Standardizing Your Business' Online Presence

Your business' online presence has a direct bearing on your sales and financial bottom line. Market research on consumer shopping habits carried out recently found that nearly 97% use online media when researching products and services in their local area, 90% use search engines, 48% use internet Yellow Pages and 42% use price comparison shopping websites, according to BIA/Kelsey, a media consulting firm.

This presents you with a compelling business reason to make sure you get your online presence right. You should prioritise the management of your online presence, making sure that there are accurate and consistent entries for your business name, address, phone number and any other contact details across all the different websites and channels your customers use to research products and services, and allow them to reach and order from you.

This may sound rather obvious but the challenge is in implementing this strategy on a practical and continuous basis, with the emphasis on standardizing your business' online presence everywhere.

Key challenges

For an average small and medium sized business (SMB), managing your business entry across the entire internet with various different directories and listing agencies can be quite challenging for the following reasons

1. There are a multitude of major players and even more minor players in the local search space, all with the potential to (mis)represent your business with incomplete and/or inaccurate information.

2. Generally speaking, business listing information is sourced from a limited number of common databases, and they all share a characteristic of being inconsistent, particularly when it comes to business names.

3. In all likelihood only your core business information - such as business name, address and phone number - is available online. This listing does not provide the information consumers want most when they are considering a purchase.

4. The final complication concerns the different ways different websites and services make use of the different types of content about your business. For example, a mobile application will rely heavily on a standardised and accurate postal address for your business, which can be used to provide customers with timely and location based offers, whilst a traditional listing service such as Yelp will rely much more heavily on photos and reviews of your business.

Business directory and listing players

You should prioritise the management of your online presence with the top tier search engines first - Google, Bing and Yahoo are the big three. Without a doubt these players in the local search space are the most important, bearing in mind that 90% of consumers use search engines to find local products and services, as quoted in the study above.

All three search engines offer a fairly straightforward platform for managing your business listing online. Google has Google My Business (formerly known as Google Places for Business, http://www.google.com/business/placesforbusiness), Bing has Bing Places for Business (http://www.bingplaces.com/), and Yahoo has Yahoo! Small Business (formerly known as Yahoo! Basic Listing, http://smallbusiness.yahoo.com/local-listings/basic-listing).

Note that the major search engines not only display your business listing in the search results, but also considers other references and citations of your web presence such as your website, own reviews, videos about your business, consumers blogs, mentions by previous customers and customer peer reviews. These websites will build up a comprehensive snapshot of your online presence for your business from all information and data distributed across the internet.

In addition to the search engines mentioned above and as indicated in the cited study, 48% of consumers also use Internet Yellow Pages websites (IYPs) such as Yell.com, 192.com, Accessplace.com and Bizwiki.co.uk.

These websites are primarily directories which provide business information based on geographic location and business category. In the main these websites source company listing information from the printed version of the yellow pages, so if you made sure your business was registered with a phone line, you should probably already appear on these websites.

Finally after the major search engines and IYPs there are several other types of websites and mobile app based services that publish business information -

1. Business listings directories in a specific industry, also known as vertical listing websites. Examples include TheInvestingSite.com for finance, and BuilderNet.com for the construction industry.

2. Social media websites such as Google+, Facebook and Twitter offer an avenue of consumer engagement with direct sharing of content, check-ins and special offers using location based services for mobile internet users.

3. Reviews websites offer another platform for consumer research and discovery with users reading and sharing reviews of local businesses. Examples include tripadvisor.co.uk and yelp.co.uk.

Help is at hand

With all of these various websites and directories to check and monitor on a continuing basis, the important task of ensuring your business entry is accurate and consistent throughout the internet can be a daunting issue for a small business to tackle. Fortunately, specialist online marketing outfits such as UBL.org and Yext.com have sprung up offering Local Listing Claim (LLC) services, which provide a single management point for adding, updating, reviewing and monitoring of your business listings on up to 50 local search websites and services across the internet.