SBS Mailbag: How Do I Remove My Local Business Listing?

Filed in Featured, Local Search by Matt McGee on April 9, 2010 17 Comments

I get two or three emails per month like the one that came in this week from a small business owner named Akbar. His business is listed on a certain local search/directory site and, for reasons he didn’t explain in the email, he doesn’t want to be listed there.

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Could you please inform me on how to remove my business listing from a website called Citysearch. I do not pay Citysearch for advertising my small business and do not wish my listing and its associated reviews to be on their website.

Akbar – the direct answer to your question is to check Citysearch’s web site to see if or how to get a listing removed, but there’s a chance you can’t. Why? Because the bigger issue here is that there’s an industry built around databases of business listings, and once you’ve created a business and registered a name, address, and phone number … it’s somewhat out of your control where that information shows up.

To explain how local business listings work in more detail, I did a Q&A this week with Gib Olander, Director of Business Development for the business listing identity management company, Localeze. It’s brief and to the point, covering how and where local business listings spread across the web.

Q&A with Gib Olander

Matt: There are countless web sites that provide business listings, and in most cases, the business owner probably never even submitted their information to these sites. Where does the information come from?

Gib: There’s a lot of fragmentation in the local search space. Just think about all the local search platforms, IYP sites, vertical sites, social sites, social games, mobile apps, navigation devices, etc., working to help people find local information — and each has to be able to answer every “recovery” search, so they need a complete index of business names.

Today, most reports say that between 40% and 60% of businesses don’t have a web site, so companies like Localeze have to organize, normalize, validate and govern content collected from offline sources. Online local search business listings are generated by web site crawls, local advertisements, compiled by topical specialists, phone books, government filings, trade affiliations and organizations, telephony sources, VOIP, and possibly marketing lists, to name a few. The list is really endless.

[emphasis is mine - Matt]

What happens after a new business registers for a business license in its hometown and/or county/state?

Data is registered with the state department, which makes it public for review. Companies with various business objectives have access to the data and a business listing can be born.

For various reasons, SMBs sometimes don’t want to be listed on so many sites. Is there anything they can do in the beginning to limit where their business data spreads? Or is it a case of, once they’ve registered for a business license, the cat’s out of the bag and not coming back?

Removing a listing entirely is rarely a good solution and isn’t necessarily the answer a local search application wants to offer, as they serve the needs of their users. Successfully answering recovery searches is table stakes for these applications to be able to attract, satisfy and grow their user base. Every time they suppress a valid and accurate local business listing they run the risk of not being able to answer a question asked of them by their user base.

The better option is for the business owner to actively manage the content they want to share and be found. All business owners should take the time to create and manage a standard, accurate Name, Address, Phone Number (NAP) that will act as an anchor for the rest of the content that gets created regarding their business across the web.

With the idea of citations and a highly fragmented local search landscape, I can’t imagine why a business owner would not want their NAP to be available for their customers to find wherever those customers want to look.

We always talk about where to get listed, but what about getting removed? Does Localeze support that, and do you know if others do?

We do support removing business data, but cannot speak for other companies. There are many reasons to delete business listings for legitimate reasons, e.g., business closes, moves locations, changes ownership, has inaccurate information. All of these things can bring about the need to suppress an identity or let a new identity evolve.

As a closing thought, we strongly believe the NAP is a business’s online identity — think of it as a fingerprint that holds the key to how a business is found and how people make buying decisions it’s as important to have right as the sign on the front of the building or name painted on the side of truck. By continually managing your NAP, the positive consequence is pervasive accuracy across the local search platform ecosystem.

Final Thoughts

To me, the key points here are:

  1. Local/mobile/social sites get business data from a lot of sources that are largely out of the business owner’s control.
  2. Trying to control what sites can and can’t list your business is very difficult, if not impossible.
  3. If you’re an active business and start removing business listings from various sites, you likely remove the ability for some customers to find you.

Akbar, I realize this doesn’t exactly answer your question. But keep in mind that Citysearch (and other sites) can get your business data from a variety of sources and, if they remove your business listing, it negatively impacts their ability to serve their own users. That’s why removing business listings is often as difficult as it is.

