Business.txt Looks Like a Great Idea for Local Visibility

Filed in Local Search by Matt McGee on August 31, 2012 7 Comments

local-map-200Wouldn’t it be great for small business owners if, rather than having to seek out and manage their business listings on dozens of local directories, they could manage that information solely on their own websites?

That’s what Business.txt would do, and it seems to me like a great idea. It was proposed a few days ago on Github, a popular hangout in the developer community.

The idea is that the business owner puts all of his/her local data into a simple text file (business.txt) — name, address, phone, hours, lat-long coordinates, short description, long description and much more. (Certain industries could have custom fields, like menus for restaurants.) And then websites like Yelp and Foursquare and Google+ Local would rely on this trusted data, rather than expect the business owner to come manage the data at each specific directory site.

Darren Shaw and the Whitespark crew have already created a Business.txt generator even though this idea is barely off the ground.

Will Search Engines & Local Directories Go Along?

As far as I know, Google is the only company that’s commented on the idea … and it wasn’t positive. As Search Engine Roundtable reported, a Google employee named Paul Kinlan poured cold water on the idea earlier this week in a short post on Google+:

Please don’t do this. I get humans.txt, but this is content that should be on your site and discoverable and searchable. The same problems this is trying to solve will also be present in this solution.

Yelp and all similar services need to get smarter and do the page scanning and indexing automatically.. THIS WILL NOT SOLVE THAT PROBLEM.

In the comments of that post, the programmer consensus seems to be that small business owners should use Schema.org, which already serves a similar purpose. Of course, Schema.org is fine if you’re a programmer (or a Google engineer), but the vast majority of small business owners have never heard of it and wouldn’t know how to do it (correctly) if their lives depended on it.

Others in the thread, however, say that this is an idea worth exploring. And that’s how I feel. Sad to see someone at Google trying to shoot down an idea before it gets wide consideration by the different groups that would be involved and affected.

(Stock image via Shutterstock.com. Used under license.)

Comments (7)

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  1. Cory says:

    This would be a life-saver for a lot of businesses struggling to manage their present listings thru individual websites or even 3rd party vendors.

    Great opportunity to take back control of your own listings/brand and help ensure that the right information is being presented.

    I’m really hoping this gets more mainstream and/or accepted by the major local listing providers as a standard format.

  2. Sharon says:

    I just read all the comments on Paul Kinlan’s post, and I wish I could get him to spend an hour with the average SMB owner from middle america and then spend an hour answering questions in the Google+Local forum.

    Something like this is desperately needed, I’ve come across so many situations where through sheer ignorance a business changed their name/phone/address without careful planning and created a disaster for themselves online. Then they don’t understand what went wrong and why no one can find them. That leaves people like me trying to explain the local search eco-system to a 60 year old plumber who doesn’t know the difference between AOL and the internet.

    Even with a internet savvy business managing listings is a lot of work. My primary client has three locations and after two years and hundreds of hours of work I’m still playing whack-a-mole with a couple of call tracking numbers that occasionally create duplicate Google+Local pages.

  3. I assume Google doesn’t want to deal with this since they are so high on Schema and already crawl/index this data on page. I assume it would be a bigger than we know it undertaking to do so internally for them

  4. @Sharon:

    This would not resolve any of the issues you’re commenting about. If the business owner changed the info on the business.txt, then the local ecosystem would still be screwed up as citations wouldn’t match – unless you’re assuming all directory sites would crawl and recognize this new markup. And the issue with constant duplicates is a Google thing. You’d still have duplicates with a business.txt file.

    I rarely side with Google but on this issue I do. A business.txt file would do nothing to resolve the issue that most business owners have with Google and that is duplicates and a host of other issues.

    Travis Van Slooten

  5. Satish says:

    Great idea! but 60 year old plumbers or 42 years old Financial advisors still have to rely on agencies to first know about business.txt & than get it implemented by their web agency. Every change in such file will further require involvement of their web agency. So what’s the value we are talking about. Schema.org is serving this purpose well.

    This is still not a DIY process & it will never be.

  6. Jesse Heap says:

    Thanks Matt for the article.

    I think Schema.org is making progress. Really the onus should be put on the web design agencies to bake the backend markup every site as they are building it or redesigning it.

    And from a CMS perspective it’s getting easier to implement as the schema.org plugin ecosystem continues to mature (http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/tags/schemaorg).

    So I am of the opinion we should continue to support the schema.org approach and hope the industry will continue to embrace the markup.

  7. It seems a simple and elegant solution and worth exploring. But I agree with Satish, it’s not DIY. Creating a simple text file easy enough and I’m sure most business owners could manage, but uploading it.. not quite so. Nice to see Whitespark on the ball so quickly.

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