Online marketing is complex, confusing and even overwhelming for many business owners. All too often, when we find ourselves intimidated by something, we feel ignoring it might make it go away.

The problem with this is, while you may not pay attention to how your business appears online, your customers do and they make buying decisions based on that image of you. Also, by not paying attention, you are likely ignoring simple ways to get new customers and increase revenue.

Below are five ways you may be sabotaging your business online without even knowing.

1) Inaccurate and Inconsistent Business Listings

Something many small business owners don’t know is there are companies that specialize in collecting data on local businesses, strictly for the purpose of distributing that information to local directory sites. They collect this data and “feed it”  to sites like Foursquare and Citysearch, who require up-to-date business information to remain relevant in the world of local directories.

The problem for you, as the business owner, is the information published on these sites isn’t always (or is never) accurate. Things like your phone number, website, and business address can often reflect outdated or outright inaccurate information. More importantly, the information given to these listing sites can be entirely different from site to site. This means, if a customer finds you online, they will see inconsistent information and not know which site to trust, causing confusion, frustration, and likely, a loss of business.

example of inconsistent business listings across top sites

yelp business listing
citysearch business listing

Moreover, when your information is inaccurate and inconsistent, your business will not rank as highly in a local Google search, making it harder for customers to find you.

The good news is, it’s free to claim and control your business on the most visited sites, like Google+, Yelp, Facebook, Foursquare, and Tripadvisor (where applicable). All of these sites have step-by-step instructions on how to do this, and as long as you have the time, the process can be quite simple UNLESS YOU HAVE …

2) Duplicate Listings on Top Sites

If “Data Feed A” gives Foursquare an outdated business listing; maybe the address and phone number for a store you used to have across town; then, “Data Feed B” gives Foursquare your correct business listings with your new address and phone number in your current location — Foursquare will post both listings and your business will have duplicate listings, which confuses your customers and Google, degrading your business in search results.

Another scenario that often creates duplicate listings is when an employee creates a Facebook page for your business and then leaves the business, taking the password and the access to your page with them. Instead of trying to gain access, many business owners will simply create a new Facebook page and start from scratch. Now you have customers commenting, liking, reviewing and sharing things on an outdated page over which you have no control. When people are saying negative things (that are often seen by thousands), your reputation can be severely damaged.

Because of this, it is essential for you to clean up any duplicate listings you may have online by first, claiming and taking control of them. From there, the hosting company will work with you to get pages merged or deleted.

3) Not Replying to Reviews

We live in a society today where every person wants to be seen and heard. The major purchasers, “millennials,” as they are called, contribute greatly to the 93 million selfies taken per day. Along with selfies are pictures of lunch (take note restauranteurs), and a recap of every aspect of every single thing they’ve done in a day.

Moreover, there are over 225 million reviews and opinions on Tripadvisor, billions on Facebook, and on average, 142 million consumers visit Yelp each month; some writing reviews about your business; others, reading reviews about your business. When you combine all of these factors, it becomes clear that online opinions are not only popular, they are here to stay. Your customers are engaged on these sites, and you should be too.

If you respond to customer feedback in a way that is cordial, respectful, and gracious, you will then be speaking to your customers on the level they want you to in the digital age. Small businesses nationally spend billions of dollars every year on marketing strategies aimed at engaging with their customers, but many do not realize they can do this for free simply by replying to their online reviews.

example of why replying to reviews is important

online reviews

4) Fail to Use Reviews to Improve Business

If one person leaves a review on Yelp saying your hours are inconvenient, clearly you would want to apologize to him. If 100 people say your hours are inconvenient and they will not offer their business to you because of it, you must not only apologize, but update your hours to reflect the needs of your patrons and earn their business.

Consumers love business owners who listen and address their needs. Review sites are a great way to see what keeps customers coming back and what keeps them from coming back. By ignoring such valuable feedback, you ignore the reason you are in business (to support yourself, yes, but also to service your customers’ wants and needs).

5) Not Paying attention to Competitors

After you receive 100 negative reviews about your hours, you decide to go on your competitor’s Yelp page and notice the same reviewers posting about how much they love your competitor’s hours and how these fit with their schedules. Are you just going to ignore that? Hopefully not, as these reviews are showing a direct correlation between why customers are choosing another business over your own.

For many years, business owners have hired mystery shoppers to gain some insight into what their competitors are doing right. Thanks to sites like Yelp, Facebook and Google, you don’t have to hire anyone or invest the amount of time mystery shops require. What your competitors are doing right and wrong is spelled out for you online, ready for review.

Perhaps the Microsoft Store has something to learn from the Apple Store?

competitive advantage

If you find you have not been paying attention to the five things listed above, don’t beat yourself up over it too much. You aren’t alone, as the times have changed very quickly for many business owners. As mentioned earlier, these things can be quite overwhelming when tackled head-on. However, once you get your listings claimed and controlled, monitoring the sites isn’t much of a challenge. Just be sure to check each page every day, or even once a week if that better suits you. The important thing is to not hide your eyes and assume no one will see you.

Should you need help cleaning up your most important listings, replying to your reviews, and gaining insight into what your competitors are doing, Merchant Centric has an all-in-one solution. You can request a quick demo or you can try it free for 30 days.

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