GIS and Internet Marketing: Where Virtual and Physical Location Meet

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Location, location, location. You hear it in business all the time, but in the digital age where everything is happening online, does it still matter like it once did? The answer of course is yes. In fact, location and GIS play more of a role than ever before. Why? Personalization is the next phase in marketing, and making the user experience unique to customers depends in a large part on where they live.


This is simple data that a company can find and map through social listening and mapping, analytics, and data from current customers and website visitors. It includes sex, age, race, occupation, income, and much more.

This data is not just available for a set of customers, but also for more specific locations. For instance, the demographics of downtown Seattle will not be the same as those of the suburb of Tacoma. Likewise, in New York, different areas of the city will have different demographic profiles. Queens will be different than Manhattan, and the Bronx will be different from the Upper West Side.

Think of this on a state or national scale as well. The demographics in Utah will be different than those in Alabama. Those in the United States will be different than those in France.

Demographic map of Texas created using R. Source: Lamstein.
Demographic map of Texas created using R. Source: Lamstein.

Personalizing the user experience depends first on these demographics: where is the web visitor from?

Analyzing this information will give a business a jumpstart on what kind of web content to offer the visitor initially. However, it is only the beginning of location data.

Language and Dialect

Language is about more than just English, Spanish, or German. It is also about dialect within those languages which is based largely on region. For instance, the United States has many different dialects, and individuals from certain areas are more prone to respond to formal language instead of an informal, conversational tone.

Regional dialect variation in the United States for a sweetened, carbonated beverage. Source: Joshua Katz.
Regional dialect variation in the United States for a sweetened, carbonated beverage. Source: Joshua Katz.  More: Six Interesting maps from 2013.

How does a business know what kind of content to offer a customer, and how to offer a unique journey from interested web browser to customer? First by combining the information they learn from demographic analysis, and then adding regional information to determine language and dialect, and the tone they should use to engage the customer.

Sound complex? At its core, this is a very simple concept. Where is the customer now, and where did they come from? This information is in almost every social media profile, can be detected by IP address, and all this location data can be mapped.

Visualizing Analytics

Analytics is simply a looking at a set of data about customers, including demographics, region, and residential history if that is available to make some kind of determination. But why maps?

Because maps allow everyone to visualize that data. It is one thing for a business to say that the largest part of their customer base is in a certain state or region. It is another to see it.

For instance, what if a health food company were to see that 90% of their customers in a certain area are women? The case could be made that since women are more likely to make the food decisions in a household, this makes sense. However, according to market studies the company has done, that number should be closer to 75%.

The map shows age-adjusted colorectal cancer incidence and mortality rates per 100,000 population for Illinois residents by county and the locations of Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC). The purposes of the map are to identify areas with increased colorectal cancer incidence and mortality rates, educate the public and stakeholders on the burden of colorectal cancer in Illinois, and assist with future collaborative efforts toward reducing the burden of colorectal cancer among Illinois residents.

Clearly, the company can see that they have work to do in this area, the convincing the CEO to run a marketing campaign directed toward men would not be too much of a challenge, since they are clearly missing 15% of a market share they should have.

GIS and mapping can help the marketing team illustrate this in a tangible way. The same can apply to almost any business. Either the business is reaching their target audience or they are not, and with the power of GIS we can help them visualize these goals.

Virtual Location

A businesses virtual location is their website. The appearance of this website matters to the user, whose physical location can in part reveal their preferences. Many businesses seeking to personalize user experiences start by either purchasing more than one domain name or using subdomains. They can also deny access to users where their product cannot be shipped or even violates local laws.

For instance, a media company might have regional websites, like or Sites that ship liquor, gambling and sports betting sites, and other sites that are not legal in certain areas can block users based on their location, denying access and keeping themselves from getting into legal trouble.

If a user simply typed in but had location services enabled, the website would redirect them to the regional domain or sub-domain, offering them content that better fit their customer profile, and related to their geographic location.

This is all possible though geolocation data and GIS. Mapping has always played a key role in business, but it is even more important now, as user location becomes a vital part of creating the best user experience possible.

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