Dancing gorilla in pink tights and a tutu!!!

I had an interesting chat by email with one of our business users yesterday and today, the main subject of which was how best to list his business which operates statewide in Florida, USA.  The recommendation I gave him and will give any business that covers a wide area is use one listing, and then use the Business Tags to denote towns or areas.  Our search uses the business name AND the tags amongst other things, and the SEO on Brownbook.net puts a lot of emphasis on the tags too.  This means your one listing gets you exposure against searches (in Brownbook.net and on the major search engines) across many areas, plus you only need maintain and update one listing.

We’re also noticing that recently updated businesses are benefitting from mopre frequent crawling by search engines, so do come back and keep your page fresh, either by ading or updating a detailed business description, photos, videos, or getting customers to add reviews.

I’ll leave the last word in our conversation to Marcus, owner of Singing Telegrams based in Clearwater Florida but serving the entire state:

“You have no idea how this helps my business, I had an advertising catastrophe and now I have to make up for lost revenue – I can use all the free advertising I can get.  So, once again, THANK YOU!!!!!”

Do check our Marcus’s business listing right here


and if you need anything from a dancing gorilla in pink tights and a tutu, to a Marylin Monroe celebrity lookalike, drop them a line.

Thanks again…

Safarista Web DesignIt always makes my day when someone takes the time to write and tell us how Brownbook.net has helped their business.  I had a really pleasant email from KK in Lincoln, UK, here’s the take-out:

I updated my listing to my new company Your Constant Gardener which is my gardening business and today we got a phone call from a new client thanks to that! So, that is great for us, and now I’ve also added my other company Safarista to the Brownbook too!

Thanks KK.  All the best, D.

PS: if you’re looking for a Gardener in or near Lincoln UK, or a Web Designer in Lincoln, UK, check out KK’s business listings here, and make a call:

Your Constant Gardener

Safarista Web Design

It just gets better and better

related_searchWe just released a new version of Brownbook.net which has a bunch of enhanced features for businesses and for consumers.


Here’s the skinny:

– Related searches – When you get a results page following a search, you’ll notice a new panel called “Related searches” (top right of the page), click on related business tags or location tags to perform a related search.  When you click a related business tag or related location tag Brownbook.net uses an algorithm to substitute the new tag with one of your previous keywords, making an intelligent guess as to which keyword(s) to replace.  Give it a try, see what you think.  <b>Business Owners</b>, make the most of this by adding more relevant tags to your business listing so you come up in more places in results, helping new customers more easily find your business.

– Changes for Claimed Businesses – Last month we allowed you to lock your business listing when you claim it (this now happens automatically when you claim your listing) but we still allowed people to update your tags.  This month we’ve changed it so that others can ADD relevant tags (which enhance your ability to get found) but they can’t edit your existing tags (thereby undoing the great tagging that you’ve spent time on).

– Anyone can invite reviews – This is in keeping with our ethos of NOT making it mandatory to register to do the most common actions.  In this way we allow business owners and customers to invite others to review businesses without having to first register, thereby making it easier to get and give great testimonials.

– Changes to our search algorithm – We’re making some important changes to our search algorithm to present better and more relevant results to users.  Business owners, this means you’ll get found more often (so long as your tags are relevant of course).  Whilst we don’t publish our algorithm the main changes are improving the priority of businesses that have bought the priority listing promotion, improving support for accented and special characters, adding a positive weighting to recently modified/added/reviewed business listings (business owners, be sure to update your pages/tags/reviews regularly to benefit from this).

– Improved search engine indexing – One for the business owners… we already benefit from great organic SEO in the major search engines (meaning: being listed in Brownbook.net helps your business get found all over the web) and we’ve just made some further tweaks which are improving that still further.  Generally these relate to improving the way that the site is organized and therefore improving the visibility and usefulness of pages for the major search engines as well as users.

– Improved claim process – We’ve simplified the claims process, making it easier and faster to claim your business listing as well as helping you configure any promotions.  It’s now much simpler to add photos, videos, and detailed text to your business listing, plus it’s more obvious how you can go back and update them to keep your business page fresh and engaging.

– Bigger photos and videos in reviews – We’ve doubled the size of photos and videos in reviews, so now it’s easier to see what the reviewer wanted you to see, and for reviewers your photos and videos are much clearer for viewers.  Previous photo and video reviews are not dynamically resized, but its easy to update your past reviews with new (or the same) photos or videos which will display in the new larger size.

– MUCH improved help pages – The new help pages provide answers to every single question we’ve ever been asked.  And as new questions come along we’ll update the help pages accordingly.

– Improved ‘contact us’ page – In concert with the new help pages this gives you a ‘first port of call’ by pointing you to the most commonly asked questions in the help pages (the fastest way to get answers to common questions), plus gives you a mean to get in touch so we can answer any questions that are not covered in the help pages.

That’s about it for now, I’ll have more news in about 3 weeks when we release the next set of improvements for you.  Remember to keep your business listing up to date, and help us spread Brownbook.net by telling friends and colleagues.

All the best


Who are you calling “the lunatic fringe”?

I was privileged to be invited to speak on a panel at The Kelsey Group’s annual conference last week in Atlanta (Directional Media Strategies).  Since Kelsey Group is the number 1 worldwide ‘yellow pages’ analyst firm and this event is a barometer of the market it was a real treat to go along, to listen and participate.

With participants from all over the world from both ‘traditional’ yellow pages type companies and from newer competitors it was sure to be an interesting event, and it did not disappoint.  There was a lot of talk about how the traditional companies needed to change their sales model to compete with the new competitors, indeed one presenter saw it as a need to ‘change the conversation’ during the sales process, from one of cost to return on investment – sounds like sales-speak to me.

