How to create your own local directory, for free

http://www.welburn.infowelburnheader.pngWe had an interesting email from Steve Serowka today, showing us how he’s leveraging Brownbook’s free business directory platform to deliver enhanced value on his own local community site.  Here’s how he did it, in his own words…

Dear Marc

I thought you may be interested to know how Brownbook solved my problem of adding a business directory to a small community website.

Although I’m a ‘busy’ professional graphic designer I’m developing this site in my own spare time – doing my bit for the local community you might say. I wanted to include a business directory but I needed a method where by local businesses could add and update their own details. I stumbled across Brownbook and I thought it was a freshingly different approach to the usual dull listing directories of which there are many.

Initially I tried to build some kind of form that would show the results within the page of my new site but I really couldn’t get my head around ‘opensearch’ coding. The simply solution was to create a broad list of business catagories, run a search within the local postcode and use the url from the results page to create an external hyperlink. This works fine but being a very rural area I’m currently adding or updating a few businesses myself for each catagory to hopefully get the ball rolling. I’ve also used my profile to promote the community website and tell local business owners why it’s a good idea to be on Brownbook. There’s also a short article about Brownbook at the bottom of the home page.

See the finished result at:

I congratulate you on an excellent web resource and maybe there’s an idea here to create an easy to install template on community sites that will further the awareness and use of Brownbook.

I do wonder how you guys plan to make revenue from Brownbook now that you’ve made it completely free.

Kind Regards

Steve Serowka
Shoepepper Limited
Welburn Lodge, Castle Howard Station Road, Welburn YORK YO60 7EW  United Kingdom

If you want to email Steve, you can contact him on

Brownbook is now TOTALLY FREE

Important changes and improvements to Brownbook

Well, we’ve been in near radio-silence for almost four weeks now as we set about making some radical changes to Brownbook.  Two months ago several of our team were in the midst of reading Chris Anderson’s great new book “Free”, and we started to wonder about making Brownbook totally free – not free as in “free offer”, or “Free trial”, but FREE as in totally free, libre, gratis.

Now, many people are naturally wary of ‘free’, given that free normally means ‘free for a while’, or ‘free basic version’, or ‘free trial’, or some other variation of free-now-but-you’ll-pay-later.  But here’s the rub: Brownbook deals in bits and bytes not physical goods, we operate a lean business without many of the overheads of traditional directories or even many IYPs, and we make money in other ways.  Given that our cost of delivering Brownbook is pretty much a fixed cost and it’s low, and especially since our marginal cost of delivering our service to each extra business is so close to zero so as to be not worth measuring, why not just make it free.

So, that’s what we’ve done.

For ANY BUSINESS it’s now TOTALLY FREE to claim and verify your listing AND TOTALLY FREE to create a rich customizable business profile with virtually unlimited extra information, photos, videos, logos, widgets and more.

The other major addition is the ability to now create more links into your business profile, thereby improving its search engine ranking, by inviting other business owners you know to endorse your business.

So what’s an endorsement?

An endorsement in Brownbook is not the same as a review, it’s actually a mutual link created between two businesses that does two things:

  • it says “I trust this business, and they trust mine” giving viewers of your business page greater incentive to call your company ahead of your competitors
  • it creates inbound links to your business page that help search engines to index it AND raise its ranking and importance, helping you benefit from more organic search traffic

If you already have a website, use Brownbook to help draw in more traffic to it – our business pages are well optimized for search engines so you’ve got more chance of getting found in the major search engines and capturing that valuable organic search traffic.

If you don’t have a website, use Brownbook to create a rich landing page for any online advertising you do, and, just like those with web pages, capture some of those organic search results.

