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MerchantCircle’s Merchant Index tracks merchant confidence in the economy (low). But it also yields some unexpected “real world” insight into merchant awareness and use of their local online marketing options.

The Index is based on 11,000+ e-mail respondents, so there is likely to be an online bias in the results. Of its 1.1 million registered SMBs, MerchantCircle also has a strong base of rural and exurban members, but MerchantCircle officials don’t believe these businesses are disproportionally represented.

We’re most drawn to the low recognition accorded to many local mainstays that are “big deals” in our cyber capitals. The new LBS services, Foursquare and GoWalla, for instance, have recognition of just 7.5 percent and 5.7 percent each.

The principal city sites do better. Yelp has 39.4 percent while Citysearch has 66.5 percent. The disparity between them is not surprising given the latter’s longer track record and deeper national reach. Yelp’s awareness may be better pegged to its principal cities (i.e., San Francisco, where it is apparently the No. 1 resource).

The Index found that 26.1 percent of respondents are promoting on Citysearch, and 17.6 percent on Yelp. Google, Facebook and Twitter (among others) are used by more. Google is used by 59.5 percent; Facebook, by 52.8 percent; and Twitter, by 31.6 percent.

YouTube is a site that the respondents want to start using: 17.5 percent say they want to start using YouTube, while 14.2 percent say they want to start using Facebook.

MerchantCircle VP Darren Waddell is speaking on the New Directory Panel at Marketplaces 2010 in San Diego March 22-24 with Local Matters’ Mat Stover, SuperMedia‘s Julie Miller and AT&Ti‘s Greg Isaacs.

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