Many business owners are at a loss when a frustrated customer comes to them with complaints about the accuracy of the business’ online data. The business may be completely unaware of the listing site in question. The only option they are left with is to apologize for the misunderstanding and question where the rogue local listings came from.
So where do online business listings come from? Well, when a “mommy” listing and a “daddy” listing love each other very much… I am just messing with you. The answer to that question has a little bit more to it than that. Finding the answer is also going to be a way better time than having that talk with your children!
Listing information is populated automatically using information that is obtained from a number of sources. These sources can be divided into four major categories:
- Government sources
- Data providers/aggregators
- Search engine data
- User generated content
This list might seem short, but that does not mean it’s not complex. Government sources encompass the business information that is gathered from phone service providers, utility companies and business registration services. They’re number one on the list because they are responsible for the largest portion of information on those online listings. Next, 85% of business listings are sourced from print directories, like a phonebook (Streetfight). This heavy reliance on print sources means that listing data can be anywhere from one to 12 months old, depending how often the directory is updated, not to mention how long it takes to revisit a source for current information.
This is where the data aggregators come in. Currently there are four major players who are worth mentioning:
Data aggregators attempt to collect, curate and repackage information that is already available online. These data aggregators also obtain the majority of their listing information from key print sources. They use complex data-sharing and verification models to obtain better information. The data provider who has the most accurate information provides the most value to entities who use that information. So, it’s a big race to have more accurate information than the competitors. As an example, Infogroup gathers data from more than 4,000 sources! This information is obtained from phone research, government sources, web monitoring and direct feeds from merchants.
Still not making much sense? The wonderful people over at MozLocal have created this great infographic that illustrates how complex this data-sharing can get. This image outlines the listing ecosystem in the US Market, but information for other markets can be obtained here as well.
This diagram is by no means complete, but it helps illustrate how complex local listings information has become. You can start to see how these rogue listings can make their way around the Internet.
Search engine data uses business listing information populated by the major search engines to create local listings. Google maps, Google My Business and Bing Places for Business are the most common examples of these search engines. Listings are automatically created here, but two types of users are encouraged to update information: business owners—anyone who manages the business and claims the listing—and users—anyone who can suggest edits to business pages. The data is checked and verified, then reshared to other listing services. Both these users create user-generated data.
Sites like Foursquare, Facebook and Yelp also rely heavily on this user-generated data. User-generated content (UGC) is published information that an unpaid contributor has provided to a website. The information might be a photo, video, blog or forum post, poll response, or comment made through any social media website. This trend allows for the submission of very detailed local content that would otherwise be unavailable to these listing sites. Unfortunately, this type of data submission is not always correct and can lead to the creation of incorrect or duplicate listings.
So, now you have some idea where these random listings for businesses are being created. You might even have a general idea of how to address these changes to listings. Even with all this technology working together, trying to get more accurate data for end users, there are still some problems. Every month, 17% of business data changes, which is a pretty substantial number of listings that need to be monitored and updated on a regular basis. If new information is different enough from an original listing, the data providers and aggregators might assume it’s a completely new listing. If this incorrect information is found enough times across the web, it might lead to the assumption that this is actually the correct listing. This system of online listing creation and maintenance is far from perfect, but it provides something that business owners can use for their own benefit.
The marketplace moves fast, and business data needs to move faster.