Address data management "like a boss" - Smarty

If you need to collect address data for your business, then you need that data to be accurate. Bad address data isn't just worth nothing, it's worth less than nothing. Worse than not earning you money, it actually has a cost. Address data management is an important part of the bigger picture of data governance. But you can work to reduce those costs by preventing errors and maintaining quality in your data, and with the help of Smarty's validation tools, you can have fun doing it!

You know, relatively speaking.

First and foremost, we provide you with address validation services, which standardizes your data and checks it for accuracy. For added kicks and giggles, we offer batch tools, so you can make sure your addresses are still up to date every now and then. And to put a cherry on top, we offer plugins and API tools, so you can get inline validation, checking your data even as it enters your system. Doesn't that sound like a blast? Not yet? Keep reading, it will.

What is a bad address?

You may be wondering, "How do I know if an address is bad?" That's pretty simple. There are six ways an address can be "wrong," and they are as follows:

  • Incomplete—the address is missing information, like street name or postal code
  • Incorrect—this covers everything from typos to falsified information; if the names of places entered don't match the real location, it's incorrect
  • Improper format—if the address doesn't match the format of the relevant database it would be compared against for validation, then it needs to be fixed
  • Invalid—the address might be a real place, but for whatever reason, it's not listed in the official database that catalogues addresses in that area
  • Outdated—it was a real, valid address in the past, but isn't anymore
  • Duplicate—while this doesn't necessarily make an address wrong, a duplicate address is unnecessary and undesirable; it takes up space and confuses your database

You may also be wondering, "Why should I care?" Well, that depends. How important is it for things to get where you want them to go? For example, the various chunks of metal that NASA puts so much effort into launching into space are each sent skyward with specific destinations in mind. A lot of math goes into planning and charting the course, and then even once it's in the sky, regular course corrections are made to make sure major adjustments don't need to be done further down the road.

We would list the math here, to show how far off course and how quickly a spacecraft can get, but the numbers are, you know, astronomical.

Think of it this way: when NASA sends astronauts to the moon, they intend for them to get there. The whole "Shoot for the moon, and if you miss at least you'll land among the stars" motto means something totally different when what you're shooting is a capsule containing human beings. A few degrees off, and you'll be "missing" more than just the moon.

Why the sidetrack into astronomy? Because just like launching a spacecraft, address data requires error prevention and proper maintenance and correction if what you're sending is going to get where you want it to go. Failure to keep things straight can mean failure for things to arrive at their destination.

The costs of bad addresses

Missing moon-sized destinations is not the only downside to bad addresses. They also cost bookoo bucks. According to The Data Warehousing Institute, business mailers shell out at least $4 billion each year because of mail that is "Undeliverable as Addressed." In fact, 23.6% of all US mail is addressed incorrectly, and that amount of bad addresses adds up.

Think about all the things that are affected when, for instance, a package can't be delivered. It's returned to sender, which means wasted postage. It has to be reshelved and stored. Someone has to process it. Paperwork has to be done documenting that it wasn't delivered. Someone has to try and track down why it didn't make it to delivery. The IT department has to clean up the data mess.

And of course, the customer is going to be upset when they didn't get their product. At best, you spend the time and money of a customer service call as the customer tries to sort out what happened. At worst, you've lost a customer and you're getting a bad review on Google.

You could be spending as much as $100 per failed delivery1. For a measly 2,000 pieces of post that go astray, that adds up to $200,000. Depending on the size of your business, maybe you can afford a cost like that. But even if you can afford it, do you want to?

How to correct bad addresses

If the answer to that is "no," then it's time to do something about your bad data. It's time to take a stand, prove what you're made of, and correct those addresses. The only reliable way to do that is address validation (sometimes known as address verification).

