Advancements in the field of geolocation are on the rise. In fact, the capability to get accurate and timely location data has become the foundation for a vast and expanding software market in geolocation services.
Knowing where and when consumers are doing certain things provides valuable intelligence to businesses. Companies can use that knowledge to fine-tune initiatives such as geomarketing, sales and distribution.
Brands that learn how to put geolocation data to good use can offer location-based services to their customers. Doing so can help companies thrive in an increasingly mobile marketplace.
For those who are just beginning to explore geolocation data, we’ve put together this primer to help you understand the basics.
What is geolocation?
In simple terms, geolocation technology identifies a real-world geographic location from an individual’s network-connected device. The device is often a mobile phone, but could be any connected device with location capabilities, such as:
- Fitness trackers
- Smart watches
- Personal computers
- Vehicle chips
What is geolocation data?
Geolocation data is information obtainable from electronic devices which associates a device with a particular physical location. The information is often in the form of coordinate points—longitude and latitude.
Is location data different from “geolocation” data?
No. They are the same, and the terms can be used interchangeably. The “geo” in “geolocation” refers to a geographic area.
In general, geolocation data breaks down into three categories:
Geocoding — Location information for specific places on a map. For instance, an individual may search for a particular address or a type of service available nearby.
Georeferencing or geo-positioning — Information about the physical location of an object or a person via global positioning systems (GPS) data. Examples include car navigation systems or GPS-enabled ankle bracelets for monitoring prisoners. The data could be used in real time or saved for later.
Geotagging — Geographic location information added to an object. “Checking in” at a restaurant on a social media site would be intentional geotagging. Geolocation data included in a photograph’s metadata would be a form of unintentional geotagging.
What is the difference between geolocation and geospatial data?
People often interchange the terms “geolocation” and “geospatial” although there is a subtle difference. Geospatial is a term used to define data about a physical object that can be represented numerically in a geographic coordinate system such as an address, zip code or city.
Geolocation data, on the other hand, is information that is collected from a device’s location in geographic terms.
How is geolocation data collected?
Any device that incorporates location data can be a means of collecting geolocation data. Some examples include:
- Credit and debit card transactions
- GPS devices
- Mobile phones
- Cellular towers
- Radio frequency identification
- Tags in photographs
- Tags in social media and web postings
- Web browsers (via IP address)
There are two types of geolocation data collection: device-based and server-based.
Device-based data collection
Device-based collection acquires data through software that the user has on his or her computer or wireless device. A GPS chip, cellular tower triangulation or both determine the device’s location.
Device-based data collection is possible due to technologies such as GPS, Wi-Fi, cellular networks and mobile devices such as iPhones and Androids.
Server-based data collection
Server-based collection relies on third-party geolocation service providers. These service providers obtain information from user devices, such as an IP address or an SSID (service set identifier) from a wireless network. With IP geolocation, service providers can map an IP address to the real-world geographic location of the internet-connected device. Then geolocation service providers sell that location data to their clients—companies that want to use the data to improve their location-based services or geomarketing efforts.
Server-based data collection uses technologies like IP location, cellular networks and Wi-Fi.
What are the applications of geolocation data?
Geolocation data can provide a business with advanced intelligence and insight into its customer base. That data enables the company to provide better products and services based on customers’ location-specific behavior.
The intelligence that geolocation data provides can help guide a variety of business strategies and initiatives, such as:
- Product offerings
- Revenue planning
Geolocation allows internet-connected devices to collect various types of information in real time, such as a user tagging an image, posting to social media or making a purchase. Plus, geolocation technology can accurately pinpoint data points from a given moment on a map.
When properly collected, geolocation data can help businesses answer important questions such as:
1. Who are my consumers?
Geolocation data can help organizations understand their customer base. This understanding empowers companies to make the best business decisions about location-based services, growth strategies and customer targeting, for example.
2. Where are my consumers?
All businesses operate within the confines of the physical world—retail locations, targeted advertising, or even knowing where their customers live, work and hang out. Organizations that know the physical location characteristics of their user base can make intelligent, location-based decisions about how to connect with consumers and what will drive them to action.
3. Where will my consumers be?
A company must understand who its customers are, how they behave and where they have been. Then the company can begin to predict where its consumers will be. The power of predictive analysis provides organizations with a significant market advantage, allowing these businesses to plan ahead with insights on what the future may hold.
Still, the geolocation information gleaned from mobile devices is meaningless without context. Geospatial data allows businesses to add the context of time and location to data. Geospatial context enables companies to see where changes take place over time.
Geospatial and geolocation data analytics can inform business decisions ranging from marketing to operations. In a world where PC usage is in decline and mobile device usage is on the rise, understanding customers’ movements is more important than ever for businesses that want to stay relevant.
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