Avvo, the Seattle based vertical site that launched its Lawyer ratings service in 2007, has now added Doctor ratings, using the proceeds, in part, from a $10 million raise it did in March. In launching a doctors site, it goes head to head against Angie’s List, Everydayhealth.com and dozens of others that view doctor ratings and other medical practitioner information as unchartered territory.
Avvo Doctors, which works off a common platform with Lawyers, is launching with numerical ratings and profiles for 800,000 doctors in all 50 states, or 90 percent of all U.S. doctors. It also includes medical misconduct information for roughly 50 percent of doctors — a percentage it hopes to boost to 90 percent by Q1 2011 as state medical boards improve their reporting systems.
The site include 400 questions and answers from certified doctors. It expects the Q&A forum to grow at a faster rate than its legal counterpart, which receives over 50,000 contributions per month.
Avvo has also put together a medical advisory board that the former president of the American Medical Association, a chief surgeon at the University of Washington, and two doctors who run their own elective clinics on the east and west coasts.
“In the online marketing world, doctors look a lot like lawyers did before Avvo arrived,” notes CEO and Founder Mark Britton on the company blog. “Consumers are lost when trying to find a doctor, let alone trying to understand the doctor’s background and reputation. few doctors understand the art or science of marketing – especially online marketing. Doctors still spend over $500 million dollars annually in the Yellow Pages (yes, the yellow pages).”
Avvo, the free legal ratings and review site that has taken on the giant legal publishers that have long dominated the business, announced that it has raised $10 million in Series C funding. The new round adds to $13 million previously raised. The round was lead by DAG Ventures, which joins existing investors Benchmark Capital and Ignition Partners.
The company’s business model relies on advertising and enhanced legal profiles. The company says that it now covers 90 percent of U.S. lawyers. The legal industry is a $225 billion industry in the U.S. The industry spends about $4.5 Billion annually on marketing.
CEO Mark Britton says that the company has grown rapidly, and now has 38 employees, including 18 sales people. The key to winning the new funding was the company’s success in selling advertising to lawyers. Advertising launched in early 2009, with a wide range of offerings “from $25 to thousands of dollars” a month .
Lawyers are always very busy, but can be sold if you understand their specific needs as a divorce specialist, or a real estate lawyer, says Britton. They also want to do more than by advertising, wanting to discuss ways to improve their profile on the site, etc. “Lawyers need a lot of help.”
MerchantCircle is seeking to transform itself from a source of search engine leads for SMBs into more of a destination site that consumers and businesses will use over and over again.
The company reports 20 million unique visitors, which if calculated in a certain way, would make it the fifth largest Internet Yellow Pages. It also has over 900,000 small businesses that have “claimed” a page and may use the company’s robust tool sets and features.
While MerchantCircle already provides a number of features, such as Yelp reviews, just a small percentage use the site as a reference site, akin to an Internet Yellow Pages. Company officials now hope to change that with two new programs: “Neighbors” and “Answers.”
Neighbors — not to be confused with Yahoo! Neighbors, which also launches today — enables consumers to “follow” local businesses, Twitter style, for the latest promotions, coupons and announcements. Business owners can use the feed to communicate directly with their customer base and share information on deals and other things. Deals, especially, reflect one of Merchant Circle’s strengths, since its merchants use the service to publish thousands of coupons.
Answers is a consumer advice service, similar to ones we’ve seen with Yahoo Answers and vertical sites such as Avvo.com (lawyers) and Trulia (real estate). Merchant Circle’s idea is that small businesses will become more bonded to the service if they regularly communicate with potential customers. It says it has already had excellent response rate in a month of trials.
One would think that MerchantCircle may not be ideally positioned to provide such a core consumer service. But company officials note that its strength is not in the Yelp markets such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, but rather in small to medium-sized markets, perhaps up to 150,000 population, where it has achieved a viral effect of businesses recommending each other.