It's 9 a.m. Do you know where your users are?
For increasingly more marketers, that's not such a crazy question. As the Web becomes more measurable and we target our audiences more directly via psychographics, demographics, dayparts, and measures, knowing where someone is has become just as important as knowing who she is (or what she likes).
For a while now, it's been possible to target users by location using a variety of "local" online properties. From Yahoo! City Guides to Citysearch to various city papers and business journals, targeting folks based on location is increasingly easier. Many major ad-serving companies incorporate IP-based geolocation that uses a combination of DNS resolution and proprietary lookup tables to locate users in place. Though this method usually won't provide someone's street address, it does at least place them in a metro area.
Why should you care where your users are outside cyberspace? Because even though a growing number of people buy online, much of what people do in their day-to-day lives occurs locally. Advertising anything that doesn't require a national focus -- regional services such as store locations and locally focused pricing -- has been tough online. It's an audience increasingly more of us need to reach.
One effect of the war in Iraq has been driving tremendous amounts of traffic to news sites, according Nielsen//Net Ratings and CyberAtlas.com. From March 10 to March 23, traffic to sites such as CNN.com, washingtonpost.com, ABCNEWS.com, and FoxNews.com soared, with increases in the double digits -- as high as 58 percent, in CNN's case.
To be expected, right? Of course, but it does reflect a growing trend. People are turning to the Internet more for news. Midway through 2002, CyberAtlas reported on a comScore Media Metrix study that found newspaper sites are some of the fastest-growing Web properties (often at the expense of print editions).
Peruse another study from Jupiter (owned by this site's corporate parent) on the rapid growth of online classified advertising and another that notes 60 percent of consumers access local content online. A pattern starts to emerge: Location matters.
Knowing your customers' locations can open up a whole range of advertising options just not possible otherwise. Serving price offers by region, offering local coupons for brick-and-mortar stores, testing offers in different parts of the country... all these require knowing where people are.
Some of the most interesting opportunities around geolocation are those that move beyond ad serving. Companies such as CyberSource, Quova, and Digital Envoy are working with ad networks, content management system providers, online security vendors, and other companies where location can matter to provide solutions that make the Web a little more local.
Why should we care (outside of targeting advertising)? First, although cyberspace has no borders, countries with the infrastructure to make the Web work do have them. They're starting to enact legislation that affects the "borderless" Internet. From differences in privacy laws to restrictions on gambling and pornography, compliance with "local" regulations in a non-localized space is becoming more of an issue. Though many of these laws may seem archaic in a wired world, legitimate businesses must consider location now more than ever.
Second, knowing where your users are can be valuable for security and e-commerce verification purposes. If a person types in a credit card number saying he's from Dallas, but the geolocator in the credit card verifying software says he's entering the information from a computer in Berlin, the transaction can be red-flagged for a closer look by fraud investigators. Similarly, knowing where someone really is can be useful in helping to track users of stolen credit cards... a nagging online problem.
For marketers, some interesting applications revolve around "localizing" Web content. For years, many sites have forced users through one of those ubiquitous "click your country's flag" interfaces to direct traffic to the proper in-language site. A geolocation solution, tied to a content management solution, can automatically detect the country a user hails from and send her to the correct version of the site.
Many have been able to use geographic data gathered from site users to fine-tune marketing campaigns based on location. Travel Alberta, a Quova client, used location data to accurately target site visitors. Another company, E4X, was able to use Digital Envoy's products to automatically offer online pricing in users' local currency for international e-commerce.
The Web is a global medium, but it's becoming increasingly important to think about it as a local medium, too. By adding geolocation and geotargeting to your Web strategy, you can offer higher value to customers and better user experience. These days, those intangibles can provide the competitive advantage.