There are many more websites with information about your business than you realize. Dozens of online directories have published your store’s phone number, address, website URL and hours of operation without your consent — and likely, without checking the accuracy of the data.

That’s a problem.

Incorrect business listings confuse customers, sink SEO rankings and spread like a virus across other online tools designed to connect your company to customers, such as social media and maps.

Correcting the record

It’s a frustration Don Riling knows all too well.

The president of Olympic Hot Tub , which has six locations and a service/outlet center throughout the greater Seattle area, recently relocated its flagship showroom. Nearly a year after moving, Riling began receiving complaints from customers who couldn’t find the store using the popular navigation app Waze.

“I pulled it up and, sure enough, it was taking everyone to our old address,” Riling recalls.

This was curious, given that Riling went through the surprisingly analog process of claiming the new location on Google, which owns Waze. To verify your business address across Google products, the search giant sends a postcard with an activation code. Apparently, the updated Google profile didn’t filter down to Waze. It took six weeks of repeated efforts on Riling’s part before the correct address appeared on the app.

A few months later, he ran into a similar problem. When relocating the warehouse, Riling discovered that Google Maps had the incorrect address for the new building.

Says Riling: “So, people would be driving in an infinite loop saying ‘We can’t find you!’”

Digital headaches such as these can be expected when relocating or opening another store. But business owners needn’t make any major changes to create confusion online. Issues arise when publishers of local directories pull data from disparate sources — a LinkedIn profile or a public record, for instance — to generate lists of local services. If one of these sources has the wrong address or phone number, other websites can pick up that misinformation.

Brett Lloyd Abbott, owner of Marketing for Pool Builders in Austin, Texas, estimates that, of the 50-plus listing services online, more than half contain incorrect data about your company. Simply search for your business online and see what appears. If you find your address or name listed incorrectly on one directory, Abbott warns, it’s likely published that way on others.

You probably had no say in how the information is presented or where it appears.

“This isn’t optional,” Abbott cautions. “They’re doing this whether you want them to or not.”

Revving the search engine

This isn’t to say local business listings are bad. In fact, they can be instrumental in getting your brand in front of potential customers actively searching for services such as yours.

There are nearly 60 of these directories, some you’re likely familiar with, such as Facebook, Apple Maps, Google My Business and Yellow Pages. Others are more obscure. You may have never heard of Hot Frog or Kudzu, but you shouldn't dismiss them. They still play a valuable role within the search-engine ecosystem.

Getting your business listed on these sites with accurate information and a link to your website improves your online visibility. Marketers also advise populating these sites with photos, video and a detailed description of your store and services offered, all of which factor into Google’s search engine algorithm.

“Now you have 50 websites pointing to your website, and that’s a known factor Google is looking at,” Abbott explains.

That’s why you need to be diligent in claiming these listings and updating them — all of them. Just because your Google My Business profile is up to date, that doesn’t mean other directories will automatically conform, Abbott advises.

Your information also should be formatted consistently across listings. Deviations can work against you. For example, if Listing A calls company AquaPool Supplies and Listing B advertises your services as Aqua Pool Supplies, that space between the “Aqua” and “Pool” could cause a search engine to devalue your overall ranking.

Also, make sure your business is categorized correctly. Your store might be listed as a pool builder or service provider, which would be a problem if your business is strictly retail.

To avoid discrepancies, Riling made sure Olympic Hot Tubs’ addresses all followed the U.S. Postal Service standard. Example: “Ave N.” instead of Avenue North. Addresses for all locations follow this format across all listings.

Riling also checked with the State of Washington and found another surprise: Records had ten Olympic Hot Tub locations listed as active, when there were only seven. This can be the kind of bad data that online publishers distribute.

Editing all of this can be tedious and time-consuming, but online-reputation management firms will navigate the minefield for you. Many want to sell you an annual subscription for this type of service, but Abbott doesn’t think that’s necessary — unless your store frequently relocates. He suggests paying for a few months of the service to mop up the mess and then canceling. “Get it all fixed and forget it for five years,” he advises.

Listing lessons

Knowing what he knows now, Riling would have done things a little differently.

While his web-management firm whipped all the listings into shape, he says he would have saved himself much aggravation by confirming new addresses with Google before moving. He also would have checked all navigation apps to ensure they would guide customers to the right location.

“You have to think like a consumer,” Riling offers. “You have to think about the way they’re using technology today.”