Citysearch Looks to MerchantCircle to Complete Picture

Citysearch expanded its reach to small business advertisers and added small business content to its local guides through a deal with MerchantCircle. The deal brings more than 300,000 merchants into Citysearch’s network, allowing Citysearch merchants to post a profile that will be included on Citysearch, and to join the social media network for local businesses. MerchantCircle’s members will be able to buy into three customized, co-branded ad packages. MerchantCircle will also tap into Citysearch’s local and national ad sales forces.

“We had figured out how to acquire merchants. We needed to find an ad parter that could deliver on a local basis and on a massive scale,” Ben Smith, chairman of MerchantCircle, told SEW. “That doesn’t exist in many places. We liked Citysearch, and we liked what we could add to their business.”

Where Citysearch has focused on a direct sales model in major metro markets, MerchantCircle’s self-service approach draw more suburban merchants, many of whom have not been on the Web before, said Citysearch President Jay Herratti.

Merchants claim their page, and then begin creating their own content. They can do things like supply store info, offer an online coupon, or recommend other merchants. They can also invite neighborhood merchants to participate, creating a network of peers that brings more businesses online virally.

Earlier this month, IAC and other investors gave $10 million to MerchantCircle. “We thought [MerchantCircle” could really catch fire and we decided we really wanted to support it and become [a partner”,” Herratti told ClickZ News, adding that IAC’s minority stake investment and the partnership came about simultaneously. As part of the relationship, IAC Media and Advertising CEO Peter Horan will join the MerchantCircle Board of Directors.

“The new IAC is more focused on pure-play growth businesses, and it’s decidedly more local as well,” Herratti said yesterday during his keynote at the ILM:07/SES Local conference in Los Angeles.

Herratti was referring to the 5-way split announced earlier this month, which culls the home shopping, ticketing, resort rental and lending businesses. What’s left in IAC are the businesses currently comprising its Media & Advertising sector, including, Bloglines, and Citysearch; smaller sites like, ServiceMagic and; and its emerging businesses like CollegeHumor,, and Vimeo.

Locally-focused products and lines of business include AskCity, Citysearch, InsiderPages, ServiceMagic, Entertainment Publications, and Evite.

Citysearch has expanded its base to include more than 300 city guides, with 15 of those maintained by an editorial staff. The acquisition of InsiderPages in March brought much more suburban content into the network, to complement Citysearch’s more urban slant.

Herratti credits Citysearch’s success to three main points: relevance, resonance, and actionability. Citysearch results are relevant to users because they provide a full view of a business from the perspectives of the merchant itself, Citysearch’s editorial teams, and consumers, he said. It resonates with consumers because they trust information from a reliable source. It’s actionable because it allows them to make a purchase decision, he said.

To make its service even more actionable, Citysearch plans to launch a “reviews dashboard” in the next few months. That will be a page that aggregates reviews into an easy-to-compare format, showing the good/bad review ratio. Citysearch is also working on a mechanism to allow merchants to respond specifically to good or bad reviews, to supply an explanation or objection.

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