Right now, there isn’t much social about them, and it’s really about providing business owner list fodder, and straight SEO value.

    Had they done it right, it would have been something a bit more akin to your social yellow page sites like yelp and yellowbot.

  • Craig Mullins  November 12, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    Yea, I have used them & get the automated calls.

    I get hit up about once a month by an automated voice prompt telling me to login to verify my business is legitimate…

    I just hang up as soon as I hear it now. You don’t have to do anything… The police won’t get you…

    Yes their techniques are spammy & a lil evil. Aww well. The price (it appears) we gotta pay sometimes for free services…

    Seems that’s what everything is moving toward.

    Next year are phones will be free, but before we pick up we’re gonna have to listed to an ad from walmart about diapers being on sale before we can talk to the person on the other end…

  • Neil Street  January 21, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    I have held off adding my clients to MC, and having read these posts, I am glad I did. When it comes to local search, there are so many venues through which to promote your clients, it makes no sense to sign up with a company that is getting this amount of negative attention. For local SEO, they are hardly a game-changer. With so many ways to promote a business, why would anyone want to get into this kind of stuff? If other business people are talking about sueing MC, I would not dream of throwing my clients into that kind of situation.

  • Adam  February 12, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    I have personally used Merchant Circle for searching my local area just because when i searched for a doctors phone number it was the first page to populate. I had a similiar idea but taking it a step further I would include the business working hours. I stumbled across this idea because when I tried to contact the doctor I was looking for she didn’t call me back for 4-5 hours after my initial attempt at contacting her. So figuring that if she had posted her operating hours I would have been more inclined to only call once as apposed to calling 20 times =]`.

    -My 2cents…


  • Jessica  February 13, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    It would be interesting to see what does happen to Merchant Circle in the near future… but I have to agree with one of the previous posts that some the sites SEO approaches can be quite a turn off.

  • Warren P. Bonds  June 29, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    I have never used MC but I have seem it turning up all over the place.

  • Leo J. Vidal, JD, MA, CPA  July 12, 2009 at 11:07 am

    Would like to hear back from the local SEO people on this question. I am now doing Local Internet Marketing and like having a forum. Maybe you can tell me other LIM forums.

    But my question is: do you think businesses should be in just one directory like Super or Yellow? Or in all of them? I know an answer could be “as much as their budget allows” but that begs the question of effectiveness.

    Also, I see some local businesses getting 10-15-20 links from some directories and others getting just one. The amount of links is definitely an issue for these people in their local search rankings. So how do they get so many? Do they just pay more money for more listing, e.g. in different locations, or for different service and product lines?

    Thanks so much,

  • Vince  August 22, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    The trouble with Merchant Circle is that it is so easy to spam. You can create thousands of bogus listings as long as you have email addresses. Any webmaster can set that up easily using a default email address for a domain.
    If you don’t believe how easy it is, just search for 800-536-0680 on Google. Thousands of bogus listings for a Bail Bond company. This SEO has used the same tactic for other Bail Bond companies.
    The problem is, IT WORKS! Google actually thinks these bogus listings are real and these companies rank really high (first page).
    I have reported this numerous times to Google with no results. To date I have resisted this tactic, since I suspect (hope) that once Google gets it’s act together, these abusers will be black listed.

  • bryan Thompson  September 25, 2009 at 5:13 am

    With respect to Merchant Circle, In the immortal words of King Arther from “Monty Pythons’s Holy Grail”
    Run Away, Run Away….

  • Matt Hall  May 14, 2010 at 11:42 am

    Great article… I know this article is kind of old but still hadn’t even heard of Merchant Circle until I read this article… Interesting idea of using phone numbers in search too. Thanks.

  • Mike  December 7, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    we have used MC for our business for a cple years now. our M.C page rank is 4 our website is a one, we can blog and network and we a re definitly getting traffic from this.

  • Steve  February 20, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    Our restaurant recently joined Merchant Circle as a way to get a citation for the business. After joining, it looks like it could be a platform for connecting with local businesses and hopefully their employees will come and eat at the restaurant.

  • Scott Whitney  September 12, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    I actually was doing some research on Merchant Circle to learn a little bit about the SEO benefits because I just created a free profile through their service today. That’s when I stumbled onto this site. Anybody have any other suggestions for sites like MC that might be more up and up?

  • Jesus Ramos  January 27, 2012 at 9:02 am

    I signed up for a Merchants Circle account and, yes, they do call me a lot.

    It has slowed down but is still annoying. I signed up becasue everyone said a MC listing was worth it for SEO but I cannot find their link in any of my SEO monitoring.

    Is it really worth putting up with these guys???