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4 Ways to Add Geolocation Targeting to Your Ad Platform

Chris Shuptrine
Chris Shuptrine
Updated on
January 20, 2020
Targeting Tactics

Geolocation targeting approximates a person’s geographical location based on their digital data and is a requirement for any ad product.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of confusion about what qualifies as geolocation, how best to use it, and whether it complies with current privacy laws.

This article will map out the differences across geolocation tactics and provide guidance on how a robust geolocation offering can attract more advertisers.

What is geolocation, and why do advertisers request it?

Geolocation is a technique used to determine a person’s geographical location based on their digital data. Data sources include IP addresses and GPS coordinates, as well as proxy data like someone searching for “restaurants in Durham”.

mobile phone geolocation

Whether based on consumer intent, past behavior, IP location, or exact map coordinates, geolocation allows you to reach customers where they are with messages that resonate with relevant messaging.

What’s the difference between geotargeting and geodistance targeting?

Geolocation can employ geotargeting or geodistance targeting. While both use digital data to reach consumers where they are, they employ different geo-segmentation tactics and fulfill different advertising needs.

Geotargeting targets users based on their current location, such as their country, state, region, or U.S. Metro/DMA code.

For example, The New York Times could allow advertisers to target just New York City residents based on each user’s IP (which is run through an IP location tool to gauge location). This city-level targeting would likely come at a premium cost.

Alternatively, a site like Yelp could offer geotargeting based on the zip code the user inputed.

Digital out-of-home (DOOH) publishers like Lamar use geotargeting to serve relevant ads based on each physical location’s DMA, such as this billboard in Glendale, Arizona for the local FOX affiliate.

lamar billboard in glendale az

Lamar could also combine geotargeting and local weather conditions to, say, remind local residents of the high pollen count - and where they can seek sinus relief.

lamar billboard with local pollen count

Geodistance targeting, also known as geofencing, uses geometry to target users within a radius of a specific point or address. The geometry involves knowing the latitude and longitude of a user’s current location.

Geodistance targeting is thus driven primarily by GPS data from users’ mobile devices, with ads triggered when users cross into the boundary of the geofenced area.

For instance, you could have Target pay to have ads appear only if the user is within five miles of a Target store. If they’re outside the five-mile radius, the user would not be eligible to see the ad.

Waze uses geodistance to serve in-app ads - from full takeovers to icons on a map - based on how close that user is from a variety of businesses, such as Sheetz, McDonald’s, or Starbucks.

in-app geofenced ads on waze

Alternatively, an app could use geodistance targeting to help an advertiser like Pinkberry reach users near competitors’ physical stories - like Menchie’s or TCBY - with special offers.

in-app geofenced ads on pinkberry

Geodistance targeting can be effective with DOOH ads too. For example, digital billboards can advertise how close the nearest Burger King is.

digital billboard for burger king

How do I enable geolocation?

Publishers rely on geolocation services, also known as location lookup services, to match IP addresses and mobile RFIDs to specific physical locations. Apps can also pull real-time GPS data.

Geolocation lookup services, though, aren’t perfect, and data accuracy can vary. As a rule, GPS data will be more accurate than IP match data.

We’ll spotlight the best location tools for ad servers in an upcoming article.

Does geolocation ad targeting comply with the GDPR and CCPA?

Yes and no. Both the GDPR and CCPA consider a person’s exact location PII, including IP address. This can be avoided by truncating IP address/geometric data, but you wouldn’t be able to pinpoint the exact location - making geodistance targeting difficult.

Targeting by intent search terms, like “restaurants in Durham”, is compliant, as there’s no PII involved. DOOH advertising is also compliant, as the geotargeting it employs isn’t tied to individuals.

Can I use geolocation to put my platform on advertisers’ maps?

Yes! Geodistance targeting is relatively rare and can give you a competitive advantage.

Basic geotargeting is a tablestakes feature, but innovative approaches like these can attract more revenue:
  • Incorporating local weather conditions
  • Combining with dayparting to target consumers during morning commutes, happy hours, etc
  • Offering special discounts for those near an advertiser’s location (or a competitor’s)
  • Targeting specific high-intent locations, such as airports, convention centers, and ballparks

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