A major update and refresh, on its way

I’ve just been reviewing the new designs for the Brownbook website, and I’m getting excited. But let me put aside the excitement for a moment, and explain some of the rationale for the changes that are coming.

Way back, when we started Brownbook, we had a simple goal: to bring the concept of crowd-sourced production to a stale industry – that occupied by folks like Yellow Pages, SuperPages, Yell, and others.  Our view was, 7 years ago, that we could create a crowd-sourced local business directory, and, we did it – with bells on.

But, in fact, we did much more than that!

Brownbook now stands at more than 35 million business listings worldwide, it has more than 1.1 million registered users, some 30,000 of whom use the site to actually add and update listings every single month.  Of that 35 million listings, more than 2 million are organically added and updated (that’s about as big as the UK yellow pages, but created by the crowd and fractional cost and with infinitely more efficiency).

What Brownbook has become is the worlds largest Global Business Listing Database, and its still growing fast.

So, time for a refresh and rethink: In the next few weeks we’ll be migrating the platform from its current hosting provider to AWS (Amazon Web Services) to greatly improve performance. That’s performance of the web user interface (which presently is diabolical) but, perhaps more importantly, performance of the Publisher API.  We’ll also be updating the UI to be cleaner, simpler, and generally a bit more elegant – that 7-year old design is certainly showing its age.

We’ve also found some important changes in the way that businesses, and particularly their agencies, use Brownbook.  Small businesses can still add their business listings, claim and verify them, and enrich them with additional text, images, videos, and social links through the website. And that helps them get found on the top search engines through Brownbook’s great SEO. But increasingly we’ve had requests from SEO companies, and local search optimization, listings, and location management agencies to provide an API for adding listings in volume.  In response to that we’ve been road-testing the Brownbook Publisher API for a few months, and its just about to hit prime time.  The Publisher API lets large businesses, publishers, SEOs, agencies, and local search teams add and manage listing in Brownbook with ease, no manual keying and no human error. Its fast, easy to use, and you can be integrated and live within a matter of days – more on this later.

So, watch out for a new look, faster platform, and public API coming soon. If your a publisher and interested in the Publisher API, drop us a line via the Contact Us page on the Brownbook.net site. Or just click here.

Welcome back

Well, its been a long time, and welcome back! Please excuse the deafening silence for the last, oh, 5 years! Can it really be that long??

Well, the good news is that The Brownbook has been performing almost flawlessly for 5 years without much attention on our part. That’s down to the original fully-automated and self-service design that we created. Its like a factory with an automated production line, every now and again we drop in the ensure the lights are on and the machine has fuel, and actually thats all its needed to keep running.

But, its time for us to step back in and give it a little love.  


Richer Business Profile Pages get more traffic and clicks [stats]

We did a little analysis this week, intended for some internal purposes but the results are so interesting that I thought I’d share them with you.

Business Pages with more content get more views and clicks – sounds obvious and we’ve been saying that for some time, but how about some real hard numbers to back that up.

It’s long been accepted that more rich content = better SEO (all other things being equal), and that’s good news for small businesses and local businesses trying to get found online.  But how much of a difference does more content make?

Well here you go, here is the actual answer within the Brownbook world (based on 30 days activity and a sample of 900 business listings that saw activity in that period):

The numbers:




What does %complete mean?
This is a measure by which we deem a Business Profile Page to be completed, and you can see how it gets to 100% in this snippet (You’ll find this near the top right of your Business Profile Page, you’ll need to be signed in when looking at your claimed business page to see this):


A few quick conclusions:

  • Getting your Business Profile Page more complete results in more views and clicks
  • The difference in views between 30% and 90% is about 10x (and 2x when you go from 80% to 90%)
  • We’re getting an astonishing click through ratio of close to 20% in most cases and often higher
  • There seems to be an odd result where businesses at 90% get on average more clicks than those on 100% (I wonder why that is, perhaps because more info presented removes some of the need for the viewer to click through to the business’s website?)
  • (I noticed another anomaly in clicks at 50% complete – I  will see if more analysis can reveal what’s happening here)

The FOUR simple tricks to NOT screw up your shiny new SEO

Brownbook business listings give you great organic SEO, helping your business get found more on search engines. But DID YOU KNOW you can mess that up with a few well-meaning faux-pas?

Here are FOUR simple tricks you can use to easily avoid the common mistakes and get higher up those search rankings…

1. DON’T do ‘keyword stuffing’

This old-school SEO tactic used to use mass repetition of the same keywords throughout a web page to rank that page highly for those keywords. But search engines quickly got wise, and keyword stuffing now results in penalization and LOWER RANKING. Instead use the business and location tags to populate a variety of keywords and phrases and AVOID mass repetition. Is your listing sub-optimal for this reason? If so correct it now for higher search rankings.

2. DON’T make duplicate or near-duplicate listings

Get more listings for the same business and you’ll get more traffic, right? WRONG.

In fact Google and other search engines are extremely good at recognizing near duplicate content, and will de-rank ALL pages txhat appear to be duplicates. Result: Poor ranking and a waste of your time trying. BETTER to create and curate one really good listing and enrich it with unique and informative content.