Address standardization and verification services are used by organizations to maintain up-to-date address databases. These tools process address lists and correct mistakes, fill in missing address data, and update addresses with changes. Here's how it works:

  • First, an address is "standardized"—the format is changed so that it matches the format used by the database it's going to be checked against. Parsing is often done during this step to help in the cleanup process and to make it easier to identify what's wrong if the address doesn't validate properly.
  • As part of the standardizing process, minor errors are often corrected and small gaps are filled in. For instance, missing postal codes are inserted in the proper location, and things like spelling mistakes or incorrect street designations ("Ave" vs "St," for example) are fixed.
  • It's at this point that, if the validator offers this as part of their service, addresses are "deduplicated." This means that duplicate addresses are addressed, pun intended, by flagging them for deletion by you. It's not usually deleted for you, since the validator can't be sure you don't want to keep the data in question.
  • Then the real magic happens. The address is compared against an authoritative database relevant to that location. For instance, US addresses are checked against the USPS. Similar public and government organizations are used for their reliable and up-to-date address data intelligence across the globe. We know because we use them.
  • When the address is compared against the database, we're looking for a match—an identical address that's already on the list. Like the guest list of a fancy party, things only really work if your name is on the list. If the address is in the database, that means it's a registered address that's currently being serviced by the postal system. In other words, the address is real, and your mail will actually be delivered to it. This is called a "valid" address.
  • Addresses that aren't in the database are labeled "invalid", indicating that mail will not be delivered to that location. An address can be invalid for any number of reasons, from not being real to no longer being occupied, but the effect is the same. If it's not registered with the database of the postal system, the postal system doesn't know it exists, and thus won't deliver to it.
  • The cleaned up address is returned to you, with either the "valid" or "invalid" designation attached to it.

It's a pretty simple process, but it provides some very valuable services in regards to address data management. To be Frank (Shirley, you must be joking), a good address validation provider resolves all of the problems from above:

  • Incomplete address—with the exception of egregious omissions, like street names, validating an address can fill in the gaps and make an address complete
  • Incorrect—standardizing, a required process for validating, deals with all of the minor errors, and if there are major errors the actual validation will flag it by marking the address invalid; sometimes they can even tell you why it's invalid
  • Improper format—standardizing also resolves formatting issues; this can be a real life-saver for international addresses, since every country has its own postal system, with a unique format (some even use special characters that you don't even know how to make with your keyboard)
  • Invalid—invalid addresses are (obviously) marked invalid so that you know there's something wrong with them; after all, admitting you have a problem is the first step
  • Outdated—postal databases are updated regularly, so as long as the validation provider is keeping abreast of those updates, and you're validating your addresses periodically, you can be sure that you aren't falling victim to addresses that suddenly cease to be valid. Since the accuracy of address record in the US alone peters off at 17% a year, we definitely recommend re-validating every now and again to keep things straightened out
  • Duplicate—a good validation service will help you trim the dead weight from your records

Using address validation as part of data management

Here's some of the many joys you might experience when using address validation:

Improved quality of address data First of all, validating that an address is correct at the time it is entered into your database, and then using list processing to regularly clean, verify, and update the address list will keep your data cleaner. That means you don't have to spend your own manpower keeping it clean.

Reduced mail returns Validating that an address is correct before mailing something to it will reduce the amount of undeliverable mail that is returned. Depending on the size and frequency of mailings, this can be quite a rewarding surprise.

Reduced mailing costs Many address standardization services provide ZIP+4 postal codes and USPS barcodes, which can get you fun discounts on things you mail. Other postal services, such as Canada Post, also offer similar discounts for qualified pieces of post.

Increased delivery speed By providing the USPS with addresses in a standardized format and including information such as ZIP+4 Codes, the post office states that companies can increase the delivery of their mail by one to two days. How's that for fun?

Who should I use?

Keep in mind, your mileage may vary, depending largely on the quality of the provider you choose. In other words, it's worth doing some shopping around; you want to choose a good validation provider. And wouldn't you know it, we happen to know a guy.

Heed our words: address data management is key to maximizing your profits. Implement the advice we've given you here; we promise, you will not regret the effort spent in keeping your database clean. After all, a clean database is a happy database.