What Can Online Directories Do for Your Small Business?

Don’t let the Internet sell your small business short.

Online directories such as CrunchBase and VentureBeatProfiles can give a small business exposure to investors, partners and potential employees, but there are risks. Many of the Web sites let the general public edit the information, which may hurt a company’s reputation.

And online directories can be hard to navigate, since there are thousands of listings, said Starr Hall, co-author of “Get Connected: The Social Networking Toolkit for Business.” Small businesses should check monthly to ensure the information is accurate.

Many of the online directories are niche-based, focusing on one or two industries like technology or biotech. That can be valuable if a small business is looking to attract talent in a specific industry or looking for local partners or investors.

“A lot of investors use the Web site,” said Gene McPherson, project manager for Crunchbase.com, the online directory created by TechCrunch. When you search Crunchbase you see other businesses in the field. “Investors get a sense of what’s happening. They wouldn’t know about these companies otherwise.”

Crunchbase has 28,000 companies on its Web site ranging from a-steroids.com, which makes games and entertainment applications for mobile devices, to MeeVee, which makes a personalized TV guide. The free online directory is focused on technology, biotech and clean-tech companies. Readers are encouraged to submit information on listed companies, whether it’s their own business or not.  Since anyone can edit a page, Crunchbase relies on users to check the pages to make sure they are up-to-date and correct. The Web site does put company profiles through a moderation queue where staff checks on updates.

VentureBeatProfiles, the San Francisco-based online directory, also relies on users to generate the information about the roughly 40,000 companies listed on its Web site.

“It’s just like Wikipedia,” said Matt Marshall, founder and chief executive of VentureBeat. “Just like Wikipedia the assumption is one of open and friendly people.” While time-to-time inaccurate information about a company can be added, Marshall said VentureBeatProfiles gives small businesses exposure they may not get otherwise and allows more information about a company to get out there.

“People want to look for a job, see who the CEO or CFO is and how much funding was raised,” he said of uses for VentureBeatProfiles. And being listed on the site can create traffic on search engines like Google, especially for those companies that are rarely written about.

To combat the risk of incorrect information, Marshall said companies can subscribe to feeds that notify them when a profile has changed. And that, according to Hall, is a valuable tool to maintain an online reputation.

Small businesses should keep a list of where they are listed and set up alerts – such as Google alerts  -- which e-mail the business every time specific keywords come up on a post or if something changes in its online profile, said Hall.

To prevent a disgruntled employee from trying to sabotage a company on the Internet, Hall said small businesses should have social media policies and procedures in place.

“When employees come on board they sign and accept the policies,” said Hall, noting companies should have exit policies that bar former employees from using the company’s name online.

This helps companies clean up messes,” she said.

N.Y.-based Tracked.com, which officially launched a couple weeks ago, has an online directory of companies from Fortune 500 firms to one-person shops. But the main goal of the Web site is to bridge the gap of financial information and social media, said Mike Yavonditte, founder and chief executive of Tracked.com.

Small businesses using the free site have the ability to promote the company, communicate with other businesses and potentially attract customers via its online tools. The Web site lets businesses add people to connect to, track news about itself and other companies and create a business profile.

Tracked.com, which doesn’t rely on user-generated content, ranks companies by a range of things including number of employees, revenue, market capitalization and gains and losses in market cap.  The company does plan to eventually allow users to upload content directly. Since a lot of venture capitalists are already on the site, Yavonditte said Tracked.com provides the opportunity to attract investments.

“It’s free exposure, free advertising to your Web site,” he said.