Listings: How Did We Get Here?

When I started practicing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in 2009, Listings were (and still are) a strong signal to search engines. They contain the foundation of our businesses’ identities: Name, Address, Phone (NAP). It’s not a one-to-one relationship, but Listings have the same importance as print phone books did 20 years ago.

There was a time when we had to claim each individual listing for our businesses on hundreds of sites. Some required a second step, verification. It was  a time when we, those in the industry, would read articles such as “Top 20 Sites to Claim Your Listings.” We don’t see those articles anymore because …

The search engines realized that businesses weren’t claiming their listings. It was too onerous. Businesses had to keep track of logins and passwords for each listing site. Then, if something changed, they had to go back into each one to change them. Even when nothing changed, they needed to, at least annually, make sure the information was still correct.

A Hierarchy of Claiming

What they came up with, and this happened fluidly during a 3-5-year span, were three levels of claiming business listings.

  1. The top level is the two-step claim-and-verify. That’s the one that’s always existed. Google, Facebook, Bing, and a few others have this level.
  2. The second, what I refer to as default, is a listing without the opportunity to claim it. These are things like Chamber rosters, industry memberships, alumni listings, etc. Often, we can request updates because we’re members.
  3. The third is a combination, claim-and-default. On these sites, we have the opportunity to claim our businesses (and we should), but we don’t have to verify them. Examples of this level include and many of the GPS services.

So, woo-hoo, businesses don’t have to claim every listing! But how do we make sure they’re consistent and correct?

Two Types of Listings Services

Simultaneously, while the above hierarchy was being worked out, two solutions were being created:

  1. “Data Providers” became clearinghouses, or the “credit bureaus of listings.” Like most industries, the ones that maintained the most accuracy rose to the top. They are the four Data Providers we recognize today: Acxiom, Factual, Infogroup, and Neustar.
  2. “Listings Services” created algorithms that correct individual listings at the source. They’re limited in the number of listings they can realistically manage. Search engines look at them when there are serious discrepancies among the Data Providers. Yext is probably the best-known Listings Service.

That brings us to today. Stay tuned, because it will change. I can’t predict when or how, but I intend to be one of the first to know – and so will you!