What is Geocoding? Definition, Types

Operations with maps have become more and more necessary for many websites and businesses. It is essential for deliveries, online stores, restaurants, and other services. Every business wants to be momentary, highly accurate, and reasonably priced.

Not so long ago, marketers would invent complicated solutions and spend many resources on this task. The best answer for any of these requests is geocoding locations. In today's article, we'll figure out what a geocode is and how you can implement it on your website.

What is Geocoding?

Address geocoding is a process of converting physical addresses into latitude and longitude values (lat/long coordinates) to be applied by a mapping service. In general, it is a geographic coordinates search, and you might remember this geocode definition well from school. It simply converts one type of geocoding data into another computer-readable one.

The system consists of a reference dataset and a geocoding algorithm. Together these components create numerical data from a physical type. An inverted operation is available, too: you know it as reverse geocoding. In the process, an algorithm will provide you with physical addresses received from lat/long coordinates.

Why is Geocoding so accurate?

One of the most impressive aspects of a geocode is its high level of accuracy. An algorithm correctly defines your location worldwide and converts different data formats. The reason is the appliance of many data standards and protocols:

  • using five-digit ZIP code format;
  • creating a Dual Independent Map Encoding (DIME), which is applied currently;
  • applying a Coding Accuracy Support System (CASS) and other necessary software ensures smooth geocoding.

Overall, geocoding can be incredibly accurate due to the availability of high-quality data, advanced algorithms and techniques, and the ability to customize the level of accuracy based on the specific use case.

What is Geocoding used for?

Geocoding is not a fresh idea. It firstly appeared in the 1960s in Canada, where the government applied it to collect, keep, and analyze information about Canadian nature & wildlife. It would stay a governmental instrument for a narrow range of tasks, but suddenly it became popular. After significant digital improvement and great standardizing work, geocoded addresses turned into a user-friendly multifunctional instrument.

Delivery Man Illustration
Source: Pexels

Nowadays, a geocoding definition is much more comprehensive than just an address search. Now, it is a versatile tool that can be applied across the whole market. Some popular variants of implementation are:

  • Healthcare industry – rate patients' access to medical facilities, research a disease, and create epidemiological maps;
  • Financial institutions – make research on lending activity and citizens' access to fair lending options;
  • Merchanting, dropshipping sector – find out more about customers' locations and shipping specifications;
  • Delivery and taxi services – improve the accuracy of an address definition to reach the address faster.

It is only a couple of examples to define geocode. Almost every business field uses this tool nowadays, and our answer to "what is geocoding used for" is not complete. Geocoding location allows all companies to function rapidly and for a small price, simply controlling transportation and real-life processes. Moreover, it provides businesses with a better understanding of a target audience. As a result, advertising campaigns become significantly more customer-oriented based on behavioral data.

Types of geographic location descriptions

Despite the high average level of accuracy, we should discuss difficulties and possible variants to define geocoding fully. Not all users understand what does geocode address mean. You can also geocode other data classes, not only physical locations. The final correctness level depends on the geographic location description and other factors. Now we will describe their specifications and show which of the following explains the term geocoded.

Geographic coordinates

The primary data format is geographic coordinates. While thinking of "what is geocoding?" you'll firstly recall this type. It is simply latitude and longitude values that define a specific spot on the map. You've probably skipped learning the coordinate system at school, but you still should understand it well for coding.

There are different standardized systems, but many can be applied equally. The most popular is the WGS 1984. In the US, a North American Datum has reached the highest popularity. For other countries, you can find specified systems. There are no crucial differences between them, and you can apply any of these variants that fit your region.

Also, projected coordinate systems exist. The worldwide system is called UTM, and the American one is called State Plane. You ought to understand a coordinate system properly to work with them. Otherwise, you won't be able to place data on the map in the proper order and convert northing and easting into lat/long format.

Input: UTM Easting – 510500, UTM Northing – 7042500.
Output: Latitude – 63.510617 deg, or 63 deg 30 min 38.2212 sec, Longitude – 9.210989 deg, or 9 deg 12 min 39.56 sec.

Read this explaining article and learn more about coordinate systems and discover which one will be more comfortable for you.

Place names

Otherwise, you can apply place names to define what is a geocoded address. You should name a location correctly so it will be easily transformed into the required data format (lat/long or projected coordinate).

You can define a large object, such as a state or a country. In this case, you will receive coordinates of the object's center, or you can give place names of very particular objects like streets, bridges, and landmarks. Search for locations in Google Maps to see how that works.

Input: Alberta,
Canada.Output: 52.885906, -114.670338.
Check it out in Google Maps directly: https://maps.app.goo.gl/bk2C3pP4aRP4jkDg8.


Finally, you can type standardized addresses and return coordinates. They are the most popular data type because they are human-readable. At the same time, this is the most complicated task for services of this kind. Users can describe the address differently.

Сhoice of Delivery Route
Source: Pexels

Address points define locations in a certain way, but they are frequently unavailable for small towns. In this case, we may use the road network that includes addresses on both sides of the road.

It is a standard solution for road network analysis. It allows us to define routes and nearest objects comfortably. However, consider that different address locators produce geocoding addresses differently. It would help if you considered it while building accurate ways and finding locations. Google Earth will probably show a point close to the building or directly on it. At the same time, ArcGIS will probably give you the nearest point on the road. The second case is beneficial for building routes and relating buildings and streets correctly.

Single vs. batch Geocoding

While discovering what a geocode address means, you might find these words. They explain the way of treating data. A single geocoder location means converting one address within a single request. This variant fits you if you don't work with big data (thousands or millions of points) and apply geocoding from time to time.

Batch geocoding fits companies that are tied up to location search. It can convert many addresses in seconds. Google Earth, for example, provides users with 2500 geocode limit per day. For unlimited high-speed geocoding, apply Distance Matrix Geocoding API.

Geocoding using Distance Matrix

Distance Matrix Geocoding API is a advanced tool for any needs of geocoding and reverse geocoding. With following this link, you can read the full guide of how to use it and get the understanding of how it may benefit to your business.

Distance Matrix focuses on variable industries and their needs covering them with technological services. For example, there are unique options for:

With Distance Matrix, businesses can balance high speed and comfortable pricing. Read the guides for developers and case studies and use them to understand which solution will fit you better.

Do you need more information about the Geocoding API?

The Geocoding API
Learn more