Marchex Rolls Out Reputation Management Software for Small Businesses

Online reputation management is hot these days. Today, Seattle-based Marchex, the online advertising and search company, is announcing a new thrust in its strategy for connecting local consumers with restaurants, florists, and other businesses. The firm is releasing software that helps small, local businesses monitor and understand what people are saying about them and their competitors—and make sure information about the businesses online is accurate.

Marchex (NASDAQ: MCHX) says the product is the first of its kind, but the news fits into a broader trend of Seattle-area companies offering reputation management and “Web sentiment” software. The idea is to sell software tools that automatically collect what people are saying about brands and products in blogs, articles, and social media like Twitter, and then summarize the positive and negative feedback so businesses can quickly respond to customers. Visible Technologies, Appature, and Evri are some of the other Seattle companies working in the space.

“This is a really important product if you think of the next generation of performance advertising,” says Peter Christothoulou, the chief operating officer and a founding executive of Marchex. “It’s about not just acquiring new partners, but communicating with them.” Christothoulou adds that the new effort acts like the “front of the funnel” in Marchex’s strategy for helping businesses find new customers and maintain relationships with them.

While other offerings provide insights into how a company name or brand is represented online, Marchex is focusing specifically on the local aspect of small businesses, says Matthew Berk, the company’s executive vice president of product engineering. In addition to monitoring the sentiment of local customers, that means making sure a restaurant’s phone number and address are listed correctly in various places online, and that the special features of a Petco store in one neighborhood, say, are differentiated from those of other Petco stores at different locations.

But connecting these local stores with feedback from social media and other sources is the main advance here. “Businesses know things are being said about them online,” adds Ryan Fritzky, a senior product manager at Marchex. “It’s an important first step to provide them with a service where intelligence is brought to them in one place.”

Marchex isn’t selling the product directly to small businesses. Rather, it is going through its big partners like AT&T, Comcast, the Cobalt Group, and, who will in turn resell the software to local businesses for a monthly fee.

Strategically, it sounds like reputation management could be an important new revenue stream for Marchex, which reported a 44 percent drop in revenues in the second quarter of this year ($21.1 million) compared to the same period in 2008 ($37.4 million). “This is the first of many forward-looking products we’re delivering to the [small and medium-size business] channel. It can be significant for us over time,” Christothoulou says.

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