Merchant Circle: 90,000 Businesses Registered

MerchantCircle may be best known as the bad boy of telemarketing for a negative marketing scheme that went awry last fall. But the eight person Rustic Canyon startup promises it has mended its ways, and points to a growing base of registered members (90,000) and a host of helpful member services. This week, it even got a nice writeup in BusinessWeek.

Director of Marketing Walt Duflock, a former eBayite, says that roughly 50 percent of the company’s registered members rely on the site as their sole Web presence. Some members come in via word of mouth, some through the telemarketing efforts, and some from the virtuous circle affiliate effort from Commission Junction, where affiliates get $2.50 for recommending free members, $25 for basic members, and $75 for premium members.

In addition to providing a Web site, MerchantCircle is providing members with coupons, blogs, links to relevant Topix news clips, integrated Google maps, and a reputation management program that allows businesses to check out everything that has been written about them across the Web. It also provides SEO and, for premium tier members, SEM.

The site does even more. It has a cooperative relationship with classifieds site Edgeio, where relevant ads are inserted on the Edgeio site, and vice versa. “(MerchantCircle) is a great way to get the word out,” says Duflock.

At this point, almost all of the company’s registered base are coming in on the free tier. While the company still has a business plan in place where “x” percent would hopefully migrate to the $30 or $100 monthly tiers that provides paid advertising on search engines, newspaper sites and Jingle Nets’ 1 (800)Free-411, the company may learn to live with free as its predominant model. It can still make money off of Google AdSense and partner services, Duflock notes. Businesses that are mostly likely to want a Google program are probably signing up on their own.