David Segal’s story in The New York Times earlier this month about the virtual closing of local businesses on Google Places and the significant and negative impact it has had on some real-world businesses – is the latest warning that losing control of your business’ online presence can have a detrimental effect on your ability to attract and keep customers.

While Google has said it is working to fix the issue, the fact that local businesses’ presence can so quickly and effectively be compromised online raises a lot of questions about what businesses should be doing to preempt, identify and effectively mitigate threats to their online presence.

It’s time to leverage areas you control to build a positive and accurate portrayal of your business online, use opportunities with respected third-parties to reinforce those claims, and be at-the-ready to respond to reputational threats outside your grasp.

Here are four tips to take ownership of your online presence:

1.  Send A Clear Message: We’re In Business & We’re Ready To Help

Your business has tools available to reinforce to current and potential customers that it’s prepared to address their needs.

Your website is a living and breathing representation of your real-world business, and the most important online tool available to you that is completely within your control. By keeping it updated and current, you indicate to visitors that you are open, available and can be trusted to handle their requests.

In addition to the basics of outlining your business’ services and contact information, add new content on at least a weekly basis – feature a new product, special, or customer testimonial right on the homepage. Just like you’d change the storefront for each season, update the content and graphics on your site to match the time of year.

Include social media widgets on the homepage to illustrate activity and interest in your business, as well as blog headlines to showcase thought leadership in your local marketplace.

Your blog and social media channels allow you to share real-time information with both current and potential customers. By updating these platforms on a near-daily basis, you indicate to readers and followers that you are not only open, but also active, invested, and up-to-date on the latest trends in your field. Your quick responses to comments or complaints left on these channels show that you care about your customers and have the means to make things right.

As the New York Times story showed, accurate online business listings are critical to your online presence. Use the story as a wakeup call to take advantage of any and all tools available to take ownership of your listings sites like Yelp, CitySearch, YP.com and others. Most of these sites require owner verification when making changes to contact information and services, so make sure you’re registered as the point person for your business.

2. Build Relationships With Local Media & Influencers To Create A Strong Reputation

Do your fair share of PR so you have local allies and conversation in favor of your business.

Is your business opening new locations? Is it the first to sell a new product in its market? Does it have a major anniversary of its opening coming up?

Take advantage of newsworthy opportunities to reach out to local media and influencers to get your business’ name in the press and in blogs and social media. Not only will the third-party support help generate increase awareness and confidence in your company, but local media stories featuring your business will appear high in search rankings – a big plus when current and potential customers search for you directly or indirectly.

The relationships you build with local media and influencers can come in handy should you face online reputational issues like negative blog posts or comments about your business.

By laying the groundwork in advance, you can more easily reach out to and rely on your relationships to help come to your defense, or at least consider your perspective should they write about those complaints. Building trust between you and those who write about you locally is key to helping mitigate both online and offline reputational issues.

3. Have A Response Strategy In Place

Whether it’s an unauthorized change to your online business listing, a negative review, or a competitive SEM campaign that’s drowning out your placements in search, have a response strategy in place so you know exactly what to do if your online reputation is hit hard fast.

  • Have a list of your online business listings –including profile URLs, login information, confirmation e-mails, etc. – at the ready in case you learn of false updates to your online business listing.  Know how to update the sites and know the process for contacting the sites in case an issue with your listing arises.
  • Draft template responses to the typical complaints you receive both in the real-world and online from your customers. The responses should be drafted for use in response to media inquiries, as well as online forums, blog comments and social media updates (e.g., a post on your business’ Facebook wall, a tweet that includes your Twitter handle, etc.).
  • Have the blueprint of an SEM response campaign ready to go on Google, Bing and local sites in case a new or existing competitor launches a campaign to overshadow your search results. You should have the most important keywords selected and set aside some funds to pay for it should the need arise.

4. Monitor Online Conversations & Be Ready To Respond At A Moment’s Notice

As the Google Places story showed, affected businesses saw devastating drops in demand for their services as a result of their businesses being erroneously closed online – and some didn’t even know it happened for weeks!

Monitoring is the only way to completely ensure that you’re not caught off-guard by changes to your business’ online presence, and that you can take the steps necessary to respond in a timely manner.

  • Conduct daily searches of what is being said about your business in social media by viewing your Facebook page and scanning Twitter, and search Google, Bing and the major local sites on a regular basis, to evaluate and respond to changes in your profiles and search rankings, customer reviews, and comments.
  • Also take advantage of Tweetdeck, Google Alerts, and other free tools to make sure you receive the latest on what’s being said about your business online.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Local Search Column

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About The Author: is an award-winning print and online Yellow Pages executive with broad domestic and international experience, and is the Local Search Association vice president of communications. She also blogs about the industry on the Local Search Insider blog. Follow @localsearchassn on Twitter.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter



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  • http://marketing-blog.catalystemarketing.com/ Linda Buquet

    Hi Stephanie,

    I was the person that gave the Times this story lead, did some research for it and was quoted in the piece.

    So I wanted to point out that the story did have an impact and Google finally did start making some changes in the right direction, largely due to Mike Blumenthal’s efforts.

    Google made the following update on their blog: http://google-latlong.blogspot.com/2011/09/combatting-spammy-closed-listing-labels.html

    “As promised, we’ve recently made a change to our process of displaying when a business has been reported to be closed on its place page. More specifically, we have removed the interim notification about a report having been made so that a listing will only be updated after it has been reviewed by Google and we believe the change to be accurate.”

  • http://www.searchengineoptimizationjournal.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    Point number 4 is so important for local businesses! You have to know what your customers are saying about you, especially on peer review sites like Yelp. Research has shown that more and more customers are turning to those peer review sites before they make a purchasing decision (even something as simple as deciding where to eat lunch). Too many negative reviews and foot traffic will drop off substantially.

 

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