Have you ever thought twice about how to find the correct contact details for a local business – i.e., their name, address, phone number? The answer should be so simple: just Google it. Well, the reality is not that simple. In fact, few questions in the local online search world are as complicated as this one.
This problem raised its head as soon as we started building AmIVisible. While working on adapting our SMB database with the information of millions of local businesses to the site, it became clear that many businesses have conflicting contact details across various sites.
The problem was not with how we collected the information on the businesses, but rather with the way the local businesses appear online. For example, this chiropractor from Boulder, CO is listed on Google and CitySearch with the same phone number but with two totally different addresses.
As a temporary solution, we picked one of the Name-Address-Phone (NAP) combinations and presented it as the contact details of the business, hoping that the discrepancies we found in the data would not be too conspicuous. In no time, we received thousands of angry responses from SMBs complaining that our information about their business was wrong. But it is not – the search engines and yellow pages sites that listed their business had the wrong information – and we were simply the mirror reflecting these realities.
For example, the business owner of “Villas At Emporia” in Emporia, KS, saw their AmIVisible report and complained that the address we “gave” them(1019 Commercial St Emporia, KS) is wrong and that the address on their website (1839 Merchant Street Emporia, KS) is correct. Looking into the matter we saw that “our” address also shows up on Google, Yahoo, Citysearch etc., and that the business’s real address shows up only on their website.
Address on the business owner’s site:
Address on Google Maps:
This problem is not unique to AmIVisible, and is widely discussed in the blogosphere. At the recent Borrell conference, Matthew Berk mentioned this as one of the main feedback items business owners gave during their interaction with Marchex’s reputation management system.
Why is it so complex?
Why is this issue so complicated? To start with, with so many SMBs opening, closing, moving and expanding to new locations, information changes all the time. Many SMB owners lack the Internet know-how to update their information when necessary. They do not think/know that Internet listings are relevant to their business. They already have as much business as they can handle. They don’t have the time or money to review their listings. They mistype when editing a listing, or one of a myriad other reasons.
To compound the problem, directories feed from multiple data sources with conflicting information and there is no one central directory on which to rely. As David Mihm discusses on GetListed.org, even when a business owner edits his own listing, the corrections sometimes still will not appear online. David explains that the three largest search engines “do the best they can to match the data that comes in from these other sources.” If enough sites list the wrong information about a business, the search engine may think that that is the “right” data. In other words, an incorrect majority can override the correct minority.
I want to pause and note here that most SMBs do have their correct NAP listed on most local search sites, but mistakes are all too frequent.
This is a major problem for all participants in the value chain – having customers call the wrong number, or worse, show up at the wrong address, means a waste of time for the consumer, loss of business for the SMB and loss of credibility for the directories.
There are, however, several companies who try to help with this problem – ranging from directories, SEM agencies, data providers, and companies who focus primarily on data reconciliation.
In Part II of this post, I will outline a few of the offered solutions, such as companies like Localeze, UBL and LocalSplash. If you have a unique solution and would like to have it included in that post please send it to me (there won’t be room for all, but I will try to accommodate.)
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.