Friday, December 21, 2007

Mark Geyman Keeps Chugging Along

I used to think of my friend Mark Geyman and his as a best-kept secret of the region. But as he's continued to refine and expand his unique local-regional-state online search tool long after Google invaded his local turf, he's hardly a secret anymore. This week, Mark relaunched the site, which continues to outdo Google, which is surely saying something. I invite you to tool around on it, as it now offers the following services:

Expanded coverage to over 400,000 Ohio business listings.
Ohio-based/centric business search directory that truly cares about our state/region, not just another national company trying to put on a “local” face, offering more of a personalized approach.
Site Search broken down into 5 Ohio Business Regions (NE, NW, Central, SE, SW).
Businesses can login and manage their own listings.
Tiered levels of membership from FREE, PAY (additional features included, “We Maintain” – OhioBiz will maintain the listing for you).
Included in all levels – Customized business location map, information fields on the business, including short descriptions and full descriptions.
All members will be validated before editing.
Additional paid features include: Deep Links – Additional links to pages within a company’s website (i.e. product landing pages, blog, specials page); Coupon Creation – program automatically builds coupons/special offers which can be easily customized OR member can upload their own coupon; Document Upload – members can upload documents (Word, PDFs, etc.); Products Upload – members can upload photos of products.
More features will be added – job listings, video clips, etc.
Add exposure to your website’s inner pages through the use of the Deep Links feature.
Easy to login and keep your information fresh.
You don’t need to have a website to have a “presence” on OhioBiz.

Here's a brief profile I wrote of Mark, eight years ago this month:

Cybrarian Mark Geyman
Through sheer doggedness, a modest webhound has grown what was once his personal bookmarks into arguably Ohio's leading web directory.

For years, it was something of a best-kept secret among cybersavvy local journalists and salespeople. The former found it a unique tool to browse for story ideas by industry sector and to effortlessly assemble company background information, while the latter employed it as a powerful weapon to narrow their scattershot cold calling from the comfort of their desktops. Simply by browsing through the regional web directory, any user could get a quick overview of the online presence that hundreds and then thousands of businesses and organizations maintained.

And the man behind it all, 42-year-old Mark Geyman, isn't what one might expect. A web-development marketing VP by day, he has little of the brassiness one ordinarily associates with his trade. Instead, his self-effacing modesty calls to mind a career librarian.

Sitesonline traces its roots to 1995, when Geyman--a former executive recruiter and cable-TV marketing and sales guy who began tinkering with 1,200-baud modems and the revolutionary Cleveland Free Net in the late '80s--began piecing together what he then called Geyman's Northern Ohio Website Directory. It was a year after the industry-leading Yahoo had developed its general web directory, but perhaps a full year before the portal site began offering local directories. At its inception, Sitesonline was little more than Geyman's personal bookmarks of local sites.

By '96, the self-taught hacker had changed the name to, and he was spending several hours each week adding to the directory himself as an after-hours diversion. He began focusing on the Cleveland metro area, then the northern one-third of Ohio, and now tracks sites headquartered throughout the entire state of Ohio. The site receives between 8,000-10,000 unique visitors a month, many of which are repeat customers, says Geyman.

His doggedness in building the directory is legendary in certain circles. For years, you could be engaging Geyman in casual conversation while mentioning someone's URL, or web address. He'd immediately stop you, gently back up to your reference, and ask you about the site, making a mental note to later add it to his burgeoning directory. He was similarly obsessive in tracking down the source of unfamiliar e-mail addresses.

Today, his efforts have resulted in a directory that catalogues more than 11,000 sites, which dwarfs any other local or regional web directories. Geyman receives as many as 40-60 e-mails each week informing him of still more sites that would like to be added to the directory, and he religiously maintains the database, thus leaving surprisingly few dead links for a directory of its size. Still, he's not in any position to get cocky about his comprehensiveness, since he estimates the real number of meaningful (no personal sites, generally) Ohio-based sites at perhaps 200,000 to 300,000.

His latest plans, though, call for essentially cannibalizing SitesOnline, which he doesn't own outright. Several months ago, he secured the rights to, which the Ohio Department of Development controlled for years, and which thus has an estimated 300 other sites linked to it. He's slowly migrating much of the SitesOnline directory over to his new site-about 6,000 URLs at present--and plans to stop updating SitesOnline. While the former directory was built on a Yahoo-like portal model, his plans now call for OhioBiz to proceed more on's much-admired model of popularity-rated search engines.

With all the large web players buying out their smaller counterparts, he's asked, is he surprised that SitesOnline has never been on the receiving end of a firm buyout offer? "Maybe it hasn't had a high enough profile," he says with his characteristic bashfulness. "It's a good resource, but I haven't advertised it anywhere."


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