Your small business may have a big footprint online

Lots of small businesses still rely entirely on “traditional” advertising, using old-school marketing like print directory ads, direct mail, coupons – and yes, business cards and letterhead. Plenty of small businesses continue to get new, local customers using tried-and-true methods that have worked for years…so it could be easy to think there’s no need to take your business into “the digital age.”

But you might be surprised to know that even if you haven’t started adding digital — a website, pay-per-click search ads, or online display ads — to your marketing plan, there’s a very good chance that your business is already online.

Really… and that could be a problem.

If you don’t have a plan to take over ownership of “autogenerated” online listings, profiles and reviews for your business, you have no idea if the information about you is correct. You’re missing opportunities to accurately inform your customers, win new customers and spread the word about all the great work your local business does.

Search engine listings

Google, Bing and Yahoo can all create business listings for your business. Search engines pull data from multiple sources to automatically create listings – and they don’t always update them. If you’ve recently changed your business name, address, phone number, hours of operation, or even overhauled your menu…you may have autogenerated listings that give your customers the wrong information. Nothing will send your customers to a competitor faster than a wrong number, or trudging out for an in-store visit an hour after you’ve closed!

Social media

Facebook can automatically create Pages for businesses that haven’t created their own. If no one else is managing this Page, you can request to claim it (and you can merge it with an “official” Page you set up too). But who knows what’s appearing on that automatic Page before you found it, or while you wait to verify your ownership and claim it?

And don’t forget about the negative perception an empty, autogenerated Page can create. Your customers may wonder:

  • “Are they still in business?”
  • “Is this the right Page? Or is their other Page the ‘official’ one?”
  • “If they aren’t managing their social media presence…will they respond to emails? Will it be hard to work with them on my terms?”

Review sites

And we do mean “sites” plural. From Yelp to Google+ and so many more, there are plenty of places for happy (and unhappy!) customers to leave reviews for your business. Without access and a plan to address bad reviews, thank customers for good reviews and publish positive reviews on your own, can your business afford to let bad reviews sit online for all to see?

Perception plays an important role here too. Online reviews are more popular – and more trusted – than ever:

  • 91% of consumers read online reviews of local businesses*
  • 84% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations*

Don’t forget your domain name

If you haven’t claimed yourbusinessname.com yet, there’s a chance that someone else can (or already did). And once you’re finally ready to make the leap to online marketing, you may have to pay more than you expect to buy that domain from them – or settle for a runner-up URL.

Get your business online on your terms

Whether you’re seeing listings, social profiles or reviews for your business that you don’t control, or you’re not seeing them yet, there’s no time like the present to make sure you control your business online. While offline marketing may be driving enough business to you today, you can’t afford to let the negative impact of “out of control” online profiles hurt your business tomorrow.

*BrightLocal Local Consumer Review Survey, 2016