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How to create safe and effective online business listings that won’t damage your reputation

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by Staff Writer

Business listing on a computer, a tablet, and a phone.

This post has been modified to reflect new information since its original publication.

Effective online business listings have long been the cornerstone of business promotion, the place where a company’s basic information is displayed and where the reputation of the business can be defined and managed. Our increasingly digital age is seeing the boundaries of business listings shift, and companies must learn to adapt.

If you haven’t cracked open physical yellow pages in a while, you aren’t alone. Accessing a business resource these days often looks more like searching online for a business listing or directory that will help you find a company that meets your specific needs.

Effective online business listings can be a great way to leverage the power of the Web to create traffic to your business and website. A listing can pull people to your site, giving you a higher search engine ranking and enhancing your online reputation.

From online city guides that offer local business listings side-by-side with regional news, weather and events to business directory pages specialized to certain products or services, online business listings offer unparalleled opportunities for companies to increase their sales. Indeed, businesses of all shapes and sizes, from the garage startup to the largest Wall Street corporation, have one thing in common: They increasingly rely on online business listings to gain that extra visibility and marketing edge.

Manage your company’s reputation without the headaches

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As online business listing options have multiplied, so have the headaches for business owners, who have enough on their hands simply trying to run profitable companies. Many simply don’t have the time to oversee effective business promotion strategies on the Web.

With all of these new opportunities—and potential headaches—around, it’s tempting just to throw up your hands and concentrate on the details of running your business. Fortunately, there are simple ways to help grow your company image online through business listings, ensuring that you’re always a step ahead of the competition.

Go beyond simple lists to active descriptions

Portray your company in a favorable light by effectively describing your business. If there’s an option to provide a paragraph or two about your company on a listings page, take full advantage of it. Rather than a drab, bare-bones description of your company, feature the kind of clear, energetic prose that draws in customers.

Always use common sense, being careful not to reveal too much information about yourself or your company. Stick to the aspects of your business that you actively want to promote and get professional assistance in making your business listing prominent in online searches.

Choose reputable listing sites that attract substantial Web traffic

There are literally thousands of business listing sites on the Web, but they aren’t all created equal. Even if a site does attract substantial Web traffic, it might not offer the demographics you’re after. Any reputable business directory site should be able to provide documentation of Web traffic to its site in your preferred demographic, assuring you that many potential customers will be viewing your listing.

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Naturally, you should be wary of listing sites that are simply dishonest. You’ve heard of phishing and other forms of tracking that occur on less-reputable sites; as a business operator, you must also be concerned for potential customers who enter a dishonest site to view your listing. If your company is listed on a website that includes spyware, or in any way infringes online privacy, customers will likely associate your company with that website.

Think outside the business listings box

Effective online business listings, especially beyond manufacturing and wholesaling, don’t always follow a static yellow pages format. In the retailing and service sectors, for instance, some of the most powerful tools for or against your business are found on sites like Google and Bing, which use sophisticated metrics to group businesses in a way that is constantly changing. Similarly, sites like TripAdvisor and Priceline provide price- and ratings-based comparison services for consumers under specific date and location parameters.

Most of these sites don’t “create” business listings in the traditional sense. Rather, all businesses in a geographical area are compiled so as to offer a comprehensive listings service to consumers. Often featuring customer reviews, they are of particular interest to companies concerned about online reputation management. Good or bad customer reviews on these sites can make or break a business’s reputation.

Given the abundance of such sites, many companies—especially those with limited staff and budgets—simply accept that there’s little they can do to manage their online reputations. But this simply isn’t true. There are now many companies dedicated to monitoring and protecting a business’s online reputation, and they provide a variety of services tailored to your specific needs and resources.