Take Care with UK Local – A Data Flaw in Directory Sources

Is there any real value to directory-based link building? The answer to this question depends on how you define “value”.

There’s still a general place for marketing your online business on good quality directories. Such directories might be a mix of popular national (and international) sources that allow you to:

  • Strengthen your link matrix (adding your other online profiles such as Linkedin or Facebook Page). 
  • Strengthen your brand-SERP by providing an additional opportunity to bag more real-estate for your brand name. 
  • Get some easy-to-achieve volume links (though I urge people to be mindful of quality and consider this element one small part of your overall link building strategy).

If you’re looking for a more detailed tutorial on how and when to use directories as part of your backlink strategy, SEOmoz recently did a great update to their directory list, along with a basic tutorial.

Local Directories

When it comes to small, local, and in particular rural business, directories can be even more important.

  • Limited (or occasionally non-existent) marketing budget 
  • Adds to trust 
  • Additional local relevancy 
  • A surviving route-to-market in an economy where local business is struggling

However, when it comes to authoritative local data sources in the UK, there’s a flaw to be aware of. It seems that a small handful of official UK data sources contain errors:

Ofcom is the official regulatory authority governing telecommunications in the UK, and in the above sites, provide a list of telephone codes by town. Unfortunately, there are a number of errors to be found.

Area Code Town Listed per Code Correct Spelling of Town
01271 Barnstable Barnstaple
01559 Llandyssul Llandysul
01877 Callandar Callander
01889 Rugley Rugeley

This becomes a problem when usually smaller or local directory sites rely on such data sources verbatim to construct their databases.

While Google may automatically correct my search…


What if my client or business website has been added to a directory which incorrectly classifies their location?

Search: b&b Barnstable


Search: golf club llandyssul


It can’t be presented as fact that the above examples show incorrectly spelled town classifications as a result of incorrect Ofcom data. It could be that the data above is incorrectly classified for another reason. However, the simple fact remains that “official” data sources contain errors, and so does the Google index, on a pretty considerable scale…

**Number of results checked on UK IP November 21st 2011.

In three out of the four cases above, it is the incorrect town and number query that provides the greatest number of results – which is a pretty strong case for the “official” primary data sources impacting secondary data sources. What’s even more concerning is that I was alerted to this whole issue by @g1smd who checked the above results at the start of October, and the figures then were as follows:

Query October Volume November Volume Growth as %
01271+Barnstaple 800,000 2,120,000 165%
01271+Barnstable 1,200,000 2,150,000 79%
01889+rugeley 400,000 881,000 120%
01889+rugley 1,000,000 1,020,000 2%
01877+callander 100,000 184,000 84%
01877+callandar 110,000 556,000 405%
01559+landysul 100,000 200,000 100%
01559+llandyssul 130,000 198,000 52%

To summarize: In just one month, the index of incorrect results for the range of terms shown has grown 79 percent, 2 percent, 405 percent, and 52 percent, respectively.

Holy. Crap.

So What Do We Do?

If you’re working for, or running a small, regional and particularly rural business in the UK, you can take the following steps:

  • Find out if you’re at risk of incorrect classification by checking how your town and area code is classified in the two official data sources listed above 
  • Quantify the problem by finding if there are any results for [business name+area code+misspelled town] 
  • If your business has been listed incorrectly you can do the following: 
    • Contact the site administrator of the local directory 
    • Add your business to other local directories that do correctly classify your town and area code 
    • Increase your presence on social media and similar national (or international) sources that allow you to enter your own details 
    • Claim and optimize your Google Places listing (this should be the single biggest win)

With thanks to Ian, for the heads-up.

Related reading

facebook is a local search engine. Are you treating it like one?
SEO tips tools guides 2018
5 schema markups for local SEO