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Address standardization guide: What, why, and how?

Inaccurate and incomplete address data can cause your mail deliveries to be returned. In fact, the US postal service handled 6.5 billion pieces of UAA mails in 2015 alone. Whether it’s due to human error or lack of information, businesses eventually end up with incorrect addresses in their database. Someone may misspell a state name, write inaccurate abbreviations, miss out a street number or forget the zip code. This is where it becomes imperative to review customer addresses, catch errors, and transform them into the required format so that you can avoid the cost associated with undelivered mail.

In this blog, you will learn everything you need to know about standardizing your address data: what it is, why you need it, how to do it, and how it differs from other address cleansing techniques.

What is address standardization?

Address standardization (or address normalization) is defined as:

The process of formatting addresses according to the country’s postal service requirements so that all addresses conform to the required standard.

Address standardization ensures that your address database is not missing necessary information and is present in a readable/understandable format by mailing services. Poor address data is a type of data quality issue that affects customers, businesses, and even the mailing service. The staggering amount of poor address data has made it compulsory for businesses to invest in robust address standardization and verification tools.

Address standardization is often called address normalization.

Example of address standardization

Here is an example of how address standardization transforms an address to a follow a consistent standard:

Before standardization:

150 west avenue st. 901 SPRINGFIELD CAL 28643

After standardization:

150 W MAIN AVE STE 901
SPRINGFIELD CA 28643-7923

What is the difference between address standardization, validation, and verification?

The terms address standardization, validation, and verification are often used together due to the similar nature of their purpose. Address standardization is used to transforms addresses in the correct format, whereas address validation confirms that the address is a physical, mailable location within the country. Finally, address verification enhances your addresses with more accurate and reliable information, such as ZIP+4 codes, geocodes, Delivery Point Validation (DPV), etc.

For example, after standardizing the address 150 W MAIN AVE STE 901 SPRINGFIELD CA 28643-7923, how do you know there is actually a house number 150 on the west of Main Avenue Street 901? This is where address validation tools run addresses against an official database (like the USPS in the US) and evaluate whether it is a valid location within the country for delivering mails. And address verification services provide that additional information about your addresses, such as identifying the 5-digit zip code along with the 4-digit route within delivery area.

Common terminologies used during address standardization

What is the USPS?

USPS stands for Unites States Postal Service. It is an independent branch of the US federal government that implements mail service infrastructure across 50 states and maintains a standardized database of mailable addresses in the country.

What is USPS address standardization?

USPS address standardization means transforming addresses according to the USPS addressing standard. According to USPS, a standardized address spans three lines and covers the name of the receiver in the first line, street address in the second one, and the city, state, and zip code in the third line. Moreover, all letters are expected to be written in uppercase to ensure standardized format.

What is CASS address standardization?

CASS stands for Coding Accuracy Support System, and it is a certification program by the USPS to ensure that software vendors are accurately using USPS information to validate and standardize address data for their users. To qualify for CASS certification, software vendors must offer delivery point validation (DPV) and a locatable address conversion system in their services.

Why do you need to standardize addresses?

Standardized address information is important to ensure reliable deliveries and shipment, and effective direct mail campaigns based on customer location. Let’s take a look at other benefits of address standardization.

1. Avoid costs associated with returned mails

Each year, millions of dollars are wasted on poor address data. The USPS reported that nearly 6.5 billion mail pieces were undeliverable in 2015 alone. Mailers spend over $20 billion on UAA mail, while direct costs to the USPS is over $1.5 billion/year. All this unnecessary cost is simply due to the fact that businesses do not have the right address data.

2. Remove duplicate records

Many organizations suffer from the challenge of data duplication – where the same customer has multiple entries (or records) within the database. When it’s time to dedupe your dataset, you need unique identifiers that can help you decide which records belong to the same customer. Standardized addresses – that are present in the same format – can be easily compared with one another to see if they are the same. On the other hand, it is almost impossible to compare addresses that are not normalized.

3. Enhance householding precision

Householding means grouping customer accounts to identify which belong to the same household. They can be relatives or roommates living together. Householding precision is improved with accurate and standardized address data. It allows companies to send out a single copy of the same mail to a household, rather than mailing duplicates – one for each customer.

4. Enable operational efficiency and productivity

Data is part of every small and big operation at a company. Whether it is product, marketing, sales, or finances – operating address data efficiently can save your team a lot of time. Using standardized addresses can lead your team to eliminate duplicate efforts, gain reliable insights, reach accurate results quickly, and be productive throughout the day.

5. Improve delivery time

It is very difficult to comprehend addresses that do not follow a standardized format. Street numbers could be written after street names or vice versa. Such incidences can delay mail deliveries as it takes time to find the right address. Alternatively, a well-formatted address can help deliver mail to the right person and at the right time.

