How Business Listings Are Made – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by David Mihm

As a local business owner, it’s important for your business to be listed in Google’s search results. But how do you fix your business listing if the information is incorrect? 

In this week’s edition of Local Whiteboard Friday, David Mihm sheds some light on the complicated process that Google uses to create its business listings.

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For reference, here’s a still of David’s whiteboard diagram.

Video Transcription

“Hey everybody. Welcome to another edition of WhiteboardFriday and in particular a local edition of Whiteboard Friday. I’m David Mihm,the Director of Local Search Strategy for SEOMoz, and I’m here to answer one ofthe most common questions that we get asked which is:  “Hey, how come my business informationis showing up incorrectly at Google?”

So they type in the name of their business, and there’seither a phone number wrong or their address is wrong or sometimes the markerfor where their business is, is in the wrong place. So I want to try to answerhow Google generates its business listings.

So the first step that a lot of business owners take, whichis a great step to take, is they go directly to Google. Google offers adashboard for businesses that Google Places as well as Google+, there are kindof two ways into it right now. A business owner goes and he enters his businessname, his address, his phone number, some categories, maybe the hours that heoperates his business, and he tells that directly to Google. Of course theexpectation is, “Oh well, I’m the business owner. I’m telling Google thisinformation. That’s how it should show up when Google spits out a searchresult.” But in reality that’s not actually how Google assembles a businesslisting. So I’m going to erase these lines, and I’ll try to walk you guysthrough how this process actually happens.

So for many of you, if you’re business owners, you go to oneof these places, the Google Places dashboard or the Google+ local dashboard,and you tell Google about your business and you find before you even get thereGoogle knows about your business. It can guess at what your address and phonenumber are for example.

So you might wonder where Google is finding thatinformation. Actually in the United Statesthere are three companies that aggregate business data for United Statesbusinesses. Again, this is the United States only, but in this country those guysare Infogroup, Neustar and Axiom. So Google buys or leases information from atleast one of these companies and pulls it into its index. But it doesn’t goright into Google’s index. It actually goes into a massive server cluster thattakes it into consideration as one data source.

So not only is the business owner one of these data sources,but you would have one data provider, maybe Infogroup is another data source.Neustar might be another data source and so and so forth. So imagine thisgraphic going quite far to the right, even off of the whiteboard just with someof these data aggregation services.

That all gets assembled at a server cluster, somewhere in Mountain View let’s justsay, that compiles kind of all of this information. These however, aren’t eventhe only places that Google gets data. These guys, these data sources actuallyalso, in addition to sending information to Google, they send data out to awhole bunch of other sites across the web. So Yelp, for example, getsinformation from one of these sources. gets information fromone of these sources. Many of you guys have seen my local search ecosysteminfographic that kind of details a little bit more about how this processworks.

Then Google goes out, and it crawls these sites across theweb and again throws that information into this server cluster. So again,imagine this table here going off basically to infinity, kind of off this page.

Additionally, in addition to these data aggregators, inaddition to websites, Google looks at government information. So if you’reregional, like your county has a place of businesses that are registered in aparticular county or maybe your secretary of state, Google is either probablygoing to crawl that information. In some cases the government publishes this inPDF format or something like that, and that gets pulled into this cluster againas one of these data points in this huge spreadsheet.

Another place that Google might get information believe itor not is Google Street View. Bill Slawski of SEO by the Sea recently gave akeynote at Local University in Baltimore, and there’s information in Google’spatents that suggest that street view cameras from these cars that they go outand they drive around trying to find driving directions are taking photos ofstorefronts with business name signage, with the address numbers right there onthe storefront, and that information gets pulled into this, what we call thecluster of information.

So there are all these different sources pulling in, and youas the business owner, you are only one of these data sources. So even thoughyou tell Google, “Hey, yes this is my address, this is my phone number,this is where I’m located,” if Google is seeing bad information, at any ofthese other places from these data aggregators, from websites, from governmententities, Google pulls data in from everywhere. So if every other source out,there or a lot of other sources out there that Google trusts, especially majordata aggregators or government entities, if they have your information wrong,that could lead to misinformation in the search results.

But there’s one final step actually before Google willpublish the information, the authoritative information from this cluster. Googleactually has human reviewers that are looking at this information. They arecalling businesses to verify things like categories, the buildings that certainbusinesses are located in, and these reviewers will again call a real businessoffline. So if you get a call and it says, “Hey, Mountain View is calling you, it mightactually be Google.” So pay special attention if your business receivesthose kind of calls. They might be trying to validate information that they’refinding from across the web.

The other thing to keep in mind is that Google accepts datafrom other reviewers, from other human reviewers via a website that it operatescalled Google Map Maker. So if you’re having trouble with your information fromone of these sources, you might check It’s like aWikipedia for locations. Anybody in the world can go in there and update data.So it’s really, really important if you’re a business owner and you’re havingtrouble with Google publishing bad information about your business, you can’tjust go into the Google Places dashboard or the Google+ dashboard and fix thisinformation. You really need to go to all of these different sources. So thesemajor data aggregators, they’re different in every country. So if you’re fromsomewhere else in the world besides the United States, you need to do someresearch on who these guys are. You need to update your information at Internetyellow pages sites. You definitely need to update your information withgovernment authorities, and you probably want to check your information atleast on this Google Map Maker site, because all of these feed into thiscentral data cluster that then feeds into a Google search result for yourbusiness.

So I hope that explains a little bit about this verycomplicated process that Google has to assemble business listings. If you wantmore information in the text part of the page on which this Whiteboard ispublished, I’ll reference one of my colleagues at Local University,Mike Blumenthal. Mike has a great sort of text based layout of what I justexplained visually, and Mike is actually the inspiration for this idea of thedata cluster at Google Local.

So hope you enjoyed that Whiteboard Friday, and again formore information I’ll link to Mike Blumenthal’s blog down near the comments.

Thanks guys.”

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