Another spoke proudly of how their sales reps were now called Media Executives (wow, that’s going to make a BIG change to my small business – not).

As might be expected the subject of user contributions (like reviews, and the wiki approach that Brownbook.net has adopted) also came up, and you might imagine my surprise when a senior figure of one large very successful established company stated that user generated content and user contribution just were not important to them. Wow, that seemed very closed-minded.

If all that didn’t surprise me enough I was stunned by another speaker’s dismissive attitude to the newer online competitors, when he described the “10 to 15% of people who are self provisioning” – in normal-speak that means small business owners like you or me who are self-servicing our marketing campaigns online, without the pain of a face to face sales presentation from some jazzed up sales person – as “the lunatic fringe”.  What??? Is he joking, talk about not seeing the wood for the trees, does he not realise that as successive generations get more and more web savvy we’ll all go that route.

In the panel on which I was involved I spoke about one piece of research that was presented – the result of some Kelsey research into what consumers wanted from IYPs.  They’d run a workshop with a number of consumers who’d used several of the leading websites to complete a number of search-based tasks, then they compared this with the results of a survey which was directed at their advisory services clients – basically search and YP industry execs – then they compared those with the conclusions of nine of their own analysts.  When I looked at the comparison between user feedback and industry execs feedback I saw a very interesting mismatch:

Factors rated as important by industry execs
#1 Ability to get additional info on businesses
#2 Access to useful maps and directions
#3 Depth of information provided
#4 Relevance of advertising
#5 Availability of additional information
#6 Usefulness of ratings and reviews
#7 Quantity of ratings/reviews
#8 Ability to tell which results are sponsored

Factors rated as important by a user panel
#1 Ease of starting search
#2 Ease of navigating site
#3 Accuracy of results
#4 Overall layout/organization
#5 Ability to refine search
*** none of the above even featured in the industry list ***
#6 Ability to get additional info on businesses (rated #1 by industry figures)
#7 Access to useful maps and directions (rated #2 by industry figures)
#8 Ability to sort search results (did not feature in industry list)
#9 Depth of information provided (#3 for industry figures)
#10 Ability to tell which results are sponsored (#8 for industry figures)
#11 Quality of help function (did not feature in industry list)
#12 Availability of additional information (#5 for industry figures)
#13 Usefulness of ratings and reviews (#6 for industry figures)
#14 Relevance of advertising (#4 for industry figures)

Funny how not one the users’ top 5 wants even featured in the industry execs list.

Highlights for me were meeting some great people from the industry, many very forward thinking despite the stunners I have noted above.  Catching up face to face with some people I’d only spoken to by phone, email or Skype.  Also meeting the chaps at Kelsey, all extremely knowledgeable about their sector, seeing the great presentations from Kelsey and following some very well moderated panels.

All in all a GREAT event, informative, surprising in some ways, well attended and well put together.

Geo-tagging versus radiating search

I was asked the other day why we don’t do radiating search, and its a good question the answer to which is not immediately obvious.  I figured it may be useful to share the reasons why?

When we first designed Brownbook.net we set out to challenge all the established rules of how local business directories ‘should’ work (coming from a big directory background as we do this was not always easy, but an exercise we def wanted to do).

With respect to radiating searches the more we questioned it and experimented with alternatives the more we saw that there was a better way, and we decided to junk the concept in favor of a more contemporary ‘tags-based’ method.

Now it’s not immediately obvious to someone brought up in traditional directory industry, so let me try to explain some of the logic here (it takes longer to explain it that to see the behavior it in action):

#The assumption that ‘closest’ is always what a user wants:
With traditional local directories there was very little value added info that allowed a user to select which suppliers that might use, thus ‘closest’ was pretty much all they had.  With richer information with listings users have more criteria by which they can decide which businesses to use.

#User self-selection:
Human behavior says that when looking for a business to use in a certain area a user will type in that area (by some definition, eg zip code, town, city, region, etc, etc).  If they don’t find results they want they tend to try a different area definition – either broader, narrower, or just different.  The user of ‘related tags’ facilitates this in a tags-based search, where the related tags offered are determined by the tagging that businesses and users have assigned to listings.

#Business self definition:
Tagging allows businesses to tag their listing according to where they *want* to do business.  This is especially important when you consider that different business types work over radically different geographic scopes; consider the geo scope of say a gardener versus the geo scope of a yacht broker.  The flip-side of this is user self-selection (the two work in concert); that when looking for a yacht broker a user may search for Europe, Florida Keys, or France (not Myville, or Localtown); and that when searching for a gardener they will naturally use a much more local definition.

#Evolution of tag-style searches in other web behaviors:
The use of tags to replace traditional ‘more scientific’ methods (tags versus hierarchical taxonomies/classification structures, and geo tags versus radiating search) is becoming more prevalent on the web and an accepted behavior that allows consumers and publishers (businesses in the case of business listings) to naturally reach a equilibrium of self regulation.  What I mean by this is that instead of maintaining a complex (and by definition rigid) taxonomy you use tags to allow that taxonomy to evolve naturally over time (some people may be familiar with the term folksonomy).  We see the same rules that apply to a hierarchical category taxonomy applying to a radiating geo search.

It’s not a short answer, but as with all simple concepts the wiring under the board is often more complex than you’d imagine.  But in short geo tags let users and busineses define what works best for them, without the arbitrary rules that the traditional directories had to enforce.

Brownbook gets shortlisted for Mobile Site 2008 Award

It’s time for the Brownbook team to get their gladrags on as we have been shortlisted for the Mobile Site 2008 Award by the Association of Online Publishers, http://www.ukaop.org.uk/.

This is great news for Brownbook as it gives us credible exposure which in turn gives further exposure to all the businesses that are listed within Brownbook.net.  Keep your fingers crossed for us – we are up against some big names including Channel 4.