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The high cost of listings

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Dozens of online business directories carry profiles of millions of small businesses. These include major search firms such as Google, Bing and Yahoo, as well as Internet yellow pages, social media sites and dozens of smaller players.

But many business owners don’t even know they are listed on these sites, or – much worse – that their information may be incomplete or just plain wrong. Other businesses don’t show up at all. Both situations are bad – but correctible.

Now that the Internet has become the “go-to” resource for finding any and all types of local businesses, having listings that are rife with errors can be harmful to profits. In fact, new research shows that missing and erroneous online listings are costing small businesses in the U.S. about $10.3 billion in sales every year.

Your online profile is a highly visible picture of you and your business that can also help you connect with customers, extent your brand and generate leads and sales. So it makes sense to get your profile as close to perfect as possible so customers can find you easily.

But what most business owners may not realize is that directories gather or “scrape” information about your business from wherever they can find it, and few if any of them will actually verify it with you. It’s not like the old days when print publishers would send you the contents of your listing to approve.

Here’s what you can do:

• Seek out your online skeletons. If you’re a newcomer to Web marketing you might be surprised to find that numerous online directories already list your business. These “skeleton profiles” are often just a few pieces of incomplete and inaccurate information. Some might even have two or more different profiles for the same business.

• Expand your profile. Based on your location, identify the top four or five online directories consumers use when searching for the product or service you offer. For instance, social and crowd-sourced sites such as Yelp and Foursquare tend to be more popular in major metro areas, while more traditional directories such as online yellow pages, Citysearch and MerchantCircle are used in more rural areas. But make sure you include the major search engines Google, Yahoo and Bing.

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