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Google, Yahoo, Merchant Circle, SMBLive, Yellowbot and various IYP sites have induced hundreds of thousands of small businesses to sign up for free websites and landing pages. MerchantCircle alone reports 750,000 signups.

These kinds of companies are providing state-of-the-art features that many full-priced websites didn’t provide even four years ago, including (in some cases) landing pages, SEO, photos, video, blogs and reputation management. But from a business perspective, the SMB website players remain a work in progress.

SMB customer support issues are big ones. Many SMBs infrequently update their information or engage with their customers. And while the sites can make healthy revenue from search-related advertising, conversion rates to premium tiers that include Search Engine Marketing packages have been on the low end – generally, five percent or less.

MerchantCircle, for instance, reports that 15,000 of its signups now pay for a premium tier. It is an increasingly sizeable number, supplemented by “tens of thousands” of leads to SMBs from its partner sites. But 15,000 remains a low percentage of its overall signups — two percent.

The sites also haven’t made a huge dent getting SMBs onto the Web in the first place. According to the latest wave of Kelsey’s Local Commerce Monitor, 61 percent of SMBs that advertise now have websites. That’s significant progress, but the game clearly isn’t over — especially among SMBs that haven’t advertised in the past.

Industry trends present new challenges. This is especially the case with the rise of social networks like Facebook, which can isolate profiles if they aren’t “ported” by the SMB from their site.

SMBLive CEO Matt Howard has been working with over 350,000 SMBs in the UK as a vendor for BT Tradespace. He says these are universal challenges for the industry.  His answer? A “Cloud Profile” that allows small business owners to author content once and syndicate out to a wide range of different sites, including Twitter and Facebook, where consumers increasingly share and discover things.

SMBLive’s Cloud Profile also enables SMBs to publish updates using email and SMS text messages – tools that they’re already comfortable with.  The service also includes a “virtual coach” to remind and encourage SMBs to regularly update their profiles and engage prospects in online conversations.

The Cloud Profile was released a few weeks ago in a private beta. SMBLive expects to distribute it via third parties, such as directory publishers and broadcaster sites.  Howard hopes it will move the needle several inches in terms of boosting penetration, updates and interaction, while minimizing customer support issues.


This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Only problem with the “cloud profile” is if the cloud goes out of business. It also appears somewhat distracting. It’s like if I’m an actor and I use the IMDB profile as the marketing website for my acting career. It’s great that they’ve signed up millions of clients, but any small business that’s serious about its business is going to have something that’s a bit more within their control.

  2. (This was sent by SMBLive CEO Matt Howard in response)

    Hi Blake:

    In the case of SMBLive we’ve built our software on top of Amazon’s cloud.

    There are definitely no guarantees in this world – but I am willing to take my chances that Amazon’s cloud is not going out of business.

    That said, as with any IT infrastructure environment, it’s certainly possible “the clould” could go down for a period of time. Indeed, Amazon has suffered a few outages – but their overall reliability is terrific.

    Also, I agree 100% with you that SMBs need to be able to “control” their profile so they can:

    1. Regularly promote themselves online
    2. Listen carefully to what people are saying about their business
    3. Actively respond and engage customers in conversations
    4. See reports so they can properly track conversations and convert them into sales leads

    Giving SMBs “control” of their online profile means making things truly simple – and it requires significant innovation and evolution beyond web 1.0 tools which are overly complicated and expensive.

    If you’re interested in seeing our CloudProfile service in action – let me know. I’d be happy to set you up with one.


  3. Hey
    It’s very useful tool for SMBs to exploit. If an SMB lacks resources for marketing listing them in these portals may really generate great leads, both SMBLive and Merchant Circle are good options.

  4. Blake’s point was not that the host (ala Amazon) goes down – but CloudMade itself – if they go out of business, what happens to all those accounts?

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