What is geocoding and what is it used for?

Geocoding combines mathematics, geography and computer science to transform a physical address into geographic coordinates. To illustrate, let’s go through an example.

What is geocoding and what is it used for?
Example of an address search bar that uses a geocoding API.

Geocoding combines mathematics, geography and computer science to transform a physical address into geographic coordinates. To illustrate, let’s go through an example.

Suppose your business is located in the same building as Jawg (👋) at 152 avenue Aristide Briand, 92220 Bagneux, France.

This is the address written in a format that humans can understand. However, for a GPS or an interactive map, this data is not “readable”.

For a computer or software to be able to understand this address and locate your offices, the address must be expressed with two values:

  • Latitude (expression of the north or south positioning of a specific point on Earth)
  • And the longitude (expression of the east or west positioning of a specific point on Earth)
By Djexplo — File: Latitude and Longitude of the Earth

In the case of our example, the geographic coordinates of the office are:

  • latitude (Y): 48.8052445
  • longitude (X): 2.3224634

Consequently, a geocoding tool makes it possible to automatically translate the physical address into geographic coordinates without you having to worry about it.

What are the benefits of using a geocoding tool?

In a professional context, there can be many benefits to using this process.

For ordering and delivery operations

Let's say you manage an e-commerce site and all your customers must provide their delivery address when they make a purchase (to receive it via mail or carrier).

Address form to complete for an online order.

Scenario 1:

The customer enters his address in free fields, without validation.

No luck, he made a typo and put the wrong postal code. The item will be sent to an address that does not exist and will be returned to your warehouse.

The result? The customer ends up frustrated and you wasted time and money getting the item back to its rightful destination 😞

Scenario 2:

The customer begins to enter their address in a search bar.

The implemented geocoding API uses autocompletion and suggests addresses that match its search. The customer selects the desired address and the fields are filled automatically, without error.

The result? The package is received on time, the customer is happy and will not hesitate to order from you again!

Yes, it’s a bit caricatured but you understand the idea 😊

Note that this system is all the more interesting if you have international customers because each country has its own way of writing an address (as well as different formats).

Examples of international address formats.
Little anecdote read on Wikipedia: all continental European countries, with the exception of France, place the house number at the end of the address.

For creating interactive maps

Another fairly common use of geocoding is for the creation of an interactive map. As mentioned earlier, a computer cannot “read” an address as is. It must therefore convert this data into “lat” and “lng” values (for short).

Let's take another example.

You own a restaurant chain and you want to integrate a map on your site so that your customers can find the restaurant closest to them.

Example of a store locator for an imaginary pizzeria chain.

Scenario 1:

You integrate a map with all your locations on your site.

Your customers arrive on the page and enter their address in the search bar. This uses the Jawg geocoding API which converts their address into geographic coordinates.

Boom! A marker automatically appears on the map and they can see that there are 3 restaurants within 10km! All they need to do now is make a choice and drive over 🚗

Scenario 2:

Same scenario except you used BusinessLocator instead of spending several weeks on an API integration. You saved time, served more customers and saved on the annual subscription! 🙄

Okay, BIG product placement for BusinessLocator but that doesn't take away from how true it is! 😬

Now that you know more about geocoding and what it's used for, get ready to see it everywhere! Your online orders, your GPS, your address searches for a good restaurant, etc.

But how will you use it to optimize your business?