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 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: Brownbook.net, 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: http://www.brownbook.net/countries.

    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, www.actorexpo.co.uk, 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: http://www.brownbook.net/business/31008544/sjk-products-ltd, and their Brownbook reviews which they have placed on their own blog: http://onedrywash.blogspot.com

    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

    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.net updates – international, mobile, plus other tweaks

    There’s been a lot of activity at ‘Brown Towers’ recently, not least of all was the release of Brownbook.net USA, Brownbook.net Canada, and Brownbook.net Australia.

    So, in the last week we’ve gone from 2.2 million businesses listed to well over 27 million (2.2m UK, 22m USA, 1.1m Canada, 2m Australia).

    Recent developments include:

    – Added in FOUR new countries with base data – including the ability to search globally.  You can also add businesses in ANY world country and we’re even starting to see activity in countries where we haven’t even added base data.  We also added some diddy little flags to the home page content to denote which country the home page content is coming from.

    – Re-prioritised the search results to give more weight to exact matches on business name

    – Added the business name to the Recently Reviewed Businesses on the home page (so you can see which busineses people are commenting on

    – Modified our OpenSearch API to support country selection in the API

    – Added a more obvious link to enlarge photo reviews, and to play video reviews

    – Added support for an ‘affiliate code’ so our partners can provide local search services using our PLATFORM, and they can earn money when businesses claim their listings.  This can be used in conjunction with our OpenSearch API.

    – Our MOBILE PLATFORM is ALMOST ready for primetime.  A few people have been trialling it for us and initial feedback is good.  We’ve just got a few more tweaks of the UI to get it just right, and that should be live in about 2 weeks.

    – We have a new member joined the UK Business Team: Sarah is responsible for getting the knowledge out about Brownbook.net and she’s going to be working on various news, promotional, and marketing-type activities.

    I’ll make another update soon, the next version due in a couple of weeks has some great new tools for business owners and consumers, so stay tuned.

    PS: check out this example of a business page with a photo gallery promotion (Emy Lou Photography in Brighton, UK).