Monday, November 07, 2005

Business Lists - How Old is the Information?

Creating lists of businesses is a daily occurrence at the Research Network. The (vast) majority of time, we use the American Business Disc to create them. Clients use these lists for mailings. Often we hear of how the list is out-of-date.

ABD is one of several products published by infoUSA. Since so many of you ask for lists, I called infoUSA to learn just how the data in ABD can be.

Subscribers to the ABD (such as ourselves) get two editions every year. Both editions represent a snapshot of a database that is constantly changing. These snapshots are taken roughly at the end of a calendar year (that's the first edition), and at the end of June (the second edition). (They don't take the snapshot at the same time every year, which is why I say "roughly".)

The CDs are then distributed to infoUSA customers on a staggered basis. The first edition is ready to be mailed starting in March or April, while the second is sent out starting in October or November. We typically receive our editions in May and November.

The CD we’re currently using, then, is the first edition for 2005. It represents data that infoUSA had in their database in late December 2004.

However, infoUSA doesn't update the entirety of their database in one huge individual session. Instead, it's done throughout the year. They're reliant on the receipt of phone directories (including the Yellow Pages) from around the country. These are published, obviously, all throughout a year. For instance, the Yellow Pages for Albany & the surrounding Capital District is published in December of each year. InfoUSA would get a copy of those Yellow Pages, and upload the information into their own database. The company employs hundreds of people who do nothing but contact the businesses in that current directory. These employees then verify the address & fax numbers provided in the Yellow Pages, along with other information not found in a phone directory (like the name of the current manager or executive).

If a company that was in the infoUSA database cannot be found in the most current Yellow Pages, then it is dropped from the database, and won't appear in the next edition of the ABD. If that company has moved, then ABD will reflect a change of address.

The age of the data you receive, then, depends on when infoUSA received the Yellow Pages for the area in your search. For the sake of discussion, let's say your search focused on an area of the state whose Yellow Pages comes out every August. Data from that issue is mailed to infoUSA (they subscribe to every Yellow Pages in the country). It's uploaded into their database. Verification ensues, which may or may not be included by that time in December when they take a snapshot of the existing database for the next edition of the ABD. The snapshot database is then processed elsewhere by the company, and eventually becomes the first edition ABD for that calendar year. Distribution to ABD subscribers then begins in March. Because of the staggered schedule, organizations like ours don't receive the first edition until late April/early May.

We at the Research Network then install ABD onto our computer network, and begin using the product to answer queries from advisors around the state. That first edition stays on our network until (roughly) November. The second edition arrives, we install it, and it overwrites the contents of the first edition.

In other words, a Yellow Pages distributed in August 2004 will exist on our version of ABD until November 2005. That's over a year. In addition, the company publishing the Yellow Pages might have a cut-off date of their own (say, businesses that were verifiably in place in late June 2004). That would make the information on ABD that much older.

Several advisors have wondered why mailings generated from lists we've provided their clients result in a fair number of "return to senders". This explanation is the reason why.

Lists bought directly from infoUSA's Web site (or through their Web-based Reference USA product) are a bit more up-to-date. The CD-ROM version, however, is much more cost-effective, and also provides us greater flexibility in designing searches, downloading, and printing.

It's a trade-off we're willing to make.

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