Hyperlocal Business Directory MerchantCircle Takes On Patch With Content Studio

Hyperlocal business directory MerchantCircle is getting into the content game today with the launch of a “Local Content Studio.” Merchant Circle, which has been steadily growing, is a business directory for merchants in smaller towns and currently lists 1.3 million small businesses. MerchantCircle has local business members in 95% of the 24,600 U.S. cities and towns with populations over 200.

The Local Content Studio aims to bring bring short-format information and articles that focus on the long tail of consumer local interest. The idea behind the studio is to create in-depth local content designed to connect customers with merchants. And MerchantCircle is encouraging business owners on its site to contribute the content. A typical submission would focus on “the best fishing tips for Five Lake, in Talkeetna, Alaska,” written by a local bait shop owner.

Similar to AOL’s local content factory Patch, writer or local merchants can submit content to be reviewed for approval or corrections, and published to local and topical “Expert Pages” on MerchantCircle. The studio was soft-launched in May and have already seen over 28,000 city descriptions and nearly 12,000 accompanying local photosets. It’s unclear how MerchantCircle is paying contributors (the assumption is according to page views) but the company claims that some writers have earned as much as $700 in one week.

It looks like MerchantCircle has been looking to other startups and companies for inspiration on how to drive more traffic to the platform. Most recently, the company launched a Mayorship feature, which is a take on Foursquare’s network. And clearly, MerchantCircle is adopting a content model similar to Demand Media or Patch. But the content play could work to the company’s favor. According to Compete, MerchantCircle’s traffic has increased since May to 8 million unique visitors in July. And MerchantCircle may be looking to increase traffic as it possible preps for an IPO in the coming year.