If you've dabbled in local search marketing, you've probably run across the phrase geolocation once or twice. You may have a general idea of what it means (pairing IP address with physical location) but remain a little fuzzy on exactly how it works or even whether it works. You're not alone. That's why Chris Silver Smith has put together a great little article that explains all about geolocation over at Search Engine Land.

Along with explaining how geolocation works, Chris points out quite a few instances where it could be used to deliver relevant content or ads:

Some ISPs which provide internet access through hotels may now be providing the physical locations of their networks of access points to the geolocation data aggregators as well, and in many cases these ISPs are hosting the default web page portals of local information to the hotel visitors. Some ISPs may also be quietly providing geolocational data to the aggregators as well, allowing all their customers to be geolocated to varying degrees.

Also, internet service providers who host Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the world are providing data to various of these aggregators, allowing the hotspots' IP addresses to be associated with precise physical addresses.

Mobile phones are able to be geolocated by triangulating their location from area cell phone towers, and there are increasing numbers of wireless devices such as phones, PDAs, and laptops which are getting integrated with GPS satellite pinpointing, paving the way to associate precise coordinates with them. As more mobile devices like the iPhone leverage Wi-Fi access, there will be a variety of geolocational methods which will be able to pinpoint mobile users.

I'm writing this blog post using the free Wifi connection at my local Panera Bread. Each time I turn on my computer here and bring up a browser, I'm served up a page from Panera requiring me to confirm their terms of service. Once I've confirmed the TOS, it reloads the page with the Panera logo and an invitation to subscribe to their newsletter. It would be pretty simple for them to to include some geotargeted ads on the page that promote some complimentary services near by. (Say the movie theatre down the street or the Blockbuster next door.)

The article goes on to explain how this information gets gathered, how it can be applied to advertising and how to address some issues that throw up errors. (For example, the problem with all AOL users being geolocated to Reston, Virginia, since all of the services connections run through their IP block.)

It's a long read, but if you're planning to play in the local search space now or in the future, it's worth grabbing a cup of coffee and sitting down to work your way through it.

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Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Everything You Never Knew You Needed to Know About Geolocation

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.