How Online Business Listings Work and Why They Matter
Making it easy for customers to find you. That’s a key objective for any local business. And, considering most consumers search for businesses online, being easily found on the web is crucial.
Luckily, there are hundreds of online business listing sites on the internet to help businesses accomplish this task. From well-known names like Google, Yelp and Facebook to obscure sites like Manta and Brown Book, online business listings are the phone book of the digital age.
And, as such, consumers expect these listings to be correct. Why? A recent study showed that 73% of consumers lose trust in brands due to inaccurate local business listings.
So what are online business listings and why should businesses care about them?
What are Online Business Listings?
An online business listing is a brief profile of a local business found on search engine, social media, industry association, business directory and other websites. The typical profile contains the name of the business, address and phone number (or “NAP”). But, can also include important information such as the description of the business, website, hours of operation, driving directions, reviews, etc.
While most business owners are aware that online business listings websites exist, many don’t know the large number of sites out there or that online listings are published automatically without their knowledge. On top of that, listings frequently have errors or are incomplete.
This situation can cause business owners to have a negative view of online business listings altogether. However, these listings provide a great opportunity for businesses to boost their online visibility, attracting more customers and growing sales.
Where does the Information for Online Business Listings Originate?
The reason any online business listing exists is because the owner registered it with the required government agencies. So the ultimate source of the information used in online business listings comes from the business owner. However, we are going to cover the following four key sources that feed the creation of online listings.
- Government sources
- Data aggregators
- Search engine data
- User-generated content
Every new business is required to register with various government regulatory agencies. So it should come as no surprise that government sources are responsible for the largest portion of information for online listings. These sources include business data gathered from state and local government agencies, phone service providers, electric and other utility companies. Even today, a majority of business listings are sourced from print directories, such as local phone books. This means the data can be up to a year old.
The next source of business information are the data aggregators. For local businesses, this is the source you may be most familiar. The following four companies dominate this space.
The role of the data aggregators is to acquire all the business information available online and provide it to the hundreds of online business listing websites like Google, Facebook and YP.com. These companies use sophisticated software to acquire and verify data to ensure it is the most accurate. The data aggregators compete with one another, so having the most accurate information is crucial. Online business listing websites pull data for their listings from the data aggregator they believe has the best quality, most up-to-date information.
The world of online business listings is a complicated one. The graphic below from MozLocal shows as much and also gives you an idea of how the data aggregators fit in.
Search Engine Data
Another source of business listing information is search engine data. The main search engines (Google and Bing) automatically create business listings on their Google maps, Google My Business and Bing Places for Business websites. The search engines make efforts to verify business listing data with the owner, and share their data with other listing services across the web. Because of this, it is important for businesses to claim their listings on these sites so they can manage the content of these listings.
The last source of online business listing data is user-generated content (UGC). UGC is content posted to a website by someone that is not employed by or affiliated with that website. This type of content includes text, photos or videos. Yelp and Facebook are examples of sites that depend on UGC. The main benefit of UGC is that it provides online listing websites with specific, highly relevant content that they could not otherwise obtain. The downside to UGC is that it is difficult to verify and therefore is a primary culprit for the existence of inaccurate listings.
Why Online Business Listings Matter
There are many reasons why online business listings are important. Research shows that 88% of consumers use the internet to find local businesses. And, they expect the information provided by businesses to be accurate and up-to-date – especially their business listings. If not, these consumers will not only lose trust in your brand, they will go to your competition.
Because consumers use search engines to do their research, there are important SEO impacts for businesses to consider as well. Online business listings offer an opportunity for local businesses to boost SEO through adding branded content and building important backlinks from hundreds of business listing websites.
The reality of online listings is that the accuracy of the information included can degrade over time. For example, it is not unusual for businesses to forget to update their business listings when a business location closes or moves, changes their phone number, or has broken web links in their listings. Also, many popular websites allow users to submit updates to business listings that frequently turn out to be inaccurate.
Even when a listing does get properly updated, it can be weeks before listing sites start displaying the corrected information.
Regardless of the reason, incorrect online business listings are bad for SEO and can damage your online reputation.
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of how online business listings work and how they impact your business. With consumers doing their shopping on the web, it’s important that the information they see about your business is up-to-date.
Left unmanaged, your listings can end up hurting your online reputation and sales. You would think that with all the technology available today keeping your online business listings updated would be easy. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
What business owners should do is make online business listings management a key part of their local marketing strategy. Keeping up with your online business listings is tedious, labor intensive work. A good idea is to delegate this task to one of the many listings management providers that can do this for you at a reasonable cost.
Doing this will ensure your customers will be able to find you, help build your online reputation and grow sales.
How has your brand taken advantage of online business listings? Let us know in the comments below.
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