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Thread: Merchant Circle No Longer Offering Free Listings

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    Merchant Circle No Longer Offering Free Listings

    Just got this email from MerchantCircle today:

    Hi Josh. We are no longer offering free listings or claiming. Sorry.

    I wonder how many more of these we will see?

    I think there was a "golden age" of local search directories where everyone thought it was a great business idea. That's why there are so many of them. Personally, I was always surprised so many people entered into such a saturated market.

    Over the years we've seen the inevitable decline of these directories. Many of the ones that use to offer free listings have switched to pay models or simply have stopped taking submissions. Many have just quit managing their directories period, allowing them to fall into disrepair, not even actively managing a support system or returning simple contact forms.

    Even the bigger directories are not immune. Insiderpages was the first I really remember discontinuing free submissions and then CitySearch followed right along behind them. Recently Yahoo has fallen in line and now even Merchant Circle. Even middle tier directories are doing it, with Yasabe going to pay model earlier this year.

    I think these directories just never really figured out how to make money. Personally, I always wondered how they ever made any money in first place. Again, there are hundreds of them out there.

    I'm curious to see how the future shakes out. I wager we see more and more directories either go to a pay model, stop taking submissions, or do something else like allow Yext to manage their submissions for them.

    If MerchantCircle is any indication, anyone is susceptible. I would have thought they would have been one of the last directories to do this. But then again, I thought the same about CitySearch too.

    Thoughts?
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    Blake Denman's Avatar
    Blake Denman is offline Local Search Pro++
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    Re: Merchant Circle No Longer Offering Free Listings

    Maybe we will see more local SEOs starting to focus more and more on building quality links instead of just going crazy with citations.

    I kind of wonder how algorithms will sort this out too. If a citation source becomes purely pay-to-play, will they discount some of the weight of that citation source?
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    Re: Merchant Circle No Longer Offering Free Listings

    Quote Originally Posted by Blake Denman View Post
    Maybe we will see more local SEOs starting to focus more and more on building quality links instead of just going crazy with citations.

    I kind of wonder how algorithms will sort this out too. If a citation source becomes purely pay-to-play, will they discount some of the weight of that citation source?
    You would hope they would start to discount the weight but I have a sneaking suspicion the would not. I don't think Google likes to micromanage their local algorithm. It's seen so much neglect over the years, I just can't imagine them digging in to fix something like this every time a site becomes paid. Their algos can't tell if a site becomes pay to play necessarily so a human would have to do it and then adjust the weight. I doubt they would do that but again, that's just speculation.

    It does make a ton of sense to do that though.
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    Re: Merchant Circle No Longer Offering Free Listings

    One can hope!
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    Re: Merchant Circle No Longer Offering Free Listings

    It's possible they (Google) could devalue a site because it's pay to play, but I think it depends more on reputation, user engagement, and relevance. The one that comes to mind is Angie's List. The model is a little different since customers actually pay a membership fee, but it's still a directory and highly relevant in local search.

    Personally I thought merchant circle was overall pretty worthless with the exception of getting a citation listed. Every page was jam packed with ads and not really useful. Shifting the revenue model might make them a more useful site if they can dump some of the on-page ads. I don't really see a problem with paying for a listing if it's getting in front of customers to help them make a decision to buy. It's the membership directories that have no traffic which are the sore spots of the industry. If you're going to pay for a directory listing, make sure you check SEMrush or Alexa to figure out whether it could actually impact your business or not.

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    Re: Merchant Circle No Longer Offering Free Listings

    Thanks for posting Josh, saw that last week and meant to say something too. Decided not to bother with them for the client I'm setting up (enough high quality citations I'll be able to get for free, and if I was to advise them to allocate a budget, there are other industry relevant places where their money would be better spent) but definitely interesting. I wrote their support even I was so confused... when I got caught, they hadn't even updated the page yet, and it still said it was free, in spite of where the funnel led me.

    Personally, I think that as directories get harder and harder to manage, they're going to have more and more out of date data. Google may not ding a site for becoming paid, but I'm sure they'll ding a site for showing 40 or 50% mismatch in data with the rest of the local ecosystem. If it's impossible to update, or even so much as shut down a permanently closed business, the data integrity is going to go downhill across the site. there's no way Google's feeding info into their systems without having some kind of metric to account for trustworthiness of their sources.

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    Re: Merchant Circle No Longer Offering Free Listings

    Well that sucks. I'm wondering if it will start to move down on the top citation list now.

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    Re: Merchant Circle No Longer Offering Free Listings

    I don't think it matters whether the directory charges a fee or not. This is not like an inbound link from another site. The value of the citation is to show consistency of information.

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    Re: Merchant Circle No Longer Offering Free Listings

    Quote Originally Posted by PhilEsq View Post
    I don't think it matters whether the directory charges a fee or not. This is not like an inbound link from another site. The value of the citation is to show consistency of information.
    I think the point that was being made in the thread is that if a directory is exclusive to paying members, it isn't as authoritative and should have less weight given to it as an authoritative document. All the biggest directories, if you notice, are free: Google, Bing, Yelp, etc.

    I think it is definitely a quality signal. Is it one Google considers? I personally doubt it. The logistics vs return on investment for their algorithm just probably isn't high enough to justify it.
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    Re: Merchant Circle No Longer Offering Free Listings

    The value of the citation is to show consistency of information.
    As Joshua pointed out, For a directory not maintaining information for non-paying clients, they won't actually be a good representation of information consistency. All you have to do is wrestle to fix your own listing on one of these sites to realize how challenging it is... how many other businesses are sitting with incorrect information without anybody even noticing or caring? Eventually, after enough businesses change for a long enough period of time, the directory just flat out will no longer accurately reflect reality.

    The conversation here is already no longer 'does it make sense to keep pay only citation sites as a part of the algorithm' and it's shifted towards 'does anyone at Google care enough to change this in the near future'? So we all agree that the only thing keeping them from updating the relevance of these sites away entirely is momentum, man hours, and competing demands on their time.

    I'm calling it right now: Google's focus over the next five years is going to be how to create a much more adaptive AI based search algorithm, or at least adaptive AI modules that fit into a larger system (like rank-brain). There will come a time where within weeks or months, Google automatically notices a particular signal has a reduced prediction rate for the quality of a business. A citation site with closed pay-only doors is just flat not going to be a good predictor of prominence or relevance of a location. We're not there yet, but it's only a matter of time before the algorithm changes to reflect that, and those turn-around times are going to be getting smaller over the next two or three years.

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