Here’s a quick digest of the major changes we just made:

  • FREE to claim and verify your listing – existing payers get to renew FREE (with all the available premium features) when their claim comes up for renewal
  • FREE to create a rich business profile – existing payers get ALL the new business profile features added to their business page instantly and for FREE
  • Faster, simpler claim process
  • Invite endorsements – a means to easily invite other business owners you know to endorse your business to create valuable cross-links to your business profile
  • Request endorsements – a means to request an endorsement from another listed business
  • Manage endorsements – the controls to allow you to see who’s accepted your invitations, to send reminders, and to respond (accept or decline) to incoming requests for endorsements
  • Visual improvements to business profile pages
  • % Complete unit – displays how complete your business profile is, from 10% to 100%, and gives you guidance as to how you can further enrich your business profile
  • Improved layout of your My Account page, giving better information about your claimed listings and greater control to do such things as: invite more endorsements, manage endorsements, renew claims, invite reviews
  • Improved search results page to give greater prominence to claimed & verified businesses, including downgrading the prominence of unclaimed businesses
  • Simplification of member kudos (the stars that appear after your name)
  • Removal of ‘favorites’ (a little-used feature, in the interests of simplicity)
  • Withdrawal of website creator (another little-used feature.  If you use this feature you’ll still have access to it until your current claim expires. We’ve emailed you to tell you how)
  • Withdrawal of the user earnings program (which unfortunately has no relevance now everything’s free. We’ll email and settle with all members that have accrued earnings within the next 2 weeks, stand by for an email if you have accrued user earnings)
  • Withdrawal of the affiliates program (like user earnings it now no longer has any relevance, we’ll settle with all affiliates in the next 2 weeks)
  • Removal of paid ads from all search results pages and business pages

What next?
Well, you could take a look at these three new pages that describe what it’s all about

If you’ve already paid to claim your business listing
Login to your account {} and take a look at your business profile page and try out the new features.

If you’ve not yet claimed your listing
Now is the time to do so.  Claim it to verify the details and lock it down, and complete your business profile. It’s all free, free, free.

Further help
You can view the help pages here, where you’ll find out all about existing and new features

Generate a business QR code (2D barcode) to add to your business page

BB-QR-300x300Did you know you can now add a QR Code (Quick Response code, or 2D barcode) to your business listing? . It’s surprisingly easy to do if you follow this simple guide (it’s a bit of a workaround right now, but we’ll automate this at some point).

Firstly, lets understand why we might want to generate and add a QR Code to your business profile.

QR Codes are a kind of barcode, but instead of storing data in just one dimension, they store it in 2 dimensions.  The result of this is they can store (and present!) much more data, including links, geo coordinates, and text.  The other key feature of QR Codes is that instead of requiring a horrible chunky hand-held scanner to scan them, many modern mobile phones equipped with cameras can scan them (if not already pre-installed on your phone, software is available for many phones to download, and it will soon be native on all phones – already MOST phones sold in Japan have this built in, and my Android Phone HTC Magic and my wife’s iPhone both have software available for free download).

The image above is a QR Code that holds some basic data relating to Brownbook, see if your phone can read it (if you don’t have software pre-installed, here’s a good place to get QR Code reader software for your phone)

The point of all this is that if you can create/generate a QR code for your business you can use it in any promotional media that you produce, whether online, or in print, and any reader can scan the QR Code with their mobile phone to get directed perhaps to your website, or a special exclusive offer for example, without having to write down or remember anything.

How to create the code for your Brownbook page:

As a prerequisite you need to have claimed your listing, and got the ‘customize my page‘ promo to allow you to add stuff to your business profile page. Then do one of the following methods:

Method 1 – handcrafted

1. Navigate to your Brownbook business page, and enter the ‘customize my page’ mode.

2. Add an ‘HTML unit’ to your business page, and ‘edit’ the unit by adding the following HTML

<img src=”<img src=”×350&chl=TEXT_YOU_WANT_TO_SHOW”&gt;

3. In place of the “TEXT_YOU_WANT_TO_SHOW” add whatever information you wish to be encoded into the QR Code, using the following codes for special characters:

  • use “+” to denote a space
  • use “%2C” for a comma (“,”)
  • use “%0A” for a new line
  • use “%3A%2F%2F” for “://”, as in http:// (eg “”)
  • use “%2F” for a forward slash (“/”) (as used in URLs)

