Duplicate listings exist because of a few different issues with business data:

1. Different sets of business information for the same business float around the web (inconsistent NAP)

2. A business directory doesn't have good (and fast) enough technology and mechanisms to merge and de-duplicate business records with equal or near-equal information

3. An official database or a trusted data source provide duplicate/incorrect business records

4. Social activity created duplicates (user-generated content problems)

While issues #1, #2, and #3 can be overcome (for instance, by employing a manual clean-up process), issue #4 is a little trickier. Social activity (reviews, check-ins, likes, +1's, tweets, etc) is constant and its speed and velocity can hardly be predicted at the "individual business" level. And while duplicates occur on almost every major business directory, we see the biggest issues with duplicate listings on sites that have check-in functionality, a low quality internal search engine, and little to no moderation.

Yelp Check-in

Here is an example to make the matter a little clearer:

When a mobile user wants to make an online check-in, they would go to the app of their liking (Facebook, Foursquare, Yelp are currently three of the most popular). They would log in and based on their location (and a search query or category of their choice), the app would suggest nearby locations. The app would let the mobile user find the place they would want to check in at, and voila! However, there is a major pitfall with that process - the user might not be able to find the place they would want to check in at. In those cases, the app would suggest that they add a new place. And here comes the big difference - while Yelp has a moderation process for user-generated business listings, Facebook and Foursquare don't. The new listing will immediately go live on the latter two. And as a consequence - we have been observing numerous duplicates on Facebook and Foursquare appear and reappear all the time, while we rarely see duplicates on Yelp.

Facebook Duplicate

The business' actual Facebook page and a duplicate created by Facebook users

An Implied Intelligence study on business data accuracy confirms our observations. The study found that only 2.4% of the listings on Yelp have duplicates, while 25% have duplicates on Foursquare (the study didn't cover Facebook). A similar study, conducted by Yelp, found that 91% of all business listings do NOT have duplicates on Yelp (or 9% DO have duplicates), while 85% do NOT have duplicates on Foursquare (or 15% DO have duplicates), and just 64% do NOT have duplicates on Facebook (or 36% DO have duplicates).

What can you do?

Besides trying to manually get rid of the duplicate listings, you would need to be on the look out for them on a regular basis. Depending on how popular your business is among check-in app users (if you are a restaurant, bar, cafe, desert shop, specialty retail store, shopping center, it should be relatively popular), you should determine the frequency of your duplicate listings checks.

Here is how to remove duplicates on these three platforms:

1. Foursquare:

  • After you have claimed the correct listing for the particular location, go to the listing dashboard, scroll to the bottom and click “Advanced Tools”;
  • In the “Report a duplicate location” field fill in the ID of the duplicate listing. The ID of a listing is the numbers and letters you could find in the listing URL, and click "Submit".
  • It normally takes 1-3 days for Foursquare to merge the business records.

2. Facebook:

  • Go to the duplicate listing page and click on the settings button in the upper right-hand side corner
  • Choose "Report Page" - Choose "Duplicate of another Place"
  • Fill in the URL of the correct Facebook page and click "Submit" 
  • It might take up to 3 months for Facebook to get duplicate listings removed.

3. Yelp:

  • Go here: http://www.yelp.com/contact
  • Choose “Duplicate business listing” from the drop-down menu.
  • Fill in your email address and search for your CORRECT business information.
  • Locate your correct listing and click “Select”.
  • Then search for the business information as it appears on the duplicate listing.
  • Locate the duplicate(s) and click “Select”.
  • In the “Comments” section simply write “Please remove our duplicate listing.”
  • It takes 5-10 days for Yelp to merge or remove duplicate records.

Why duplicate removal matters

Duplicate listings create a number of issues, including:

  • Online reputation management and brand integrity problem - if you are a company that would like to provide special offers or discounts to users that check in at your location, it might be hard to track the process if customers check in at different listings.
  • Rankings in the internal website searches - if you are, for example, a restaurant, and you would like to show up when someone searches for "restaurants" (nearby) on Foursquare, you would want to have one as-complete-as-possible profile with as many check-ins and user-generated content related to it (added to lists, user tips) as possible. However, if you have one or more duplicates, this social activity would easily be spread across those listings and thus, your main listing's chances to show up high in the Foursquare searches would be decreased.
  • Rankings in Google's local search results - if there is more than one listing for your business (or a location of your business) on a given business directory, Google might get confused about which listing they should associate with your Google+ Local business profile. They might decide to either ignore all your listings on that particular site, or they might incorrectly associate the oldest listing they know about (which might not be the most accurate, complete, or socially active one). Having less listings (business citations) associated with your Google+ Local business profile would affect negatively your chances to rank higher in Google's local search results.

Normally, when a duplicate listing report is honored on Foursquare and Yelp, the websites' moderators transfer all the social activity that has been associated with any of the duplicate listings to the main, correct listing. Unfortunately, this is not the case with Facebook.

Final words

Keeping your business profiles on the web as accurate and as duplicate-free as possible is a crucial part of your company's online marketing strategy, and a vital piece of online reputation management and local SEO activities. Facebook and Foursquare are two of the most important players in the field, but at the same time they are the ones with most problems related to duplicate business records. It is recommended that you spend as much time as needed to upkeep your business profiles on these (and other) sites.