I was wandering around the Blogosphere when I got home from New York SEO Class and came across a post about MerchantCircle. He was essentially complaining about the lack of usability and useful layout and/or information on the MerchantCircle.com website. But, what shocked me was what happened as a result.

A representative for Merchant Circle commented on his post stating:

“Where most of our nearly 110,000 business owners find value and where we’ve positioned ourselves is optimizing our business listings to come up higher in search engines like Google and Yahoo. We haven’t really targeted to the consumer community to come to us as a search portal for businesses.”

Wait – what? You run a website that has a goal of ranking for business names and general business queries in the search engines, but do not design your page or aim the content at consumers? How does that even make sense? So, basically, Merchant Circle is doing their best to rank in the search engines with the sole goal being to charge businesses to control their listing, but providing no end experience or value to the user?

I was amazed by this. Not that they want advertisers – come on, we all want to monetize our sites, but you’re supposed to provide value to the end user, also known as the consumer in the process. So, I did a little more reading in my fascination at their admission. What I found left me feeling like I had stumbled upon the mafia of business listings on the web.

A recent blog post of theirs states:

“Other sites give complete control to customers and their reviews. We give complete control to you, the business owner. Don’t like a review? Delete it.”

What? So, you position your site to look like it is offering reviews for consumers of local businesses, but then allow business owners to delete any review they don’t like? How the hell does that provide any valuable information to the consumer? So, I click on the review page (again, nofollow) for a business local to me. I search for the warning (in plain sight) that any review I may take 20 minutes of my time to write could be deleted at any point in time, because the sole point of this site is to strong arm public perception of local businesses. Of course, I didn’t find it.

Then I go back to the business listings pages and end up on the listing page for my local Boston Cooker (yup, nofollow). Well, I spy the listings for nearby restaurants using the Yahoo Local logos. Now, let’s forget for a second that they display the Yahoo logo for nearby restaurants but there is no link to Yahoo Local in that area. One would assume they are advertising the star ratings as coming from Yahoo local. Village Pizza has a five star rating according to Merchant Circle from Yahoo (screenshot). But, when I look up Village Pizza at Yahoo Local, you see that it actually has a four star rating (screenshot). So, we’ve moved from offering biased opinions (without being labeled as such) to what looks like false advertising utilizing the branding and name of Yahoo Local. Nice.

Back to the blog post – so, MerchantCircle.com states:

“we also want to make you aware that customers are writing reviews about your business on the web. We want to show them to you and many times those reviews aren’t flattering. Don’t take it personal with us. We just want to let you know so that you can manage your online reputation”

So, my first thought when I saw that statement was some kind of mafia movie flash in my head – “Hey, people are saying bad things about you, and we’re letting them. And we’re making sure they get publicity. If you want protection, it will cost you a fee each month”.

Seriously. So, I do a search for “Village Pizza, Spring Hill, FL” on Google and Yahoo. Sure enough, Merchant Circle shows up top five in each. Funny thing though was the title tag for the Yahoo listing for MerchantCircle.com: “Food and Dining Coupons and more in Spring Hill, FL”. So, I go to the page. Village pizza is on the list of business on the top left, but shoved midway through the list (and also with no rating on this one).


Additionally, at first glance, the only place I see the word coupons jump out at me is in the Adsense block to the right. However, if I’m determined, I finally see a light gray box at the top with a coupons link (rmay mentioned the non-visible without staring links too) and when clicking on it, I am presented with coupons for legal services and carpet cleaning. Wow! Exactly what I was looking for when I typed in my search query at Yahoo.

While I was at the top of the page, I saw a blog link that appeared, from the url string, to be a blog aimed at my local town. I click it and find a blog, written by what appears to be local business owners with absolutely no editorial quality control from Merchant Circle. Several of the posts look like what most of us get when we are hit my blog spam (screenshot). Yes, this section was beyond helpful. The only legitimate information on the page appears to be a feed being brought in via topix.net, which Merchant Circle has chosen to nofollow (I have no idea why that amuses me so at this point).

Another blog post (again, nofollow) states:

“such great small businesses to go to. And without MerchantCircle, they wouldn’t have had the chance to be found on the web. You see, MerchantCircle is their primary web presence.”

Again, the mafia movie pops into my head. Small business owners *do* have multiple chances to be found on the web. They can create their own websites and promote their small business website on the local level and do their own local small business online marketing.

They can utilize consumer portals that are *true* consumer portals like Yahoo Local, Google Local which target the masses or small niche portals like Restaurantica that target a specific industry (in this case, restaurant reviews).

And if a small business is having a problem with achieving a bad reputation on the web? First and foremost, they can improve their own business to better satisfy customers. But, if the occasional angered consumer comes along? They can utilize their own reputation management or hire a reputation management professional whore to help them promote the positive aspects of their business.

I’m not saying reputation management is a bad thing. I’m saying that reputation management, guised as a consumer portal that lists reviews without clearly stating that any reviews can be deleted at a business owner’s request, which allows business owners to pay to be able to control that reputation in their favor after they’ve obtained ranks on their business names utilizing nothing more than a mash up site with no value that uses what I see as scare tactics to gain advertisers is shitty.

Additionally, as a consumer, I’d like to officially tell MerchantCircle to kiss my ass, because I don’t appreciate being directed to a site that, of their own admission, is not built for consumers and doesn’t give me what I want or expect and doesn’t state what I feel is their complete bias.

And apologies Merchant Circle – I’m afraid there is no advertising sign up form that can silence *this* opinion.

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