Who owns your business details – your phone number, address, company name? As the owner of a business, do you have the right to choose where your details are listed online in search engines, directory sites, blogs, forums, social networks, and, do you have the right to force such sites to remove your details?
What are the rights and wrongs of this issue? A quick look back in time will shed some light on the matter.
Business listings first went public in the form of the printed Yellow Pages directory in 1886 thanks to Reuben H. Donnelley. The listings were, however, only accessible by geographical area and the contents of the directories fully controlled by the publishing company. This is how things remained, pretty much, for over 100 years until the advent of the Internet which has seen an explosion in the number of places a business finds its details displayed.
For the first time, business details became accessible outside of their specific geographical area; and now, with the development of search engines and social media in general, everyone, effectively, is a potential publisher and there are many many places people may choose to publish a businesses details. With data being aggregated from one site to another and then magnified by search engines, one harmless name and phone number on one site can quickly find itself on many sites.
Some business owners, for whatever reason, want to have control of their details, and spend time requesting they are removed from search engines and online business directories etc, stating that it is their right, to not have their details appear. The fact is that such people are possibly confused with issues surrounding Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and even copyright law.
Iin general, business directories do not list personal information – only business details, and this has nothing to do with copyright as business details are not, by definition, ‘original work’. A businesses address, telephone number, e-mail address and web address is no secret – it is in the public domain. From the moment the shop owner puts his company name and telephone number above his front door, the genie is out of the bottle.
Some businesses that don’t want to be listed feel that this issue should be controlled by legislation. But if their information is publicly available anyway, there’s nothing to legislate, and now that we have entered the age of social media, it would be impossible to control anyway.
Would it not be far better for business owners to accept that, if their business is in the public domain, it will be listed in many places so, rather than fight against it, to embrace it by simply ensuring their company’s details are listed correctly and so protect their business identity – and hopefully instantly, and all for free.
So what happens when the business moves premises or changes phone number? The business owner is faced with a potentially huge task of trying to get their details changed on many many sites. This is not a problem that will go away, its going to get even worse as technology and the Internet continue to gather pace. Putting in a request to Google or Bing, Yahoo, Facebook – asking them to remove or change your old business details seems like a potentially futile task.
So what is the strategy to combat this, what are the words of wisdom that I can offer? We all have to face up to the fact that the world is changing – we live in a connected world, we are seeing an ever faster rate of change, paradigms that we have grown up with and accepted are being changed at an ever increasing rate.
My advice: the business owner should put the effort in to updating their details on sites that can be easily contacted (e.g. with a one line email,) or sites where they can ‘self serve’ to make changes instantly. Then they should use the strengths of the Internet to spread their updated details far and wide, so that there are more of them and by virtue of a business’ new details being changed more recently, they will surface to the top. Don’t get hung up on old details still being listed in many places, over time they will get found less and less.
At www.brownbook.net, we have made the site ‘self serve’ so businesses can instantly update their details, and we add priority to those changes so that the search engines re-index the page as soon as possible. We also answer every sensible / polite email from concerned business owners, but I would say we are an exception. We had the benefit of using modern technology and proven Internet industry processes to build our systems.
The older, established directories are steeped in legacy systems and processes that make it very difficult for them to offer market leading online functionality to enable instant change. The goliath Internet businesses including search engines, blogging platforms and social media sites cater for so many users that it is simply unreasonable for business owners to think they will be heard when making a request.
So in summary, who owns your business details? Not you. Engage and use the new ways to benefit your business online, don’t waste your time trying to make it the way it was 20 years ago, its like swimming upstream in a fast, flowing river that’s going to flow even faster.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.