What are common issues found in address data?

Let’s take a look at the top 8 issues that are commonly present in address data.

No.IssueMeaning with examples
1.Missing dataNecessary components of the address are missing, such as street names, numbers, zip codes or states.
2.Duplicate dataSame customer has multiple addresses where each has a different street or house number.
3.Varying abbreviationsThe same information is abbreviated differently, such as using Aptmnt or APT for apartments, N York or NY for New York, etc.
4.Varying character caseThe same information is capitalized differently, such as MAIN Street, Main street, and MAIN STREET.
5.Varying structureAddresses follow different formats and patterns, such as the street name is written first and then the number, the state is written in the first line at some places and in others in the second line, etc.
6.Outdated informationAddress data does not represent current, updated information in case someone has moved away from the previous residence.
7.Inaccurate dataAddress data does not depict real, true addresses in the city or state they are referring to.
8.Inconsistent dataDifferent addresses are present in two or more datasets, such as the billing software, CRM, etc.
9.Unusable dataAddresses are present in a format or structure that is very difficult to understand or comprehend, making it unusable for any intended purpose.

How to standardize addresses?

The process of address standardization is carried out in 6 simple steps (where one of them is optional). Let’s see what these steps are:

1. Select a standard

The first and most important part of this process is to decide which standard you want to conform your address data to. If your business operates in the US, then you must use USPS addressing standard. In Canada, the Canada Post is used for standardizing addresses. A standard defines the structure that your addresses must follow and so selecting a standard provides the pathway to the process of address cleansing and standardization.

2. Profile for errors against standard

Data profiling means assessing the current state of data and uncovering hidden details about its structure and contents. Data profiling is done to identify potential data cleansing opportunities by analyzing address field values. A data profiling algorithm finds answers to questions such as which data is:

  • Missing,
  • Duplicate / non-unique,
  • Follows incorrect pattern or format,
  • Falls outside of acceptable value domain, etc.

This information will help you to understand how well your current address data conforms to the standard.

3. Parse address data

Before you can move on to the actual data cleansing and standardization process, it is very important to parse and identify the necessary components of addresses. Since address fields are mostly present in open-text form, it is harder to put validation constraints on the information being entered – increasing the chances of missing and unstructured values entering the system.

Address fields are parsed and necessary components are identified, such as:

  • Street number and name,
  • Street type,
  • Street direction,
  • Building name,
  • City or town name,
  • State,
  • ZIP code,
  • Country,
  • Latitude and longitude.

4. Clean and standardize addresses

With the addresses profiled and parsed, you can now start cleaning up the mess. The focus is to eliminate incorrect and invalid information present in addresses to achieve a consistent and usable view across all records. Here are a few example activities that are carried out to standardize data:

  • Fill in missing street numbers, names, city, states, etc.
  • Remove and replace empty or garbage values and punctuations,
  • Capitalize all letters as prescribed in the USPS addressing standard,
  • Replace variations with standards, such as replacing fourth street with 4TH ST.
  • Standardize abbreviations, for example transforming:
    • Unit designators: Apartment to APT,
    • Directions: West to W, North to N,
    • States: New York to NY, etc.
  • Add appropriate spacing as defined the standard,
  • Perform operations (flag, replace, delete) on the most repetitive words in a column to remove noise in bulk, such as removing Corp. or Ltd. to bring forth the actual address.

5. Append geocodes and ZIP+4 code (optional)

In case you want to add more precision to your addresses, you can use an address verification tool. This software can help you get the exact geocodes of your addresses in terms of latitude and longitude and also compute the ZIP+4 codes. You can then append this information in every address in a standardized, USPS-acceptable manner.

6. Reformat addresses

According to the USPS, an address should be formatted in three lines: the name of the receiver is in the first line, street address in the second one, and the city, state, and zip code in the third line. Once the addresses are free from errors, you can now format them according to USPS guidelines and store a consistent, uniform view of your address data.

Using a CASS-certified address standardization software

Manually fixing address data errors and transforming them into a standardized format can cost you more time and effort. Adopting a CASS-certified address standardization tool can improve your mail deliveries and enable you to reach your business goals.

DataMatch Enterprise is a CASS-certified address standardization and verification software, that offers features to clean, standardize and match addresses, as well as verify and validate them against the USPS or the Canada Post.

With the tool, you can run millions of addresses against an official, authoritative database at unprecedented speed, and update them to comply with the standardized format that highlights the ZIP+4 values along with the geocoded location.

To see how we can help you with address standardization and verification, get in touch with one of our solution experts today.

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