(photo courtesy of batega via Creative Commons)

Comments (17)

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  1. SearchCap: The Day In Search, April 9, 2010 | April 9, 2010
  1. Will Scott says:

    Hey Matt,

    Very informative post and I always love to see Gib in the wild.

    That said, I think the critical subtext of Akbar’s message was “and its associated reviews”.

    So while Akbar was asking about the listing I think what he was really talking about was the reviews — which may not be very positive.

    I’m sure many would make the same request of Yelp and some of the others :)

    Will

  2. David Mihm says:

    Will, as you know, I don’t always support Yelp in its stance of “users before business owners” — a characterization which I know the Yelp folks won’t necessarily agree with — but in this case I do think it is in the public interest that Yelp (or Citysearch, to Akbar’s specific point) provide a platform for users to post experiences…good AND bad…so long as the business owner has a fair shot to respond. I do not think opting out is a good strategy…a bit like sticking one’s head in the sand.

    However, the ability to remove certain characteristics like address or phone numbers from particular websites is an admirable offering for local search portals who want to remain in business owners’ good graces.

  3. Tim Coleman says:

    Isn’t the larger question, who owns the data?
    Does a business owner have the right to say where his business information is listed?

    When I was in Yellow Pages, it was called a non-pub listing. The business owner would simply tell the operator that he did not want to be listed and he wasn’t. There were many of these types of listings (though I wouldn’t say it was common).

    If I were a lawyer I would take Akbar’s case pro-bono and take the position that Akbar owns this data.

    The lawyer who did that would get enough links to last a lifetime :>

    And I would agree with Will that this is about reviews not listing info, which just adds another layer of interest to the whole thing!

  4. Even if he managed to get his site delisted from CitySearch, they have partner sites that most likely have his data as well.

    If the reviews are the problem and he wants to remove them everywhere, he’ll have a lot of work to do. CitySearch is partners with Insider Pages, MerchantCircle, and Urbanspoon. If you go to these and the other partners you will find “Partner” links to even more sites. No doubt other business directories scrape content from these sites, and so it never ends.

    Call me crazy but I think his best bet would be to take advantage of the listings and work out a strategy to aggressively manage his reviews (if that is the issue).

  5. John Lee says:

    I’ve been trying for years to get a closed business removed. I don’t know who owns the business, but I inherited it’s phone number after moving to a new home. Telemarketers and others are still calling me every week. Websites like Merchant Circle are totally uncooperative- I literally made dozens request to each without any luck.

  6. Adam says:

    This is the problem with the citysearch site and other siteslike it. Human nature is that you are more likely to bring it to everyone’s attention when there is a complaint then when you are satisfied. This leads to an imbalance in reviews. Customers can make remarks that are false and may not have any merit and then the business owner suffers for these inaccurate reviews. The bus. Owner then has to address and constantly monitor these reviews. If the bus. Owner does not subscribe to review site then they can not even address these reviews which in my mind is a form of blackmail. We should not give people a platform to try to destroy a business. What should be done if a customer has a complaint is go to owner so the bus. has the opportunity to solve any issue with customer. You would think that this is what a customer would want to do to resolve an issue so that a better bus. relationship could ensue. Postings instead many times do not lead to a resolution but is purely an unresolved “hit and run” by customer. if i had to pick an outcome it would be one in which the customer brings up concern to business directly giving bus. oppurtunity to rectify and both parties outcome is a good one with the addition of a continued bus. relationship. also, bus. should have the right to their listing in referance to adding it or removing it from these sites. if it can be added by bus. then it bus. should be able to remove it. if they want to list name and tel# like the white pages does then this would be fine but the exclusion or inclusion of other info should be determined by bus. if there is anyone else who is making effort to get these changes to occur, please let me know.i will be “on board”.

    • Matt McGee says:

      The stats suggest the opposite is true, Adam. You said, “Human nature is that you are more likely to bring it to everyone’s attention when there is a complaint then when you are satisfied.” Yelp’s internal stats are that 85% of the local business reviews on its platform are 3-stars or higher. And Bazaarvoice, a company that provides the product review technology that a lot of major online retailers use, says that 80% of the reviews in its system are 4 or 5 stars (out of 5).

