It is no secret that when consumers want to find a specific good or service, they do an online search first. Most businesses think that in order to compete in the cyber marketplace, they need to have a website, blog and other supporting sites. Businesses in turn spend a lot of money on mobile marketing services and website design companies so they can compete with other businesses online. While all of these things certainly help page rank and online credibility, for basic search purposes, inclusion in online directories is the most vital step companies can take to get located.
Online directories have come a long way since they first started popping up less than a decade ago. What began as a format similar to yellow pages in the phone book has evolved to include a wide variety of options for consumers and businesses alike. In addition to providing contact information and physical address, here are five ways that online directories can benefit small businesses:
- Photos. People like graphics, plain and simple. A listing that allows photos of products, food or building amenities is one that will get more attention from people visiting the site. If a business has a physical location, consumers get a chance to sample what they will see if they make the drive to the spot. If a business is online only, a sampling of items sold or even of staff member hard at work provides a "face" to company name.
- Reviews. The best kind of referral is one that is "word of mouth." While it used to mean neighbors discussing companies they trust in their driveways, today that word of mouth advertising happens online. Instead of just one recommendation, consumers are subjected to many. Choose online directories carefully, however, as bad reviews can actually hurt a business. Go with the directories that allow some editorial control on published reviews in order to bolster business, not damage it.
- Biographical info. This is an especially helpful trait for companies that have one specific name associated with them – like doctors, consultants or authors. Industry-specific directories often have space for people to include biographical info that is relevant to the career choice. An example would be a dentist listing where he or she received a medical degree, or a consultant listing reputable clients. While all of this information is usually part of an "about us" portion of an official business, an online directory provides an extra space for potential customers to find a business. Though these sections are often written by the company, their inclusion in a directory gives them an unbiased appeal.
- Search specific information. Some online directories let businesses know how visitors find them. This includes keyword searches, geographic specific searches and other ways that consumers find a company. These tips can guide small businesses toward Web development in other areas and give some insight into the relationship companies have with their public.
- Comparison. If a customer is looking for a business by name, she generally does not go to an online directory. But if the customer knows the type of product or service she needs, but not a specific company, a directory provides many options in the same spot. Web surfers can quickly compare alike businesses in a convenient setting. While this may seem like a benefit designed for consumers, businesses also stand to win. Even if customers do not pick a certain company 100 percent of the time, the chances of being chosen at some point are much higher than relying on an official website alone.
Businesses that are added to an online directory benefit immensely. Sometimes, when a business is added to an online directory the owner will discover that their business has been hijacked by a fake listing. This hurts the business and forces the owner to do online reputation control. However, every business should be managing their online reputation. One thing to remember though is that consumers are searching for products and services online, so take advantage of this opportunity by adding your business to an online directory.
Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com. Megan specializes on the topics of small business tips and resources. Visit ChamberofCommerce.com for the latest business news.