Here’s the one I made earlier:

<img src=”×350&’”&gt;

So, if you wanted to say the following:

the best for widgets and gadgets

You’d use this (I’ve made the special characters bold for clarity):

and, putting it all together, you get this:

<img src=”×350&”&gt;

Method 2 – simplified

1. Go here QR Code generator –

2. Select Content type: “text”, Enter the text you want, choose size “L”, hit generate

3. You now have an image created which is your QR code

4. Right click (if you’re using windows) and ‘save file as’ to a place on your compute

5. Now navigate to your Brownbook business page, and enter the ‘customize my page’ mode.

6. Add an ‘image unit’ to your business page, and ‘edit’ the unit, upload the image your QR Code image you created

7. Job done

Useful links and info about QR codes right here:

Wikipedia – QR Codes

QR Code generator

Get QR Code scanner applications for popular phones here

“The Long Tail” author takes note of Brownbook

I was pleased today to have someone tell me that Brownbook is mentioned in Chris Anderson’s new book “FREE” (sub-title: “The Future of a Radical Price: The Economics of Abundance and Why Zero Pricing Is Changing the Face of Business”).

Chris Anderson’s “The Long Tail” was a great influence on us when we were thinking about creating Brownbook – in fact I’d say its essential reading for anyone wanting to get mass adoption for their website – so this was great to see him taking note of us.

Thanks Chris.

On the front cover

front-coverIt’s not every day you find yourself on the news stands of America… on the front cover!!! Here we are, Dave and I, on the front cover of the July / August issue of Home Business Magazine.

Home Business Magazine has a readership of 210,000 home-based entrepreneurs and business owners; people who work from home; and telecommuters. HBM Online is loaded with content to help home-based business start-ups succeed.

Many thanks to the team at Home Business Magazine from all of us at



Brownbook Celebrates its First Birthday and a Year of Sustained Growth

Free free global business directory that anyone can edit now lists 28 million businesses worldwide

United Kingdom:, the free global business directory that anyone can edit, is celebrating its first year in business; a year of sustained growth. Today, the site continues to thrive, with thousands of businesses being added, worldwide, every week. The international distribution of listed businesses can be seen here:

Brownbook also regularly enjoys positive reviews about the site; these left, for example, on Brownbook’s own listing page:

“Love it… Love it… Love it. This is SEO magic for the uninitiated. Simple, quick and powerful. Love it! Have recommended BrownBook to ALL my friends! Actor Expo Team,, May 25, 2009 17.23”

“I had a wonderful review of my business appear on my [Brownbook listing] a few days after signing up for your service. It was an unsolicited endorsement from a business associate. Right on! May 22, 2009 11.06”

Marc Lyne, co-founder: “We are currently listing 28 million businesses from all around the world. One of the reasons for Brownbook’s success, I would say, is that we never stop providing innovative new features to businesses, helping them to get found online. This keeps the site fresh and on its toes. Here are 2 of our latest enhancements, for example:

1. Stats counters and stat graph on every businesses page.

2. Bidget (Business Widget) for reviews. Now anyone can add their reviews that appear on Brownbook to any other website, blog or forum. See an example here: the Brownbook page for Onedrywash:, and their Brownbook reviews which they have placed on their own blog:

Brownbook included in a Forrester report for interactive marketing professionals


“Online Directories and Internet Yellow Pages in Europe”

This report by Forrester principal analyst, Nate Elliott, published on May 29, 2009 includes among the online directories that it discusses. Here’s an excerpt:

UK-based directory offers user reviews too but also takes the idea one step further: The entire directory is a wiki, allowing users to edit basic information like shops’ phone numbers, addresses, and store hours.

Source: Forrester Research, Inc

To buy this report, click here.

Video interviewing your customers

We used Skype to talk with a random selection of people who have added their businesses to Brownbook, we asked them why they did it and what they got from it. We recorded the interview in its entirety – no editing.

What we found was both interesting and revealing.

