Unravelling the Mystery of Bad NAP Data

Incorrect business information online is much more frequently encountered than correct business information online, and one of the main reasons for this is the way the business data flows through the ecosystem.


Problems with the Business Data Exchange System

Business data flows unidirectionally – from a small oligopoly of business data providers to an enormous number of online platforms ranging from GPS navigation systems, through Internet yellow pages (IYPs), to mobile applications of any sort. Unfortunately, the technological and data-exchange-related relationships between the business data providers and the business data receivers are not always as straightforward as everyone interested in finding correct business information online would have liked them to be. There are two main issues:


1) Business data is not transferred in real time.

Normally, the data receivers are “fed” the data or they “pull” the data at certain time intervals. The latter are most frequently between 1 and 6 months long. This means that if certain business data has been updated in a business data provider’s database it might make its way to a data receiver (for instance, a GPS navigation system) no sooner than 1 month after it has been originally updated in the source.


2) Business data updated in the source is not always “mapped” to the old business data in the public platform.

This could most easily be explained with an example:

LocalEze is one of the most important business data providers in the US. They provide business information to a number of online platforms, one of which is MerchantCircle.com.

LocalEze submits business information to MerchantCircle

We do not know with 100% accuracy how frequently MerchantCircle receives/pulls data from Localeze’s database but for the purposes of this example we will set the cycle at 45 days. Here is the example itself:

On January 1, new business information from an official government source is added to LocalEze’s database:

Business Name: Bob’s Painting
Business Address: 25 John’s Street, Miami, FL 33133
Business Phone: 305-555-1000


This information is provided for usage to the “data receivers” and MerchantCircle.com gets it on February 15. However, in the meantime, on January 25, the business owner (Bob) claims the listing on LocalEze and updates the information to feature his correct phone number. The LocalEze listing is updated and features the following new phone number:

New Business Phone: 305-666-1555


Unfortunately, MerchantCircle.com don’t understand (due either to the way the new data is provided by LocalEze, or due to imperfections in their data clustering system) that this new business phone, together with all the other information that is exactly the same as the rest of the business information for the business and MerchantCircle.com already knows about, is the exact same business and it is just the phone number that has changed. Thus, on March 10, a new listing appears on MerchantCircle.com. Now there are two listings for Bob’s business on their site:


Listing #1:

Business Name: Bob’s Painting
Business Address: 25 John’s Street, Miami, FL 33133
Business Phone: 305-555-1000


Listing #2:

Business Name: Bob’s Painting
Business Address: 25 John’s Street, Miami, FL 33133
Business Phone: 305-666-1555


Here’s a summary of the order of events:

  1. January 1 – The original listing is added to LocalEze
  2. January 25 – The phone number on the original listing on LocalEze is edited
  3. February 15 – The original listing finally lands on MerchantCircle (it’s a 45 day cycle)
  4. March 10 – The edited information lands on MerchantCircle. However, because MerchantCircle suck at matching and de-duping info, they create a separate listing (duplicate), instead of editing the original listing from February 15


Now Bob has a problem he doesn’t even suspect he has.


Research Problems

The situation described above has one more negative side – because the record on LocalEze has been updated, it might be very difficult to track down the original source of the issue. There is no publicly available information about “Old Phone Numbers” related to the business record of Bob’s Painting on LocalEze. Therefore, a specialist, who Bob might decide to hire in future to help with his local SEO, might have a difficult, if not impossible, time trying to determine where all these incorrect listings on MerchantCircle.com and other sites originated from.

I came to truly realize the complexity of this issue a few days ago when Andrew Shotland, one of the most reputable local SEO specialists and a professional whom I have great respect for, posted an article about some research he had done for one of his clients’ online citation profiles. In it, Andrew concludes that a listing on Factual is the source of the bad data that’s seeding the listing at Google. Here is the relevant information from Andrew’s article:

A person named Alexander Jubb “considered joining” a dental practice located at “804 Carlsbad Village Dr, Carlsbad, CA”, which used the phone number “(760) 739-8500”. According to Andrew’s article, Alexander “never did” join the practice. However, Andrew discovered a listing on Google Maps, and then (using his NAP Hunter) a few citations on the web, in which Alexander Jubb’s name was mentioned together with the practice’s business details. He wondered about the source of this inaccurate information and focused his research around the following listings:


