Geolocation - Your tool is probably wrong!

As you can tell from my most recent posts on IP Addresses and Geotargetting Adwords, I've been thinking a lot about geolocation recently. Up until recently, I've been suggesting that people use the tool IP2Location for checking geolocation, since there is free demo online and they have free/cheap API tools.

The problem is that I've been recently testing IP2Location, and it's database is not very accurate in my tests. Unfortunately, since it's easy to use and cheap/free, chances are any tools you use to check geolocation are likely using it.

For example, SEOMoz's Geotargetting Detection Tool uses what looks like IP2Location and as a result my website (www.mcanerin.com) is apparently located in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, USA, rather than Toronto, ON, Canada.

Quite a difference. I can maybe see if you get the wrong city, but the whole country? It pretty much makes the tool useless.

SEOMoz Geotargetting Tool Screenshot for www.mcanerin.com:

It's nice that they provide the disclaimer at the bottom that the results may not be accurate, but it would be better to improve accuracy rather than work on more obvious disclaimers, so I'm not going to talk about the disclaimer and focus instead on the accuracy.

The thing is, that I doubt the fine folks at SEOMoz have any reason to suspect that these results are wrong, since it's not their database, and they are apparently pulling it from a very well known IP Geolocation database (IP2Location):



The problem is, that there is no point in providing a tool if it's wrong. Worse, what if you were using this database to deliver ads? Identify where a visitor is coming from? Look for click fraud by trying to cross reference IP's? Suddenly it gets more serious (and expensive) for this information to be wrong.

It's one thing for a free tool to be wrong, but when that same information is feeding your ad delivery software, wise marketers start asking questions and double checking results.

The Search Majors (Google, Yahoo, MSN, Ask, etc) use higher end IP Geolocation companies because the results are more accurate. This means that you probably should too.

The industry leaders in the commercial space are Digital Envoy (Google used to use them until DE sued them for more money), Quova, and MaxMind. Let's look at MaxMinds online tool results for "www.mcanerin.com":


Finally! The right answer!. Fortunately for me and my site's geolocation, this is also the type of database that the search engine's use. The only problem is that this quality comes at a price.

There is a possible free option, however, IPligence also gets the location correct:



I haven't fully checked this one out, but so far the (free) results have been very accurate. Certainly better than IP2Locations.

This post isn't about coming down on anyone, but rather a warning about the dangers of assuming that just because something gives you results for your query, doesn't mean it's always accurate or up to date. Which you'd think us search marketers should know by now, including myself.

I apologise for recommending IP2Location up until now, and am now recommending either the Maxmind or IPligence online tools instead for a quick geolocation check.

Ian

1 comment:

Josh said...

It amazes me more people dont use this technology to make their sites more relevant to users. Many of the big guys do, but its behind the scenes.

Unfortunately, people get the wrong impression of geolocation technology when they use these free or cheap services. Networks are very diverse and require a lot of logic to correctly identify user location.

Incidentally, Quova is the only vendor that has processes validated by a third party auditor, PWC.