This is something we would advise every small business to do for many reasons:

  1. you get to find out what people really think about what you do
  2. you get to find out where they see the value in the service you provide (this may be very different from the reason you think people come to you rather than your competitor), this will enable you to tailor your advertising and marketing to be more effective in attracting new customers and keeping existing customers
  3. you get to hear of any improvements you can make, and solve any outstanding issues they have
  4. they get to see a human side to you and your business and hopefully hold you in higher regard, confirming their decision to use you and therefore they are more likely to recommend you to their friends
  5. by capturing the video call, you get to create an open and honest video of you and your customer that you can distribute on video sites like YouTube, add to your web site, add to Brownbook, blog about, twitter abot… etc, all of which will help you get found online
  6. you give something back to your customer by mentioning them in your video and adding links to their business, helping them also get found online

Here are our interviews with our customers from all round the World, see what they said and the gold-dust that they left us with:

Greg – Bush Marketingand a link to Gregs Brownbook page
Ines – Miamism.comand a link to Ines Brownbook page (great page with video reviews and more…)
Robert – R A Hilton Fine Jewelersand a link to Roberts Brownbook page
Anthony – Carpet Doctorsand a link to Anthonys Brownbook page (see the reviews Anthony has collected)
Veronica – Sort Out My Visaand a link to Veronicas Brownbook page (uploaded pictures)
Anthony Morris – OM2 Marketingand a link to Anthonys Brownbook page
Steve – Elite Advertising Consultantsand a link to Steves Brownbook page
Soren and Thomas – Pople Web Designand a link to Sorens Brownbook page
Stephane – French Tutoringand a link to Stephanes Brownbook page

Helping businesses who choose not to help themselves – Brownbook, the directory platform for classified publishers

From the outset we saw Brownbook as being a global open platform, available to other mattress-screen-195x300websites via OpenSearch and a platform on which any business anywhere in the World could add themselves (via self service) for free and then pay a small sum ($22) to claim, enhance and customize their listing.

For small businesses that are not able to add themselves or choose not to, then we provide the Brownbook platform to publishers that already have relationships with those types of businesses, and who also have production capabilities to customize the Brownbook pages for their customers (see this page to understand what page customization looks like). Publishers further add value for their adverisers by driving traffic from their web sites to there advertisers’ businesses pages on Brownbook.

Here’s an example of the same page on Brownbook seen as if you were visiting Brownbook from each of these different web sites:

Boats and Outboards


Horse Mart
Wight Bay

Not only do business owners benefit from the generation of leads from their presence on the publishers’ web sites, but they also benefit from the great SEO that Brownbook provides.

Publishers benefit through the turnkey delivery of a new richly customizable product that monetizes their web traffic and also charge the businesses themselevs a fair price for the customization work. The Brownbook platform enables instant delivery of an advanced web 2.0 business directory across all their sites quickly and easily. This enables the publisher to concentrate efforts on connecting with their prospect base and delivering benefit to them, rather than development of new web site functionality. This approach saves management time, development costs, ensures market leading functionality and reduces time to market therefore increasing revenue opportunity.

The more the Brownbook platform is utilized by businesses and publishers around the World the greater the benefit it provides to all the businesses using it. Rather like Wikipedia for encyclopedias, Brownbook is becoming the most complete and up to date business directory in the World.

Any questions, thoughts, then please do email me: marc[AT]brownbook[DOT]net

Developing your own widgets to work on Brownbook pages

lancing-marineHere is a great example where has created a widget to insert in its customers Brownbook pages to show the inventory that that business has for sale on Boats and Outboards:

If any online publishers anywhere in the World who would like a Brownbook business directory as part of their site or to utilize the web 2.0 business listing functionality of Brownbook, then please drop me an email: marc[AT]brownbook[DOT]net

This is how the page for Lancing Marine appears when it is accessed from the Boats and Outboards web site:

Boats and Outboards are linking to these pages from within their web site and providing their customers with a product where they create the page on Brownbook on behalf of the customer (add photos, videos, text, prices, logo etc) and help generate traffic to that page from within