Dr. Alexander Jubb
804 Carlsbad Village Dr, Carlsbad, CA 92008
(760) 729-8500



Alexander Jubb DDS
804 Carlsbad Village Dr, Carlsbad, CA 92008
(760) 729-8500



Jubb Alexander E Dds
804 Carlsbad Village Dr, Carlsbad, CA
(760) 729-8500



Jubb Alexander E DDS
804 Carlsbad Village Dr, Carlsbad, CA 92008
(760) 729-8500


The problem: none of these four sites is a direct data provider for Google.


How to figure out the actual source?

I knew the following before I started digging:

  • There are two official, recognized business data sources for the US for Google Maps – Acxiom, and Infogroup (ExpressUpdate) (see here for reference).
  • The only place where Citysearch gets their business data from is Infogroup (see their FAQ for reference).

I had a match! However, I knew that Infogroup do not supply data to Factual, and probably they do not supply data to ucomparehealthcare.com, either. I went hunting for a few more citations. I was lucky enough to find the following two listings:

  1. http://www.dentalyellow.com/n/dr-alexander-evan-jubb-dds-804-carlsbad-village-dr-carlsbad-ca-760-729-8500/general-practice-dentist/CA-1326282690
  2. http://www.dentists-directory.info/m/general-practice-dentist/dr-alexander-evan-jubb-dds-804-carlsbad-village-dr-carlsbad-760-729-8500/1326282690-CA

These two listings are essentially part of the same network of business directories, so the data on the two of them is identical.

The footer acknowledgement on both of these sites

If you click through to see the listings you will notice that the NAP there is different from what we are looking for. They feature the current business information for Dr. Jubb:

Dr. Alexander Evan Jubb D.D.S.
1000 Vale Terrace Dr, Vista, CA 92084

At first glance, this was discouraging. However, if you take a closer look at the URLs you will notice that they feature the business name, address, and phone number as they were originally seen on the listings:

The URLs feature the outdated business information

Additionally, the number in the end of the URL is the NPI number of the practitioner. According to the network’s “Data Lists” page, they receive all their data from the NPI registry, so the source of this information should be NPI record number 1326282690:


This page currently features the same business information for the business as the two listings on dental-yellow.com and dentists-directory.info. The NPI registry is one of the most trustworthy data sources in the medical industry, so the chances that this was the initial source of the bad data are very high. What is of particular interest is the fact that the NPI record was last updated on December 15, 2011, more than two and a half years ago, and there are still listings online that feature that outdated information.

It’s easy to imagine a scenario where Infogroup might have picked up that information, added it to their database, the information spread across their network of “data receivers”, and then after the data had already gone out to their subscribers, Infogroup updated the record (they make 100,000 data verification phone calls per day), but the old information stuck on some of the receivers’ sites (as in my LocalEze – MerchantCircle example above).

The last question left was – does Factual source data for practitioners from the NPI registry? Fortunately, Factual share statistics about their database of healthcare providers directly on their site. According to the stats there are only two “attributes” that are available in every single (100%) healthcare provider record – category, and National Provider Identifier (NPI). Boom!

Factual features 100% data from the NPI registry in the healthcare niche



To recap, here is how I came to the conclusion that NPI is the original source of the bad data that made its way to Google Maps:



Andrew found listings on UCompareHealthcare, Angieslist, Citysearch, and Factual. However:

  • None of these feeds data directly to Google
  • Citysearch receives data only from Infogroup (ExpressUpdate)
Since I know that Citysearch gets data from InfoGroup, this lead me to guess that there was a listing on Infogroup that might have featured the incorrect information, but had been updated at some point in the past on ExpressUpdate.com. And, if so, it’s possible that the data made its way to Google via Infogroup, which is an official data partner of Google.

But I was left with the remaining questions:

  1. Where did Infogroup get the data from?
  2. Where did Factual get the data from?



I did some additional research, and found two listings, one on dentalyellow.com, and one on dentists-directory.info. Their URLs gave me new clues:

  • The outdated information for the dentist came on those sites originally from the NPI registry, because these sites receive business data only from there
  • The information was updated

This lead me to believe that the information originally came from the NPI registry, but was updated not later than 15 December 2011 (as per the NPI registry log).

