Survey Shows Real Cost of Bad Local Data: Loss of Trust, Revenue

One of the persistent questions in local is what happens when citation data is incorrect: is there a real-world cost to bad location data? Recent survey data points to lost trust and potential lost revenue.

Last month I wrote a post about a personal experience with Macy’s Furniture Store. Bad information in Google Maps directed me to the incorrect location and I didn’t buy a couch or chairs as a result:

I was fully prepared to buy multiple items, based on my earlier review of the catalog, provided I liked them in person. So this is a lost sale for Macy’s — probably worth at least $1,000. I was likely to have spent $500 (on one chair) and could easily have spent more than $1,500 on a couch and a chair.

A recent consumer survey from BrightLocal offers further evidence that bad location data frustrates consumers and may cause them to seek competitive alternatives. The survey found that:

  • Bad local data frustrates consumers (93%)
  • It causes people to lose trust in a business (80%)
  • A majority (68%) would be inclined to not use a local business in the event of bad information

What kinds of bad data? The following chart shows the most common problems people encountered.

BrightLocal survey

There are some age and gender differences in the survey results. For example, men are less forgiving of online errors and those in the 18 – 34 age cohort are least likely to pick up the phone and confirm business information if they suspect it’s incorrect online.

However, there are differences between what people report in a survey and what they actually do in the world. Reactions to bad data and the degree to which people make an effort to find the business are often dependent on the category/intended purchase and the degree of need. There will also be differences if people are seeking a specific business or doing a category search.

Behavior and follow-up effort will vary and the BrightLocal survey doesn’t reflect those differences. It largely captures abstract reactions, free of specific examples or context. Nonetheless, it does reflect that bad location data won’t go unpunished by consumers.

An online survey I conducted in early 2013 (n=2K+ consumers) included similar high-level questions; among them:

Has local information you found online later turned out to be incorrect?

  1. Never happened — 37.5%
  2. Happened to me once or twice — 35.2%
  3. Happens often — 15.6%
  4. Happened multiple times (up to 5) — 11.7%

What is your typical reaction if local business information you find online turns out later to be wrong?

  1. Try again to find the correct info — 23.3%
  2. I won’t trust that source again — 22.2%
  3. Look for another merchant — 14.4%
  4. I’m angry because I wasted my time — 10.8%
  5. I’m not upset, people make mistakes — 9.1%

Here’s what BrightLocal survey respondents said they would do in response to bad online information.

BrightLocal location data

In the chart above, 41% said they would either abandon the search for the specific business or find an alternative. In my 2013 survey, 14% said they would “look for another merchant.” My survey didn’t offer the same array of choices and had I, it might have yielded more “find an alternative” types of answers. The way questions are designed will impact findings.

But what you can probably say in comparing the results is that the “intensity” of responses to bad data seems to have increased in the five years between my survey and the BrightLocal survey, although we don’t have a direct “apples to apples” comparison.

At least in some meaningful number of cases, which again will be category and need dependent, people are reacting to bad data by seeking out alternative merchants or abandoning their search for the specific business entirely.

Rather than focusing on the SEO impact of inconsistent or incorrect data, what business owners and their vendors should be concerned about is negative real-world consquences: lost sales.

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