Prior to working online, I worked for a decade in the newspaper and direct mail industries. Because mailing or delivering a physical marketing communication was so expensive, we were extremely careful about data cleanliness. We wanted one piece per household, never more. If we delivered a bunch of the same direct mail pieces to an address, it caused multiple issues:
- A frustrated consumer who would opt-out of all marketing communications.
- Additional expense of postage or delivery along with additional printing costs.
- Typically, it required us to refund the advertiser when they brought in duplicate deliveries.
Additionally, addresses that were incomplete or incorrect required refunds and unnecessary delivery costs as well.
Approximately 20% of addresses entered online contain errors – spelling mistakes, wrong house numbers, incorrect postal codes, formatting errors that don’t comply with a country’s postal regulations. This can result in late or undeliverable shipments, a big and costly concern for companies doing business domestically and across borders.
Address verification isn’t as easy as it may sound, though. Aside from spelling issues, every week there are new addresses added to the national database of deliverable addresses in the country. There are also addresses that are transformed, as buildings change from commercial to residential, or single family to multi-family dwellings, farmland is portioned up into neighborhoods, or entire neighborhoods are redeveloped.
Address Verification Process
- The address is parsed – so household number, address, abbreviations, mis-spellings, etc. are logically separated.
- The address is standardized – once parsed, the address is then reformatted to a standard. This is critical because 123 Main St. and 123 Main Street will then be standardized to 123 Main St and a duplicate can be matched and removed.
- The address is validated – the standardized address is then matched against a national database to see that it actually exists.
- The address is verified – not all addresses are deliverable despite them existing. This is one issue that services like Google Maps have… they provide you a valid address but there may not even be a structure there to deliver to.
What is Address Validation?
Address validation (also known as address verification) is a process that ensures street and postal addresses exist. An address can be verified in one of two ways: upfront, when a user searches for an address that is not correct or complete, or by cleansing, parsing, matching and formatting data in a database against reference postal data.
Not all addresses services are the same, though. Many address verification services will utilize rules approaches to match a database. In other words, a service may state that within zip 98765 that there is a Main Street and it starts at address 1 and ends at 150. As a result, 123 Main St is a valid household based on the logic, but not necessarily a verified address where something can be delivered to.
This is also an issue with services that provide a latitude and longitude with a specific address. Many of those systems utilize math to logically splice up addresses on a block and return a computed latitude and longitude. As retailers, restaurants, and delivery services utilize lat/long for physical delivery, that can cause a ton of issues. A driver may be halfway down the block and unable to locate you based on approximate data.
Capturing Address Data
I’m working with a deliver service right now where consumers enter their own address information, the company exports deliveries on a daily basis, and then routes them utilizing a different service. Every day, there are dozens of undeliverable addresses that must be corrected within the system. This is a waste of time given there are systems that can manage this.
As we’re optimizing the system, we’re working to standardize and verify the address upon entry. That’s the best way to ensure your data cleanliness. Present the standardized, verified delivery address to the consumer on entry and have them agree that it’s correct.
There are a couple of standards that you’ll want to see that the platforms use:
- CASS Certification (United States) – The Coding Accuracy Support System (CASS) enables the United States Postal Service (USPS) to evaluate the accuracy of software that corrects and matches street addresses. CASS certification is offered to all mailers, service bureaus, and software vendors that would like the USPS to evaluate the quality of their address-matching software and improve the accuracy of their ZIP+4, carrier route, and five-digit coding.
- SERP Certification (Canada) – Software Evaluation and Recognition Program is a postal certification issued by Canada Post. Its aim is to evaluate the ability of certain software to validate and correct mailing addresses.
Address Verification APIs
As I mentioned above, not all address verification services are created equal – so you’ll want to really keep an eye on any issues that may arise. Saving a few pennies on a free or cheap service can cause you dollars in downstream delivery issues.
Melissa is currently offering free address validation services for six months (up to 100K records per month) to qualifying essential organizations working to support communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here are the more popular APIs for address verification. You’ll notice that one popular platform isn’t mentioned – Google Maps API. That’s because it’s not an address verification service, it’s a geocoding service. While it standardizes and returns a latitude and longitude, it doesn’t mean that the response is a deliverable, physical address.
- Easypost – US address verification and fast-growing international address verification.
- Experian – address verification for over 240 countries and territories across the globe.
- Lob – With data from over 240 countries around the world, Lob verifies both domestic and international addresses.
- Loqate – address verification solution that will capture, parse, standardize, verify, cleanse, and format address data for over 245 countries and territories.
- Melissa – verifies addresses for 240+ countries and territories at the point of entry and in batch to ensure only valid billing and shipping addresses are captured and used in your systems.
- SmartSoft DQ – offers standalone products, address validation APIs and toolkits that will easily integrate into your existing address-dependent applications.
- SmartyStreets – Has a US street address API, Zip Code API, Autocomplete API, and other tools to integrate into your applications.
- TomTom – TomTom Online Search’s geocoding request feature offers an easy-to-use solution for cleaning address data and building a database of geocoded locations.