I was left with a new question:

  1. Do Infogroup and Factual source data from the NPI registry?



I did some additional research on the sources where Infogroup and Factual obtain business data from:

  • No certainty about if Infogroup obtain data from NPI, but it is highly possible, having in mind the prominence and trustworthiness of the NPI registry in the medical niche
  • Factual seem to source all their data in the healthcare niche from the NPI registry


CONCLUSION: The data came to Factual (and probably InfoGroup) from the NPI registry! Phew!


This just goes to show how bad NAP data can make its way into the ecosystem and almost completely cover its tracks as it gets distributed. It’s a crazy world out there, but maybe not as crazy as the local search ecosystem. 😉


Nyagoslav Zhekov

Nyagoslav is the Director of Local Search at Whitespark. He has been in the local search industry since 2010. Nyagoslav has been cited on Search Engine Land, David Mihm's blog, Local SEO Guide, and has presented at SMX West.

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  • Great stuff as always Nyagoslav, thanks for the info 🙂

  • If you do NOT use Nyag or WhiteSpark for your own Citation work – then you just AIN’T an SEO practitioner….they both know Citations…and I recommend them both over and over and over AND I use them myownself!

  • This stuff is possibly the most demoralizing aspect of Local SEO efforts. You go to bed thinking everything has been tidied only to wake up the next morning to what looks like random edits to your listings.

  • It can be such a pain finding where the local data is coming from. Thanks for sharing these steps. I’m actually working on fixing NAP issues for one of my biggest clients, so this is incredibly helpful at the moment!

  • Super post, Nyagoslav. It goes to show how citation cleanup involves the business owner on some steps; I’m pretty sure the misinformation on HIPAASpace can only be fixed by the doctor.

    Thanks for a great read.

  • Awesome detective work Nyago! Thanks for doing the extra leg work.

    I had discounted InfoGroup because the IG profile did not display the incorrect address (nor does the NPI profile), but it’s certainly possible that at one point it did. Unfortunately there’s no record in the Internet Archive.

    I think your conclusion is misleading though. The real conclusion is local data problems suck royally. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Extremely insightful and zero ambiguity.

  • Thanks for the kind comments, guys!

    Phil, as far as I am concerned a HIPAA Space record can be updated only by the practitioner, or by a representative that is enlisted as a point of contact. In this case, and in many others, the help of the business owner (or at least a business representative) is imperative. I completely agree with you.

  • Priceless information Nyagoslav, and great detective work!
    Having several clients in the medical field, I too suffer the wrath of bad NAP data. Knowing the root source of that information certainly makes our work easier. Working with clients that aren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty in the cleanup process is even nicer. Thank you!
    Now I have some calls to make to a couple clients to go in and update their NPPES information so I can synchronize it with their NPI profile.

  • Interesting investigative work… thanks for sharing your findings 🙂

  • Well, I think Google should only use the first handers and cut all the aggregators… Would make things more easy and fresher 😉

    I didn’t see it mentioned but another issue is (atleast here in Austria) that a lot of the providers use very different ways to display phone numbers and other data. So you go and make sure every single citation is perfect but when they publish it they use their own variation like with country code or with brackets.

    Greetings from Innsbruck,


  • Very nice article. Thanks to this article, we found lots of errors in our local listings..

  • Mind boggling. Its like standing on top of a building, cutting open a pillow, and then having to go and collect all of the feathers.

  • This blog post breaks the myth about data flow in business. Unless read I would have never known how many mistakes I have made in business by taking data flow for granted.

  • Nice read. I actually came across this as I was doing the research on getting NAP done properly on the web for my company. It is among the top I think important factor if you are dealing with local clients which is the case with us also. Once again thank you for the good info and looking forward to see more from you now.

  • My head is spinning but this article answered my question of why we want to update or add a listing to Dexknows if ExpressUpdate already does it.

    And yes the local search ecosystem is more nuts that I ever imagined when you have these data aggregators pulling in information (correct and not correct) and then spit it all over the web.