Back in college I worked for three years as an assistant manager at a locally-owned natural food store.

The store shared a similar name as a popular big-name clothing retailer, and at least once a week we would receive calls that weren’t meant for us.

At the time it was entertaining.

Receiving a call about our return policy on shoes certainly wasn’t part of the normal routine at a store that sells local fruits and vegetables.

But looking back, I can’t help wondering if these mix ups hurt our business.

After all, if customers were searching for the clothing store’s contact information and found us, there’s a good chance we had calls from our customers that we never received. This was a missed opportunity.

One thing that stood in the way of fixing this problem was a lack of understanding of where this information was coming from.

We had a website, Facebook Page, and an active presence on Twitter. As one of the people in charge of managing those assets, I knew our business information and contact information was easily accessible.

But it wasn’t until we looked around the internet, searching for our business and businesses like ours that we learned an important lesson: not all the information people were finding was coming from us.

Mobile apps like Foursquare, review sites like Yelp, and search engines like Google or Bing really weren’t on our radar. Nor were any of the other listing platforms that were out there.

By only focusing on the stuff we were creating, and not paying attention to the details that were being populated from different sources, we were missing the chance to resolve a pretty simple problem.

You don’t have to make the same mistake.

In addition to the incredible work you’re doing to reach new customers, and stay top of mind with your existing network — whether it’s on your website, blog, Facebook Page, or in the inbox — you also need to be aware of the other sources of information that are out there.

This includes:

  • Consumers
  • Business direct claims/submissions
  • Listing management services
  • Data aggregators
  • Industry-specific providers
  • Scraped data

If some of these terms aren’t familiar to you, don’t worry!

What’s most important is that you understand how they can help your business.

Let’s take a look at how you can use each of these to your advantage:

  • Consumers: Choose your words carefully when encouraging customers to find your business on sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor. You want your best customers to feel comfortable looking for your listing, posting a review, and possibly sharing a piece of content like a photo. You don’t want to overwhelm your entire audience with pleas to review your business.
  • Business direct claims/submissions: Many of the top listing sites let you claim your location. By doing so, you’ll be given greater control over the information people find there.
  • Listing management services: With a listing service you can manage a lot of the information people are finding on sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and YellowPages from one central location. You also get the help you need to keep all of your information up-to-date.
  • Data aggregators: This is a source that compiles business listing information from multiple sources such as public records, surveys, utilities, merchants, agencies, and web-mining efforts. Data aggregators attempt to clean the information, normalize it, and license it directly to publishers. Because aggregators rely on public information to do their job, it’s your job to make sure your information is consistent across all of your web properties.
  • Industry-specific providers: Depending on your particular industry, you may already be aware of listing platforms that are specific to your industry. For a restaurant, being on a site like UrbanSpoon is a must. If you’re not sure if there are sites like these for your particular industry, finding them may be as simple as performing a Google search. You may also want to ask a trusted colleague to see if they are using any industry-specific platforms.
  • Scraped data: Much like with data aggregators, this information is pulled from multiple sources across the web. By taking steps to update the information on the sites you control, you’ll be able to resolve a majority of your listing dilemmas.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when starting out.

But remember, taking control of the information people are finding about your business online, doesn’t need to happen overnight.

Block off some time in your schedule to take inventory of the information that’s already out there. This should be as simple as performing a search on a site like Google or Bing.

Once you identify the sites that are out there, and the information that’s available — you can put a plan in place to start updating your information over time.

We’ve put together a guide to help you get started.

It will provide you with the information you need to take control of your listings, and make it easier for potential customers to find you online!

Download the guide and get started today!

Have additional questions. Let us know how we can help in the comments below.