Exploring Local
Mike Dobson of TeleMapics on Local Search and All Things Geospatial

Yellow Page Heading, SIC/NAICS and More

June 26th, 2007 by MDob

Last time we focused on the use of SIC/NAICS codes as standard methods of categorizing businesses based on primary economic activity and, in the process, described some weaknesses of these classifications. As we mentioned previously, the companies that create the business listings/POI databases also categorize many of their listings using the heading categories that identify these listings in Yellow Page publications.

As you may know, the classifications used by companies in the Yellow Page business vary among and between providers, based on geographical factors, unique classification schemes inherited when competing publishers were acquired, and simple difference of opinion regarding the choice of words to best describe a category of businesses.

For example, in the Yellow Page publications distributed in my neighborhood, I can find “Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons” as a sub-category under the general heading of ‘Dentists” in one book; as a sub-heading under the heading “Surgeons” in a second book; and as a sub-heading under the category “Physicians” in a third book. Note – the specialization of interest was listed in only one category in each book, so it was not that I could hit the topic looking in three areas, I had to “guess” where the listings for this specialty might be in each book.

For practical purposes, the uniqueness of classification schemes was not a practical problem for a publisher of Yellow Pages, since their books were distributed in local areas. Each publisher probably believes that their classification system is superior to the competitor’s.

The problem with the non-uniformity in the methods for classifying businesses using Yellow Page headings has only become a problem when these listings categories are blended into a national business directory, which, of course, is exactly what infoUSA, AMACI, Acxiom and others produce. In essence, the process of agglomerating listings can result in substantially similar businesses being categorized in different categories.

So let’s look at what is in the business listings mixing bowl. First, we have businesses tagged with a SIC or a NAICS code (remember SIC and NAICS are not the same and there is no authoritative source for assigning either of the classifications to businesses). Next, it is possible that an individual business may have multiple SIC or NAICS codes. Finally, these same businesses may have one or more Yellow Page classifications for more precise identification, although the YP classifications may not be harmonized throughout the database. The purpose of all this tagging is to create categories that can be converted into groupings that might resonant with people who are searching for information. Hmmm, seems like a problem to me.

But wait; there are two more players in the classification chain. When we search, we use words and terminology to describe the target of our search. Ok, that seems obvious. Well, the provider of the search functionality also categorizes our input against their own categorization of business activities. Ouch, this categorization stuff is starting to get complicated. Let’s pick this up next time.

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Posted in Data Sources, Geotargeting, Local Search, Yellow Pages

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