Have you created a duplicate listing problem for yourself in Brownbook? Remedy that killing the duplicates, and picking one listing to enrich and boost.

3. DON’T make incorrect use of the address, contacts and tag fields

Something else I see from time to time is the use of Brownbook’s address and contact fields for non-address info, for example, including pricing, phone numbers, or text designed to entice a user. It sounds like a great idea, but did you know we use Microformats (what are Microformats?) to help search engines understand what the data on our pages means. We tell Google to expect an address, zip code, country, phone number etc in certain places, and if you’ve filled those fields with off-format text and messaging you’ll be getting marginal or possibly negative benefits from them. Google tries to identify spam pages to remove them from it’s index. Is your page looking spammy? If it is save yourself some time AND get better results by sticking to the rules.

4. DON’T let it stagnate

Did you know that new and updated listings in Brownbook are indexed by Google in as little as 20 minutes? No? Well now you do. How can you make this work for you? Well, you don’t want to create multiple listings (see note 2 above) but you can keep Google interested by updating your listing frequently. We recommend you set a diary reminder at least once a week to make updates on your Brownbook Business Page: add a special offer, update your product or brand list, get a new review, there’s loads you can do. Recently updated businesses sit right on our home page and are never more than one link away from it for the search engine spiders.

To update your listings login to your Brownbook account by clicking here and click on any of your claimed listings to edit or update them.

Stick to these simple rules and you’ll reap the benefits with better SEO and more visitors.
That’s all for now, more hints and tips next time. Until then, all the best,

Dave & Marc

Helps you get found online

PS: You can follow us on Twitter here:

Brownbook’s decision not to use nofollow links is appreciated by search engine marketers

In response to Andrew Shotland’s revealing post “SuperPages New Profile Pages Not Doing Advertisers Any SEO Favors” on Local SEO Guide (Local Search Engine Optimization & Marketing Made Simple), these comments caught our eye:

Marcus | ADMAX // May 27, 2010 at 12:39 pm
Someone should do a *no-follow analysis of all of the primary directories… Speaking of which – suddenly our clients in Brownbook are each showing HUNDREDS of follow links from that source – some sort of big experiment there – giving away all of the


*nofollow is an HTML attribute value used to instruct some search engines that a hyperlink should not influence the link target’s ranking in the search engine’s index. (Source: Wikipedia)

**Google Juice is the ethereal substance which flows between web pages via their hyperlinks. Pages with lots of links to them acquire much Google Juice. (Source: c2.com)

Webmasters – please tell me what you think…

(… and I will credit you with a link back in the resultant blog post!) – see my contact details at the end of this post

An open invitation to webmasters and owners of the following types of websites:

  • local/regional community website
  • regional/local newspaper or news website
  • vertical/market-specific/special-interest community website

Dear Sir or Madam

I’m researching a future blog post about the way business listings or directories are used (or not used) in three distinct types of websites (see above) and I’m interested to hear your opinions in relation to your own experience. I’ll be very pleased to credit you with a link to your website if you wish (though if you would prefer I did not please just let me know) – in any case, so that I’m not revealing your secrets I won’t be relating specific feedback with specific websites, only abstracting general observations or common opinions).

Please allow me to outline some of the questions that’re on my mind, how do you feel about shooting me back some quick thoughts on them?

IF YOU DO have searchable business listings on your website…

  • How do you make money from your business listings/directory (if at all)? And if you don’t would you like/plan to?
  • Approximately what did it cost (and how long did it take) to implement your business directory? And did you build it yourselves or bring in a ready-made solution?
  • What would you like it to do that it currently does not? And what would you like it to do better?
  • How important is the business listing/directory feature in the context of your whole site?
  • How is your business directory helping you get found in search engine (eg Google) results?
  • How are businesses added and updated? By you, or by the business owners themselves?
  • What other important things should I know?

IF YOU DO NOT have a searchable business directory on your website…

  • What are your thoughts on adding one? Would that be a feature and/or revenue opportunity you would consider?
  • If yes, what’s preventing you from doing it today?
  • When people search Google for businesses that might be relevant to your market or area, how do you get found in Google’s search results today?
  • What have I missed?

AND, about your business

  • What’s your annual website development budget (no need to be specific, just a rough range will help me out)?
  • How many people work in developing your website? What about in the company as a whole (again, just an indicative range will be useful)
  • Anything else I should know?

There are way more things I’d love to ask, but I must strike a balance between my desire to learn more and your willingness to spend time on this. Any input you can provide is very much appreciated, and of course there is my offer of a credit and link if you would like that.

Is there anything else I can do for you? If so please just ask. I can be reached in any of the following ways:

  • email reply: dave[at]brownbook.net
  • skype: “izidave”
  • cell: +1 650 646 8348 (San Francisco Bay Area, PST)

Many thanks for taking the time to read this (and hopefully respond too).

