This is the first of a series of blog posts that will focus on helping you take control of your online business listings to help protect your reputation and increase the search engine visibility of your website.

Claim your online business listingsChances are you have a website for your business.  If you’re an innkeeper, you probably have free and/or paid directory listings that link to your website.  You may have taken steps to broaden your online presence with “on-site” activities such as blogging on your website or “off-site” in social media such as Facebook or Twitter.

Even if you’ve done most or all of the above, there is still a major piece missing from your online marketing strategy:  claiming your business online.

By claiming your business on a variety of targeted search engines, directories and review websites, you:

  • Protect your business listings from being the victim of “online business hijacking.”
  • Potentially increase the visibility of your website in the search engines.
Wait, what was that about hijacking my business?

Online Business Listing Hijacking“Hijacking” an online business listing is anyone other than a business owner or proxy claiming that business listing.

This type of hijacking is often done by spammers, but may also be perpetrated by dissatisfied customers, disgruntled employees or unscrupulous competitors.

While most online business listing claims require a verification process, which cuts down on the possibility of just anyone coming along and claiming your business,  determined individuals will not find it that difficult to work around these systems to take control of your listings.

How will submitting these business claims help me in the search engines?

When you claim your business, you are submitting an official citation about your business, which creates “off-site” sources of information about your website that the search engines find valuable.  Most submissions allow you to include a website address.  The website address entries become links to your website.  These can help increase the search engine rank of your website.

OK, sounds like I need to take control of this sooner rather than later. Where do I start?

Before you begin claiming your business to create these citations, you will want to keep the following in mind:

  • Always use the full business name
    • Do not add anything, such as a tag-line, keywords, etc. to it.
    • Do not use shortenings or symbols, such as B&B or Bed & Breakfast, if the full name includes “Bed and Breakfast”.
  • Be consistent in the contact information you provide to all listings.
    • Use your street address and be sure to enter it correctly (e.g. “Main Street East” is not the same as “East Main Street”).
    • List your local phone number as the primary phone number in the format: (123) 456-7890
  • Choose multiple valid business categories.
  • Be prepared to verify your listing (usually by phone call or mail).

Local Search

Local search, the use of specialized search engines to find businesses based on location, has emerged as one of fastest growing sectors in internet search.  Mobile devices have driven much of this growth as more providers experiment with providing local search capabilities.

First up are the major players in the local search market: Google, Bing and Yahoo!.

Pinehurst Inn Google PlacesGoogle Places

Log in at Google or sign up for a Google account for your business and then learn how to claim your business on Google Places.

More Information about Google Places for Business

Google Places for Business Quality Guidelines

Broughton St. House Bing LocalBing Business Portal

The new Bing Business Portal was launched on April 11, 2011.  Log in at Bing or sign up for a Windows Live account for your business and then learn how to claim your business on the Bing Business Portal.

Brook Farm Inn Yahoo! LocalYahoo! Local

Log in at Yahoo! or sign up for a Yahoo! account for your business and then learn how to claim your business on Yahoo! Local.

Claiming your business on these three search engines ensures you are laying a good foundation for protecting the online reputation of your business and increasing its visibility in the online marketplace.

Future posts on this subject will include the steps to claiming your business with other important search engines, directories, and review websites.  Following that will be posts that focus on how to make the most of your listings once you’ve claimed them.