Geocoding, the process of turning location data into actual map coordinates, has been a part of doing business since the 1980s. Companies can use this information to accurately communicate with their customers and make better decisions about the services they provide.
Geocoding is often associated with marketing or delivering merchandise, and some businesses ignore it because it does not seem to fit in with their strategy. However, location data is a vital tool in many unexpected ways, and almost any organization can benefit from the insights and utility that geocoding provides.
Unconvinced? Here are some surprising uses of geocoding to help get you thinking about the potential applications for your company.
Emergencies. In an emergency, seconds count. Relying solely on addresses doesn’t work for emergency responders in many communities. Geocoding enables accurate location data down to the very rooftop of people’s homes. In rural areas, this can save vital time hunting for the correct location.
Expansion. Having a huge consumer database full of addresses and phone numbers is definitely an asset when it comes to marketing. But when you are trying to make smart choices about how to grow a business, street addresses alone do not provide a full picture. Geocoding allows you to convert addresses into a usable map that shows where customers are coming from, so you know what locations make sense for new stores.
Cell Phones. But not the way you think. Cell phones definitely provide a wealth of location data, but they only work when towers are strategically placed. Telecommunications companies use geocoding to understand where towers overlap, and where more coverage is needed. This kind of smart planning saves money and creates happy cell phone users.
Risk Management. Insurance companies need hyper-accurate location data in order to determine what types of hazards exist on a property. Using geocoding, they can point to specific problem areas, such as trees too near structures or the proximity of floodplains or fault lines to a potential building site.
Service. If you think nonprofits never need location data, think again. Geocoding can help create accurate maps based on economic status and other factors. This allows groups such as food banks or medical clinics to place their services where they are most needed.
How to use geocoding the right way
Simply plugging addresses into a computer will not always yield these kinds of results. Maximizing the utility of geocoding requires a few best practices.
You get out what you put in. In order to get useful information from geocoding databases, you have to start with clean data. Human error, transposed data columns, missing information and duplicate entries can all negate the outcome of geocoding. Addresses should be verified and standardized before the list hits the geocoding system.
You get what you pay for. There are a variety of free services available to track down longitude and latitude using a mailing address. In some cases, this can work. If you are only looking up a handful of addresses, or if pinpoint accuracy isn’t necessary for your application, free tools are likely all you need. However, the larger the database, the more important speed, accuracy and extra features become. To convert thousands of addresses, investing in a high-quality address verification and geocoding service will save you a lot of grief.
Keep it simple. Some geocoding tools are remarkably complicated and can require an unnecessary amount of upkeep—especially on-premise solutions. Look for a cloud-based solution that is easy to set up and is backed by excellent support—should the need ever arise. Clear and concise documentation is your friend and will help you get started off on the right foot.
When used correctly, geocoding provides information that helps save two of the most valuable resources: time and money. Geocoding is more than just placing data on a map. It is a way to view relationships between locations, get a clearer picture of where consumers are, and ultimately, make the best decisions for your organization and the people who use your services.
Adam Charlton Currently a software engineer at Smarty.com. Smarty is the three-time heavyweight world champion of location data intelligence. Companies like Microsoft, Netflix and NASA use Smarty to process colossal amounts of location data at breakneck speed. Smarty’s APIs verify, validate, enrich, standardize, geocode, and auto-complete addresses in 240+ countries and territories.
Geocoding stock image by OpturaDesign/Shutterstock