Yours sincerely

Dave Ingram – CEO, Brownbook.net

    Brownbook SCRUM hit at ICMA conference


    I spoke at the ICMA Conference (Classifieds EVOLVE or die) in Berlin last week. It all went very well and I was very pleased with the interaction, question and feedback, but when you speak, you never know what people are really thinking… I talked about the way we do development on Brownbook.net, how we use SCRUM / Agile development and then we looked at some issues that the audience had with their development process and how they would be handled with the SCRUM process that we use. So imagine my pleasure when I received this email yesterday:

    Dear Marc,

    Thank you very much for participating in the speaking programme at the General Meeting in Berlin last week.

    I have waded through the delegate feedback forms and your session was rated highest overall of the entire conference, with an overall score of 91%. 93% of the delegates felt the Scrum Methodology workshop was relevant with 91% indicating they learned a great deal.   I am pleased to inform you that you were rated the top speaker of the entire conference with a whopping 94% presenter rating. A few stand out comments from the evaluations forms stated “Excellent project management system.  Presenter was knowledgeable and well spoken. “  and another comment summed it up in one word –  “Articulate.”  Congratulations!

    Once again, many thanks for your contribution, and I hope to see you at the ICMA “Next Generation Classifieds” conference taking place 3- 6 November in Vienna, Austria.

    Best regards,
    Shay Klomp Bueters

    Dear Marc,

    Thank you very much for participating in the speaking programme at the General Meeting in Berlin last week.

    I have waded through the delegate feedback forms and your session was rated highest overall of the entire conference, with an overall score of 91%. 93% of the delegates felt the Scrum Methodology workshop was relevant with 91% indicating they learned a great deal.   I am pleased to inform you that you were rated the top speaker of the entire conference with a whopping 94% presenter rating. A few stand out comments from the evaluations forms stated “Excellent project management system.  Presenter was knowledgeable and well spoken. “  and another comment summed it up in one word –  “Articulate.” Congratulations!

    Once again, many thanks for your contribution, and I hope to see you at the ICMA “Next Generation Classifieds” conference taking place 3- 6 November in Vienna, Austria.

    Brownbook Optimization Report #4 – May 10, 2010


    Brownbook gives you free resources to promote your business online and get found more in search results. Here are more top tips and simple tricks to optimise your Brownbook Business Page to get found more online.

    Today’s tips:
    #1 – Are you ‘all a Twitter’?
    #2 – How to ‘do’ email marketing
    #3 – How to sell online, instantly

    #1. Are you ‘all a Twitter’?

    Everyone’s getting their feathers ruffled about Twitter, but can ‘tweeting’ really help your business fly? Chris Brogan gives some great examples (http://www.chrisbrogan.com/50-ideas-on-using-twitter-for-business/) of how any business can use Twitter.
    You know that search engines like Google favour fresh content, and when you add our twitter widget to your Brownbook Business Page you’re getting additional exposure for your tweets AND automatically updating your business page with relevant and current content without lifting a finger. Go ahead, try it, go to your Brownbook Business Page – be sure you’re logged in – and click ‘Add widgets’ in the box labelled “Customize your business page” near the top right of your page, pick Twitter and enter your twitter username. Job done.

    #2. How to ‘do’ email marketing

    Brownbook’s always given you great resources to promote your business online, and now we’re pleased to announce two new partnerships with two amazingly valuable tools for businesses everywhere: Benchmark Email, and Shopify. I’ll give you a quick summary of each here…

    Let’s look first at Benchmark Email
    I don’t need to tell you that keeping in touch with your customers is important. But at some point it becomes unmanageable to send email newsletters using your normal email software. Many ISPs place limitations on your outgoing mail to specifically prevent you from sending out larger mailings (we hit that limit with our ISP when we were trying to send 500 emails in one go, now with over 45,000 members we’d have no chance). So how do you get around this? We tried three alternative solutions and, eventually, chose Benchmark Email (in fact, that’s how you’re receiving this email now). We’re pleased to offer Brownbook members a no-cost no-committment trial of their solution, just by clicking the link on your Brownbook Business Page (see the link under “BOOST your business, try these…”), or you can just click here to find out more

    #3. How to sell online, instantly

    And how about Shopify… Selling products online was always a complicated business: website creation, shopping carts, merchant accounts, bank charge-backs… the list goes on. We looked around for companies claiming to make it simpler to sell stuff online and Shopify was the one that stood out (we tried it ourselves and created an online store in 2 minutes flat). With Shopify you pick a monthly payment plan (they start from $24/month for up to 100 products), upload your product details, and you’re off (the downside is you have to enter your card details to get the free trial :-(, but it’s just two clicks to cancel the trial if you decide you don’t like it – yes, we tried that too). You’ll see a link to find out more about your free trial on your Brownbook Business Page (under “BOOST your business, try these…”). Or you could just click here

    That’s all for now, other than to let you know we’re working on getting some more partnerships in place that’ll let you sample some other useful tools for your business (why not tell us what you’d like, what’s your biggest challenge you need to solve?). Plus of course we’ll have more Brownbook tips and tricks for you next time.

    Until then, all the best

    Dave & Marc

    Helps you get found online

    PS: You can follow us on Twitter here:
    http://twitter.com/daveingram, and http://twitter.com/marc_lyne