How To Claim Your Online Identity and Keep It Relevant

Photo: mbortolino

Your customers are looking at your online business listings whether you’ve claimed ownership or not. In fact, they may be writing reviews and telling the world about how much they love your company, regardless of whether you are actively involved on Yelp, Google Places, Foursquare, etc.

This scenario is what Bob Young of ComputerTree encountered when he did an Internet search on his business. He stumbled upon Yelp and read positive reviews already posted by customers.

As a seasoned entrepreneur in the technology industry (his company is an Apple reseller and training provider), Bob knew that people rely on the Internet to get information needed to make purchase decisions. But reading The Referral Engine: Teaching your Business to Market Itself by John Jantsch reinforced the notion that he should take control of and manage information contained in online directories and review sites.

Claiming the listing was a first step. Building out a profile and adding content were natural next actions, enabling him to direct the flow of conversation and deepen engagement with interested visitors, prospects, and existing customers.

Many business owners are very involved in managing their virtual presences on multiple sites while others are still figuring out what to do. Here are a few tips for those just getting started.

Claim your online listings

Start by identifying the business listings and review sites that appear on the first page of search results for your company. Depending on your market, these are likely to include Google Places, Yelp, City Search, Insider Pages, and Yahoo! Local. Then, take these actions:

  • Register for a business account, which should be free and easy;
  • Stake your claim as the owner of your business;
  • Confirm your ownership, generally through a verification process that may involve responding to a call or entering a code from a postcard delivered to your physical address.

Build your profile

Review the information that is already posted on the business listing. Determine what information and categories to keep, remove, change, or embellish.

  • Verify basic information such as your address, phone number, and business category. Update whatever is outdated or just plain wrong.
  • Add your website URL and pertinent facts that you want to customers to know prior to making a visit to your location, such as hours of operation, and whether you accept charge cards.
  • Post photos of the exterior of your facility, which is helpful for those who may need assistance in locating your office or storefront in a business park, office complex, or shopping center.
  • Publish images of your space’s interior, which can give people a better understanding of your operations and help those who may be reluctant more comfortable with the idea of visiting your location.
  • Write a paragraph or two about your business, its history (or back story), and you, the owner. Give customers insight into your approach to doing business along with specifics about product and service specialties, areas of expertise, and credentials.

Take care of listing annoyances

Claiming your listing is generally a simple process. Problems arise when information contained in a main source is incorrect or outdated.

Business directories proliferate and tend to use one or two main sources. So, amending some listings does not seem to stop the spread of false data, such as a wrong address or old phone number.

To assure that the right information multiplies, pinpoint the source of any errors and correct information at its origin.

For example, I have found that updating Google Places was more effective than correcting off-brand listings, as the bad data kept reappearing until the Google info was corrected. In a webinar on local marketing sponsored by OPEN Forum, John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing mentions key sources that compile and disseminate data as infoUSA, Localeze, and UniversalBusinessListing.

Also, make sure that company information is consistent. If you have multiple phone numbers, websites, email addresses, etc., choose one to represent your business in online directories.

Engage customers and prospects

Both standard and advanced features on business-listing sites can help market your business as well as build and deepen relationships, online and offline.

  • Create deals. These offers may be more meaningful to site visitors than those on an email list of a deals service. A deal can act as an incentive to prospects that have shown interest in your company.
  • Encourage loyal customers to review your business. These folks will often highlight the best attributes of your company compared to your competitors.
  • Interact with customers, whether they provided a positive, so-so, or negative review. Claiming your listing typically will give you the opportunity to respond to reviewers, address concerns, and thank people for their patronage directly.
  • Add video to offer a multi-dimensional perspective profile of your business. This step can further clarify your brand message and business strengths.

On Bob’s agenda is the addition of video footage from an upcoming customer appreciation event. He plans to show the joy of interacting with his business and capture customer testimonies.

Have you experienced success by claiming your online listings?

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