  7. Rob says:

    I went through months of e-mails with CS and they would not remove my listing. Then I found this blog which showed several ways you can remove the listing.

    http://queenoftheclick.com/?p=580

  8. C.B. says:

    I’d love to find a way to get a listing removed from yelp, and not for bad reviews. We moved and they refuse to update the information. Instead they’ve changed the listing to closed! I added another listing with the correct address/phone number, but having the incorrect info out there is really annoying. Other search engines appear to harvest yelps data, and now there’s a ton of incorrect listings for our store out there!

  9. Jdoodlbe says:

    My business was incorrectly listed under Child and Family Services and Social Services. After getting threatening phone calls, a bullet hole through my child’s bedroom window, and a dead cat on my porch, I investigated. The problem was that crazy parents thought I was involved with the removeal of their children from their homes and wanted revenge. Its been 4 years and the info is still out their. Thanks a lot city search. I hope you guys all rot in hell.

  10. Kelly Dugan says:

    I disagree with what you have to say.
    “Removing a listing entirely is rarely a good solution and isn’t necessarily the answer a local search application wants to offer, as they serve the needs of their users. Successfully answering recovery searches is table stakes for these applications to be able to attract, satisfy and grow their user base. Every time they suppress a valid and accurate local business listing they run the risk of not being able to answer a question asked of them by their user base.

    The better option is for the business owner to actively manage the content they want to share and be found. All business owners should take the time to create and manage a standard, accurate Name, Address, Phone Number (NAP) that will act as an anchor for the rest of the content that gets created regarding their business across the web.”

    Your article is biased. All these directories are fighting for top dog. They are using businesses names to get themselves to the top by climbing up their back using their name.

    These directories allow commenting from the public regarding a local business experience. This can be detrimental to that local business for several reasons I will not go into here.

    All these nationwide directories can not possibly keep up with all businesses going out of business. They are extremely inaccurate. Businesses change ownership how do they remove all the bad comments?

    What’s Yext? A bunch of self centered GREED! You can pay them to be remove and you can pay them to be updated. Huh. They are partnered with Merchant circle.

    Nationwide directories are complete web pollution. They bury the businesses real website.

    Not to worry though. It will come back to haunt them. Just give the public time to figure it out.

    Social media sites on the other hand are different. Except for Bing taking over Facebook business listings.
    I look forward to your take on my views.
    Good day!

  11. Lane says:

    My problem is the opposite of Akbar’s. On the citysearch link, it says “[CLOSED]” next to my business name. My business isn’t closed (in fact, there is a review that was posted within the last week). I don’t know why that word is there and I can’t fathom how to get it removed. I don’t pay citysearch anything. I created (with reluctance) a city grid account and all that netted me was solicitations. HELP!

  12. Teresa says:

    For me the biggest problem is that I had a legitimate business I ran out of a apartment next to my home. The business is closed but I still want the phone number for home use. But, now I see that my address and phone are all over the web and solicitors call me day and night and I could easily be stalked etc… There seems to be no hope of getting this old business with my personal info off the net. Help!!!

  13. Miriam says:

    I am beginning to think this issue of inaccurate data, multiple listings and the inability to edit or correct them and this whole struggle
    can only be resolved by legislation that gives the business owner control of his/her information, and some ground to take these
    organizations to court. Clearly they are indifferent to the wellbeing of businesses – we who are the “backbone of the economy.”

  14. Trying to remove a listing from Citysearch is so hard. I wish they had some sort of support for people even if you are not one of their paying customers. I have been trying to remove a couple of closed locations for a client for months and the only way to request it is by email. I get autoresponder after autoresponder from two different email addresses from Citygrid saying they got my email but never actually taking action. It is very frustrating.

    Just an FYI – Most of the other big sites are pretty good about taking the closed listings down (as long as you are proving documentation.) Superpages is amazing with their listing support, even if you are not paying for some enhanced version. You can just call their customer support and a person will remove it as you are on the phone with them.

  15. Mary Silva says:

    The problem with sites pulling information from other sites is when a phony listing gets spread like a virus. Then you get to an unresponsive site like Citysearch and can’t remove listings that may be interfering with your own correct listings. Many sites like Bing pull their data from Citysearch and won’t remove incorrect listings without them being confirmed as incorrect(obviously pretty impossible) or removed from Citysearch(also impossible). As Celeste said above, it can be VERY frustrating.

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