MerchantCircle announced today that it will offer a Web site hosting service on top of its existing set of local listing products. Known as Instant Website, it will offer the 550,000 companies that have MC listings, Web site creation and hosting for $14.99 per month (75 percent of these companies don’t have Web sites).
The differences between the new Web sites and its current landing page product aren’t staggering, and mostly come down to packaging. But a company that wishes to advertise itself and its online presence to a greater degree might feel better with its own Web site. This includes an independent domain that is chosen by the advertiser rather than being hosted within a MerchantCircle sub-domain.
“If a company wants to put its Web site on a business card, for example, this is something simple and more direct that [they] would feel more comfortable directing traffic towards,” Darren Waddell, vice president of marketing for MerchantCircle, told me yesterday.
The Web site creation and hosting tools are integrated into MerchantCircle’s existing dashboard (see video here). This includes the ability to choose a domain and view domains that are automatically recommended based on information MC already has about a business.
The next steps in this process involve choosing a template and populating it with business information that can be transferred from an existing MC profile. After this point, the two sets of business information sync up with each other, according to Waddell, so that changes and updates only need to be made in one place.
For MerchantCircle, this could be a good tool for growing its advertiser base — possibly part of an overall effort to clean up its image in the wake of flak it has received for its advertiser acquisition tactics. It could also be a good hook to get many of its free listings to paid advertisers (currently 7,100) and serve as a stepping stone for future paid services tied to these Web sites.
These could include calls to action such as lead gen forms that alert companies to any activity, right within their MerchantCircle dashboard. E-mail services tied to the new domains can also be offered, according to Waddell: “Some companies just use their Gmail address, which isn’t always the most professional way to present yourself.”
SEM and SEO services could also come into play, says Waddell, for companies that develop a desire to have their new Web site show up more prominently in search engine results. More importantly, click-to-call or call tracking numbers will be relevant to MerchantCircle advertisers, many of which are service-based businesses.
“The next logical step is to close the gap between page views/impressions and getting the phone to light up, which is much more tangible,” says Waddell. “The closer we are to the transaction, the better.”