The Listings Problem – It’s Shockingly Bad.

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Ok, here’s the deal: Internet Business Listings are significantly worse than anyone realizes. Significantly.

I’ve spent the past few months flying across the country to meet with national brands and without fail, everyone I’ve spoken to has assumed they are listed properly online. People are floored when I show them what consumers are seeing: 20% of businesses are not listed properly online. If you’re a giant national brand spending millions on advertising, chances are 1 out of 5 of your stores are not listed properly across the major publishers.

So how did we get here?

In the early days of the Internet everyone was trying to be a publisher and the focus was on eyeballs. Companies went public with valuations in the billions, spinning a story of huge advertising dollars following the eyeballs. Out of this chaos the model for directive media got flipped on its head. All of the sudden, consumers were ditching the Yellow Pages and looking businesses up online in record numbers. So, these publishers needed business listings data.

Remember this?

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Traditionally, a consumer’s source for business listings were Yellow Page books. Agencies known as CMRs (Certified Marketing Representative) would be the exclusive provider of business listings on behalf of an advertiser to all the Yellow Page publishers throughout the country. Advertisers were in control of their listings and willing to pay the Yellow Page publisher to guarantee their listings were being shown correctly. This was an essential part of their advertising campaign because we all know that consumers look up a business’s listing before physically going into the store! What could be more fundamental?

The solution publishers found was to license listings from data companies. So, companies that had traditionally been in the data business entered the listings business and a “Feed Ecosystem” sprang up.  Internet publishers that need listings data contract with multiple data aggregators who provide a “Feed” (a file of listing data) and then the publisher tries to figure out what data is correct and what should be shown to consumers. The publisher is in control of what they accept and what they display.

So, we went from a model where advertisers controlled their listings data and paid the Yellow Pages companies to guarantee placement, to one where the publishers pay data aggregators to backfill listings and the data aggregators try to get advertisers to pay them for accurate data. We aren’t talking about a small market either; Advertisers traditionally spent $70 billion a year to guarantee they are listed properly.

Given the context, it’s understandable why the ecosystem evolved this way, but let’s get back to the most important part of the equation – the consumer.

Billions of dollars are spent in the US each year to drive awareness and purchase intent. At the bottom of the online funnel, before an online shopper becomes an offline buyer, that shopper will look up the business’s listing. Any successful advertiser needs the act of finding their store’s location to be as frictionless as possible.

They need correct listings data.
They need to be in control of the messaging for their brand.
They need visibility.

1 out of 5 business locations are not showing up properly. Can you imagine if 1 out of 5 stores had the wrong name on the sign out front? Or the wrong hours of operation on the window? Or the wrong promotion listed throughout the store? That’s what is happening online right now.

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