Clean Up Your Local Data!

Local search is a huge opportunity for many businesses, particularly those with hundreds (or more) of locations. In this article, we are going to cover one of the most difficult aspects of that – getting your data to show correctly in the search engines. This turns out to be an extremely important thing to do. In David Mihm’s recent Local Search Ranking Factors report the top two items listed where:

  1. Local address in City of search (e.g. a user search on “boston rental cars” will favor rental car companies located in Boston)
  2. Citations from major data providers, IYPs, and other local information sites

Since you cannot control what the user types in for a search query the only way to impact the #1 ranking factor is by changing your location. The #2 factor listed is also incredibly important, and something that businesses should strive to address. This is actually much more difficult then you initially might think. Let’s explore why.

The search engine’s challenge

Let’s take a look at the problem from the perspective of the search engines. Here are some of the basic challenges they face:

  • There are 15 million or more small businesses in the US. Tracking them all down is an extremely difficult task.
  • While there are mechanisms for the businesses to provide data to the search engines directly, very few businesses realize that they could (and should) do this.
  • Even if you track down all these businesses, the data the search engine obtains for them could be wrong. Here are are few ways that this can happen:
    1. The data obtained could have been entered in incorrectly in the first place (e.g. typos)
    2. Businesses close their doors, leaving the search engine with a listing with a place that no longer exists.
    3. The business changes location. This is also a frequent occurrence)
    4. New businesses open their doors. Search engines need to track these down and add them to their data.
    5. Businesses acquire other business, or get acquire by other businesses.
    6. Businesses change their name.

To underscore how difficult this is, consider the fact that data provider InfoUSA conducts 30 million phone interviews every year (source: my recent interview with infoUSA’s Pankaj Mathur. The search engines are not likely to want to replicate this expense given the structure of their businesses where they use algorithms to build their indexes instead of people.

One thing that the search engines do is draw data from as many sources as possible. This includes obtaining data from data providers such as infoUSA, Localeze, and Acxiom. They also crawl the web to see what listings for businesses are listed on various web sites, with special attention to Internet Yellow page (IYPs) sites, such as, or SuperPages, just to name a couple, and other local information sites such as CitySearch and MapQuest.

This is helpful, but there are still many problems that they face. For example, the data between these disparate sources do not always reconcile. They all have different methods for verifying data accuracy and updating their data, and the differences can be quite significant in number. So the search engine must decide what to do when the data from Localeze differs from the data from CitySearch, and so forth.

Worse still, these disagreements in data reduce the confidence that the search engine has in the data. As a result, it can and does impact your ability to rank in the search results — the search engine would rather show something where all the data agrees because their confidence in the data accuracy is higher. The bottom line is that you want to help them out, by getting as many data sources as possible in alignment.

What you can do

Imagine a world in which all data sources, IYPs, and other local information sites provide the search engines consistent data. It would certainly make their job easier to do. But since these data sources are competing businesses, they will not solve that problem for you. You have to do that, and getting all the data sources, IYPs, and other local information sites to agree can be a sizable chore.

The best thing to do is prioritize. You definitely should take advantage of opportunities to provide your data directly to the search engines. Using the Gooogle Local Business Center is a must. In addition, Google makes active use of location data provided to it in KML files (Martin Beijk covers how to this in this guide to KML and SEO). In short, these are files that you place on your server with information on all of your locations. You then point to it in your site map file. The fact that it is referenced in your site map files helps Google identify it as being from you. You can read more about this in an interview I did last year with Carter Maslan.

Once you have taken care of these basics, go as deeply as you can through the various data sources, IYPs, and other local information sites. Here are some of the top ones to target:

Data providers

  1. Acxiom
  2. infoUSA
  3. Localeze

Note that currently Acxiom does not have an operating program for businesses to update their data with them directly, so it may be hard to accomplish that update. But make sure you work with infoUSA and Localeze, both of which have such programs. If Acxiom does offer such a program in the future, make sure you jump on board!

Internet Yellow Pages and other sites with local information

  3. Superpages
  4. CitySearch
  5. MapQuest
  6. MerchantCircle
  7. Yelp
  8. CityVoter
  9. YellowBot
  10. Best of the Web Local

The IYP and local information sites generally pull data from the major data sources, much as the search engines themselves do. However, it is still best if you can take control directly with the major ones. If you have to choose between spending time on the IYPs and the data providers, the focus should be on the data providers.

The goal is to get as much data consistency as possible! It is not all there is to the art of local SEO, but it is the foundation of local search optimization. It is hard for the search engines to know where you really are, so do everything you can to make it easy for them. There are many other subtleties to this such as what type of data you provide. For example, local phone numbers for each location works better than one 800 number for all your locations. You can learn more about these other types of factors relating to your data from the David Mihm report referenced at the beginning of the article.

Special thanks to Stone Temple Consulting’s local search guru, John Biundo, for his help with the article.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: Maps & Local | Industrial Strength | SEO: Local


About The Author: is the president of Stone Temple Consulting, an SEO consultancy outside of Boston. Eric publishes a highly respected interview series and can be followed on Twitter at @stonetemple.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • nickstamoulis

    Hi Eric, Excellent post and thanks for listing the top IYP, there were a few that I have not heard of so, I will be sure to evaluate those…I think the biggest issue I have encountered with all of the profiles out there is for clients that have been in business for years is often the duplication of profiles and incorrect information.

    For instance, I have a client that has been in business for over 50 years and the have 10 to 15 versions of their profiles in most of the IYPs out there. We have tried to clean them up but we have found this has been nearly an impossible task…any advise of how I might approach this situation? Thanks!

  • matterhornpat

    Great information on the local landscape. Local presents unique issues for both the engines and the businesses. A segment largely ignored, this is a great primer for those trying to make heads or tails of how it works.

  • tinkn

    Hi Eric,

    Nice summary of the local search challenges. It would be great if you could add to your list. We just launched nationally and are growing fast in reviews! Listings can be modified by the business owners on our site.


    Kristin Hartshaffer

  • tomkomar3511

    great article. Just wanted to mention another site that provides consumer and business data. its They are a really great company that generate quality investor leads if anyone is interested.


Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide