Where in the world?: Why Google Wants Your Location and What Businesses Need to Know

Posted by Adam Hyland

25 October

I’m not sure when it started, but Google has persisted in asking me to specify my location roughly every fifth time I open the search engine. Like my poor mother when I was a teenager, they really want to know where I am and what I’m up to, but I know it’s not out of idle curiosity.

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A consumer’s location is important to Google. It’s one of the most valuable pieces of information they can glean from their users because, essentially, knowing where you are on the planet means they can engage in geo-targeting, offering and presenting to you segmented content they deem of most relevance to you – think search results that automatically bring up restaurants or car repair shops in your vicinity without you having to type in ‘Thai restaurant Dublin’, for example.

But, of course, all of this is not only because Google wants me to have an easy search experience. They can also use this information to show me ads from brands with the potential to be most effective, and therefore, most expensive for those advertisers on the platform who want to promote their business to me as a likely customer.

Those brands themselves also need to know where I am and where I have been to target me with the right and relevant information I will want in order to attract me to their business independently of a search engine. Put simply, they need to go beyond providing me with a buy button.

This is not exactly a new concept, but ‘location as platform’ and geo-targeting are starting to become big business. Smartphones are now the primary device used by consumers, meaning that most people are accessing online information while on the go. The benefit of knowing where these people are is obvious.

It was hinted at earlier this year when the Pokemon Go craze was in full swing and its creator Niantic banned users who were entering false location IDs, which I mentioned here. Perhaps it was to stop gamers opting to play in a region considered easier to capture imaginary monsters, but perhaps it was also done with a view towards gathering only correct information about its users in order to push out targeted marketing further down the line.

alibaba-group-holding-ltd-unveils-most-important-strategy.jpgLast week, Marketingland reported that Chinese tech giant Alibaba have announced that they made a substantial investment in PlaceIQ, a company specialising in identifying consumer behaviour and modelling online marketing campaigns around it. As the above blog puts it, they see location ID as ‘a cookie for the real world’.

Alibaba, the biggest mobile and ecommerce company in the world, has its own maps, an eBay-like marketplace, and its own pretty useful location-capturing tools, so they already know the value of gathering that consumer data.

The company is an expert at segmented, targeted marketing, as their ‘Singles Day’ success in China has shown, so their investment is a significant sign that not only are they intent on improving this, but that other businesses really should be too.

Savvy businesses have taken advantage of push-advertising based on location. This infographic shows that in the US, 72% of consumers say they will respond to calls-to-action in marketing messages they receive within sight of the retailer involved.

That is great, but very much on a one-time-only, quick-win basis. It doesn’t really keep the customer satisfied, because while somebody may make an on-the-spot purchase decision once, they are unlikely to do it a lot and may resent being pushed repeatedly towards the fast sell. They are still more likely to want great organic content to peruse over, and just as this beats the likes of Google Adwords, it is likely to beat geo-targeting too. By all means provide me with the information about local businesses in a format I want, but let me do it in my own time.

ANONYMOUS_PHONE_USER.jpgTo have a truly effective digital marketing campaign that repeatedly provides useful information, Google, brands and marketers need to understand more about me than that I am walking past a specific retailer. They need to have a detailed buyer persona, whether I fit into it, what organic content I will be interested in consuming, and where I am on the customer journey. Simply peppering people with targeted marketing will equate to spam, as I highlighted here, looking at a report showing that more and more Apple iPhone users are now actively removing their unique Identifier for Advertising ID.

Even with those who have not removed this ID, getting the right content to the right people is not always easy. As this blog from wired.com explains, device ID what has been up to now been considered a great way to track consumers, is not really location-based. It targets the user, and not their current location, so is only really a factor to help determine where they were at one time, not where they are now.

Because the initial collection of a device ID is location related, that can lead to targeting an individual who visited Cork, but lives in Dublin. They don’t want to receive information about where to eat in Cork anymore, so keeping data up to date and providing the information and ads a consumer will most likely want to see requires a better understanding of their behaviour. However, not just knowing where they are now, but the last ten or 20 places they have been, which gives a much rounder picture of their interests, would seem more favourable in this regard.

This adweek piece backs up that idea, saying that hitting a consumer with an ad based on their exact location at one moment is not as effective as serving up ads tailored around the last 20 places where that consumer has been or other pieces of content that they’ve recently looked at on a smartphone.

Google will no doubt find ways to keep geo-targeting viable, and the advertising they get from it profitable as a result, but the brands and businesses who want to target me and the billions of other online consumers out there, will have to find effective ways to do that too, and create the kind of information I am looking for, or risk losing out. Content is still king, no matter where in the world its subjects are.

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Topics: Lead gen, content creation, digital marketing strategy, Google ID location, geo-targeting, location ID, lead generation


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