So called hyperlocal geotargeting, particularly on mobile platforms is the real promise of geotargeting in the future. Hyperlocal is far more granular than just a zip code; it’s as specific as your exact location, within a 10 meter radius. If you own a smartphone, chances are you’ve already taken advantage of these systems to find a nearby restaurant, get directions while lost, or figure out the best mass transit route from one place to another. From a mobile perspective, many services and apps depend on hyper-accuracy to work correctly, though the information also provides a huge potential to innovate to the advertising community. For example, a company might run a campaign that serves a unique offer to someone if they are within a certain distance of their stores. While likely not all that scalable, it might be particularly appealing for local, brick and mortar businesses.
Hyperlocal Geotargeting Via GPS
Technically speaking, hyperlocal is also likely to be far more reliable than traditional geotargeting on the desktop because unlike the desktop, IP address won’t be the mechanism anymore, the device signal itself will. What does that mean exactly? In some cases, geotargeting will leverage a device’s GPS receiver in concert with a customized table of coordinate ranges to identify targetable impressions. Up until a few years ago, using GPS signals to deliver advertising would have been all but impossible due to the significant latency, up to 30 seconds for a so-called time to first fix (TTFF), which is when a location of the GPS satellite constellation (the physical location of the GPS satellites in orbit above the earth) is finally known and is a result of how often the GPS satellites broadcast a ping. While generally reliable, 30 seconds is an eternity to ad delivery systems, and hardly a realistic solution to deliver a timely message.
Today however, TTFF is usually only required for non-cellular devices, like standalone GPS systems. For things like smartphones, the GPS coordinates are determined by a process known as ‘assisted GPS’, which speeds up geolocation by referencing a saved copy of the satellite constellation locations known as an almanac. The almanac details the exact locations of every GPS satellite in orbit at regular intervals, as well as the health of the signal. Every day, the cell towers download a fresh copy of the almanac, so instead of needing to acquire a first fix, your smartphone can simply rely on the cell towers to acquire its GPS coordinates in no time at all.
Hyperlocal Geotargeting via Triangulation
In addition to GPS, one concept gaining traction is the notion of signal triangulation by a dedicated 3rd party. The idea here is that every mobile device has an antenna that not only broadcasts a signal but recognizes other wireless signals like Wi-Fi routers and cell phone towers in addition to the GPS satellite signals. Now, if someone were to read those signals off the device, could identify those other devices, and also knew the physical location of each device, they could use that information to triangulate the mobile device’s exact location, all with incredible accuracy.
If that sounds like science fiction, take a moment to familiarize yourself with a company called Skyhook Wireless, which is doing just that, and has been for years. They already have millions of wireless signals mapped for virtually every street in the country, and have a response time that is a fraction of GPS, around 1 second. There’s a very cool video that explains how their process works available on their site. Their product is in production for a long list of major companies, including many of the major cell carriers. Google and Microsoft for their part have opted to build their own systems that work on a similar process of triangulating user location based on Wi-Fi signals. In many ways, the future is now!
Outside of mobile, there’s a similar thread of innovation happening on the desktop side, though it isn’t nearly as advanced, and still relies on IP address since many desktop systems are directly cabled to their networks and don’t broadcast or receive a wireless signal. Just this year, computer scientist Yong Wang demonstrated that by using a multi-layered technique combining ping triangulation and traceroutes with the locations of well-known web landmarks like universities and government offices that locally host their services and publically provide their physical addresses, he could accurately map an IP address within 700m versus the 34km that traditional traceroute triangulation produces. While this method isn’t in production as of yet, it could be soon, since Wang’s process is quite similar to the existing methodology, but at a much higher frequency.