National Change of Address (NCOALink®) is a process whereby postal customers can let the USPS know of an upcoming or already-occurred move. This is done so that the USPS knows where to forward First Class mail after the intended recipient has moved. The USPS takes this information and compiles it into a national database.
The general idea behind NCOALink® is as follows: given the name and address of a family, individual person, or even a company, the NCOALink® database can tell you the updated or new address for that person or company.
The USPS makes this NCOALink® database available for a large annual fee (amounting to tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars) to companies whose software has passed a series of rigorous and scrutinizing examinations. Once the software for the company in question has passed all appropriate tests as dictated by the USPS, that company is allowed to be a licensee of the NCOALink® database and patented software processes, and is therefore allowed to clean address lists on behalf of other companies as a non-exclusive "service provider."
The Problem with NCOALink®
In recent years, the USPS has started to require NCOALink® processing and cleanup when performing certain kinds of mailings. As a result of this, there has been significantly more interest in NCOALink® processing. Even so, there is one very large misconception among those who process their list with an NCOALink®-certified service provider: Most people think of NCOALink® as a way to tell if a person or company exists at an address.
Processing an address list against the NCOALink® database CANNOT tell you if a person, family, or company is located at a particular address. To further compound the issue, the database only contains about four years of information. This means that if you're bringing an old list to be cleaned, NCOALink® cannot tell you that a particular household moved five years ago. Unless you have always kept your address list updated (and there are very few companies that have) you're not receiving the expected value from NCOALink®.
Why Doesn't SmartyStreets Offer NCOALink®?
Short answer: We used to.
Long answer: Even beyond our certification and approval to be a licensee and service provider of NCOALink®, the USPS requires us—and by extension our customers—to jump through a number of silly hoops in order to process a single address list. Furthermore, the USPS required us to disclose personal information to them for each of our customers who wanted to process their list using NCOALink®.
The final decision was made by weighing the costs of providing NCOALink® as compared to the percentage of customers using the service. More especially, we took into account the reasons that customers wanted NCOALink® to begin with and compared it to what was actually being provided. As a result, we have decided to pull the plug. In the end, NCOALink® was just not providing the value that our customers wanted or expected, and we didn't want to be in a position where our customers felt like they had paid for one thing but had received something totally different.
If you still need NCOALink®...
We recognize that, despite all of the above, there are still companies that need to use NCOALink® processing to keep their lists in compliance with USPS requirements for certain kinds of mailings. If this is the case, you'll find a number of good ones with this Google search.