How often do you, as a consumer, simply walk into the next restaurant you come across, or use a plumber after seeing a sign outside their house? With all of human knowledge at your fingertips, chances are you would at least check whether the food there was highly rated, or look at the plumber's operating hours.

In fact, 86% of consumers report that they read reviews for local business before deciding where to take their money. Introducing and managing a robust online presence is becoming more and more vital for businesses of all sizes.

Learn from the giants

You've probably heard about the recent collapse of package holiday provider, Thomas Cook. The high street travel agent is an example of how the online reputation of a business can make all the difference. Being the longest-running travel company in the UK, Thomas Cook maintained a strong high street presence, banking on its longevity and customer loyalty – which unfortunately count for little in recent years. Thomas Cook was slow to adapt to the rapid shift to online bookings, allowing the gap to be filled by sites such as Expedia.com.

Blockbuster is another example of a company which failed to adapt to a changing climate caused by online streaming sites such as Netflix. What could have undertaken a natural shift to the online world was instead stubbornly left in brick-and-mortar stores, leading to the company's demise in 2010.

While these issues are at a huge scale, small businesses should learn what they can from them – with nearly half of the UK's sole traders not having a website, you can stand out by taking the leap. See our blog post which challenges some of the beliefs around using only social media to promote your business.

Making customers feel heard

Another lesson to be learned from Thomas Cook is the importance of keeping on top of your reviews. The company maintained a rating of only 1.6 stars on leading review site Trustpilot. None of the reviews, positive or negative, have received any reply from the company, which can breed resentment and make dissatisfied customers feel ignored. Keeping track of your business' reviews gives you a fantastic set of feedback to act on, and provides a direct line of communication to some of your most valuable customers.

For small businesses, the presence of reviews can help legitimise your online listings. Having just a few good reviews can put you ahead of your competitors who don't, as it shows that at least some customers have used your business and had good results. Studies show that the first five reviews on a product cause the most drastic increase in sales.

Keep your information accurate

Have you ever eagerly visited a restaurant or attraction only to find it closed for the day – despite Google clearly stating it was open? Having accurate and up-to-date information on your business listings can avoid disappointments like this occurring. Matching these listings to the information on your own website can push you higher up in potential customers' search results. With the approach of Black Friday and the Christmas shopping season, now is a great time to get your business' online presence off the ground, or make sure it's as accurate as it can be. Last-minute Christmas shoppers could use your listed hours to catch a deal, and showing off your Black Friday discounts in advance can bring customers in on the big day.

Make it happen

The tools are out there for you to kick-start your own business' digital presence. If you're struggling to get started, our Website Builder packages offer an easy way to get yourself a professional website with an included domain.

If you already have a website, you're just getting started – our Listing Coach tool gives you a single hub to manage all of your business listings, ensuring they stay consistent as you make changes. Seamlessly tying into your existing website package through our control panel, it also allows you to read, manage, and reply to vital customer reviews in one place.