Finding a user’s location can be one of the most powerful tools for digital marketers. However, factors such as user involvement, accuracy, and device permissions can cause a variance in the technical implementation of location services. In order to find a user’s location, there are two common methods of obtaining this information: their geolocation, and geolocation IP (also referred to as GeoIP). While they may sound similar, and there has been confusion between what the two terms mean, there are significant differences between them.
When it comes to GeoIP and geolocation, many people do not understand the differences, or even use the two terms interchangeably. In a world dominated by technology, with geo-specific marketing dominating social media platforms and web-based advertising, it is crucial for businesses to have a solid idea about the fundamentals of geo-based marketing and geolocation terminology.
Geolocation is a general term that encompasses all techniques to identify a user’s location. This covers the entire concept of determining a user’s geographic location. This location represents a user’s physical location by identifying their latitude/longitude coordinates and can be identified by multiple forms of estimation, such as time of day. Geolocation also reveals more specific data relating to their location, such as their current city or state, which is highly valuable to digital marketers. While geolocation uses a variety of different information sources to identify a user’s location, geolocation by IP is much more specific.
Geolocation by IP
Starkly contrasting to geolocations, GeoIP uses a specific method to identify a user’s location – the internet protocol address. Unlike geolocation, geolocation by IP does not reveal local-specific data or information, as it can only use the IP address information. However, this does not exclude the possibility of obtaining this information. Internet service providers can combine the IP address with other specific details relating to the customer, such as city and state, to develop a better picture of their location-specific data.
Fundamental differences in accuracy
GeoIP obtains data from a single source, such as a cell phone tower for mobile tracking. However, it can only draw from the tower that the cell phone is connected to at current, meaning that if the phone changes tower, a different IP address will appear.
Geolocation by IP can be used with certain techniques that make it a unique blend of information, described by some as being “part-art, part-science”. The issues in it being a combination of information means that accuracy can be difficult. Unfortunately, there is no definitive or publicly available data set that accurately ties IP addresses to coordinates.
Satellite Internet provider IP addresses are difficult to geolocation due to the sheer volume of geographic area that satellites can cover. In regards to mobile devices, which are one of the largest priorities for digital marketers to establish the geolocations of users, there can be significant inaccuracies in a few areas. One inaccuracy is that it can be difficult to geolocate the correct IP address to a specific city, since the device’s location might change frequently in short periods of time. Another challenge is that many cell carriers use centralized gateways to traffic use to the public internet, which results in the geolocation by IP being tagged in the city of the gateway, not the user.
The differences between the terms are important to distinguish, especially for companies trying to appeal to audiences with location-specific content. With local data being one of the most important information sources for digital marketing, it is important to know how geolocation and geolocation by IP work in order for businesses to assess their weaknesses and design their processes in the most effective manner possible.
Note: This is a guest blog by Michael Dehoyos, an IT specialist at Academic brits with a focus on digital marketing.