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It’s probably not surprising to you that the Internet has replaced the telephone book as the first place most people go to find a local business—whether this is a service provider like a plumber or electrician, or a restaurant, hair salon, or other retail establishment.

Today, companies must make it easy for customers to find them online. In addition to making your website search-engine friendly, another great way to be found by your customers is to be sure your company is included in online business listings and directories.

There are hundreds of different online directories to choose from, ranging from the most popular search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo! to the online Yellow Pages, Yelp, CitySearch, and InBusiness. In general, the more online directories you’re listed in, the better your chances of being found by customers looking for a business like yours.

Make the Right First Impression with Accurate Information

Research recently conducted by PwC indicates that four out of every five online customers does Web research before making a purchase. Even more do online research before buying electronics, computers, books, music, and movies, while 73 percent of customers say they do online research before buying clothing, footwear, toys, and health and beauty products.

older couple shopping onlineStatistics like these make it clear how critical it is that your business not only show up when customers are searching for your products and services online, but also that you show up in a positive light and your online information is accurate. In particular, you need to make sure that your business shows up in the right type of online listings with information that’s current. In addition, you should be monitoring the things your customers are saying about you online.

“When your customers are doing online research and one listing has your business listed as a plumber, but another has you listed as an electrician, your customers will naturally be put off by this inconsistent information,” says Kevin Levonas, the vice president of sales and marketing for Loyal9 Marketing, a marketing management company that specializes in helping businesses manage, track, and improve their online presence. “Not only does it show a lack of attention to detail, but it can also result in lost business if customers can’t find you where you’re supposed to be in the directories.”

Ensuring accurate information in online directories starts with making sure the data you initially submit to the directories is accurate. “You must submit your business information to each directory individually, one at a time,” Levonas explains. This can get tedious and cumbersome, but it’s critical to take the time to make sure that each listing you submit contains accurate information about your business. Web browser auto-fill add-ons can make the job a little easier and help ensure accuracy.

Monitor Your Online Reviews

Once you have submitted accurate business information to as many different online directories as you can find, the next thing you should concentrate on is monitoring what your customers are saying about you online. The proliferation of online review sites in recent years—ranging from Angie’s List and Yelp to Kudzu and Insider Pages—has made it easy for customers to either praise or pan the companies they do business with.

“Online reviews can be a tremendous boon for a company, or they can cause serious damage to a company’s reputation if there are lots of negative reviews out there on these online review sites,” says Levonas. So you need to be proactive when it comes to keeping an eye on your online reviews, both positive and negative ones.

It’s a good idea to dedicate someone in your company as the point person who is responsible for regularly monitoring the major online review sites to look for negative online reviews and respond appropriately to them. This doesn’t necessarily mean getting into online arguments with customers who post negative reviews. “But you should post a response that tells your side of the story,” advises Levonas.

If yours is a small business and you don’t have the staff to do this yourself, you can hire an online marketing or reputation management company to help you. These companies specialize in finding out what your customers are saying about you online and in helping you devise strategies designed to maximize the impact of positive reviews on your sales and revenue, while minimizing the potential damage caused by negative reviews.

“Your ultimate goal should be to align all of your company’s digital assets so they’re working together to help your business look good online,” says Loyal9’s Levonas.

About Don Sadler

Don Sadler is a freelance writer specializing in the areas of business and finance. Reach him at don@donsadlerwriter.com or visit www.donsadlerwriter.com.