Although crowdsourcing local business content online can be a quick and perceived easy task for some local search platforms and businesses, particularly in vertical categories like restaurants and travel, there are many reasons why it should not be the foundational tool for building and managing local search business listing databases.
In its simplest form, crowdsourcing gives the community open access and control of a particular task, and in this case, adding or modifying local business details on search engines or social check-in sites like Foursquare and Gowalla. And while crowdsourcing business information can be very effective for gathering descriptive business details, giving customers the ability to change or add a name, address or phone number (NAP) online can lead to that merchant being misrepresented.
Giving consumers the authority to modify NAP information can harm a business’ online reputation if the business name is misspelled, the address is incorrect or the phone number is off by one digit. This can create multiple online local search identities for a business sending incorrect signals to local search platforms. Ultimately, the business owner is the most authoritative source of this local listing content.
Crowdsourcing has a few benefits including quickly generating a large amount of descriptive business content that lends itself to social sharing. This might include photos, videos, reviews/ratings and check-ins. However, it’s important to remember that this content is far different from a business’ online local search listings or anchor NAP information.
One of the main differences between anchor and descriptive content is that the latter is temporal and can change frequently over time.
For example, a bar might be very popular because of its great wait staff. Patrons tweet about it, add positive reviews to search engines and check-in socially building more buzz for the business. However, that description of the bar can shift dramatically in a short amount of time if the head bartender moves to an establishment down the street and takes half of the staff with him. The personality of that business has changed drastically, and later down the road its descriptive details, but the true online NAP identity remains the same.
Descriptive content can accumulate quickly and can be an asset, but when you allow a consumer to change an identity or even close a business that is actually still open, that business is presented with a huge challenge. The business owner will be tasked with rebuilding search platform confidence of its core name, address and phone number detail and will likely be pushed down in search results until that trust is regained.
Google recently acknowledged this issue by modifying its method for users reporting businesses closed on Google Places. Formerly, Google inserted a “reported as closed” note within business listings when a consumer claimed that an establishment was “permanently closed.” Now, Google has changed its policy that a listing will only be updated after it has been reviewed and they have confidence that the change is accurate.
This reinforces the fact that crowdsourcing can easily lead to misrepresentation, which can be expected from time to time in descriptive content, but not for NAP details that are critical for current and prospect customers finding a business online.
Crowdsourcing business content can be very powerful and meaningful for businesses if utilized correctly for adding a multi-dimensional online personality to merchants. This type of information is valuable for adding descriptive business content to search and mobile apps, but less valuable for authoritative, anchor identity details.
As a business owner, you wouldn’t let a patron change your name on your window, sign or storefront awning. Crowdsourcing vital company detail (aka NAP) lets people do just that with your online identity. At the end of the day, the most undisputed source of that detail is the business owner.