Location Still Matters on the Web: Types of Location Information

One of the advantages that the web brings to many small businesses, and freshly starting businesses is that their owners can conduct business without having to be located in a highly populated area, and without paying an expensive rent or purchase price for a choice retail location.

Yet location still matters on the web for many businesses.

There are sites that are tied to businesses that have physical storefronts, and their web site is used as another means of reaching out and drawing customers into their shops or classrooms or offices. There are businesses that are tied to a specific geographical regions, providing services such as classified ads or home sales or other localized services to people who live there, or who may want to live there.

There are other sites that aim at potential visitors from around the globe, and may not be concerned about location, except that they don’t want their audience limited to a specific location.

Types of Locations

A paper from Microsoft Research last year, Web Resource Geographic Location Classification and Detection (pdf), discusses three different types of locations for web sites:

Provider Location – The actual geographic location of the owner of a web resource.

Content Location – The location that the content of a site may be about.

Serving Location – The geographic scope of the audience that the site aims to reach.

A couple of other Microsoft Reseach papers also look at locations involving web sites using this framework of three different types of locations, that may be helpful in understanding the approach that Microsoft is taking when it comes to understanding where a site is located, what the site is about, and whom the site is aiming to reach.

Detecting Geographical Serving Area of Web Resources (pdf)

Indexing implicit locations for geographical information retrieval (pdf)

These papers are great starting points if you want to grasp some of the concepts in a new patent application from Microsoft which describes a way to try to extract location information from web sites, involving all three types of location – those of provider, content, and serving area.

Method and system for web resource location classification and detection
Invented by Chuang Wang, Wei-Ying Ma, and Xing Xie
Assigned to Microsoft
US Patent Application 20060206624
Published September 14, 2006
Filed: March 10, 2005

Abstract

A method and system for identifying locations associated with a web resource is provided. The location system identifies three different types of geographic locations: a provider location, a content location, and a serving location. A provider location identifies the geographic location of the entity that provides the web resource. A content location identifies the geographic location that is the subject of the web resource. A serving location identifies the geographic scope that the web page reaches. An application can select to use the type of location that is of particular interest.

Why is understanding this type of information important to Microsoft?

In developing location-based web applications, such as those used to support mobile devices and local searching needs, as well as navigation systems and geographic retrieval systems, there’s a need to be about to understand the geographic location of a resource on the web, and match it with the current location of a user of the application.

For example, someone using a mobile phone may want to locate a nearby restaurant. The patent filing uses the following example to describe problems in helping someone in that situation:

For example, a web page for a Chinese restaurant may contain the geographic locations “Peking” and “Redmond.”

The geographic location of Peking indicates that the subject of the web page is somehow related to China, but the geographic location of Redmond indicates that the restaurant is located in Redmond, Wash., USA.

If a web application is trying to match the user’s current location, which may be in Beijing, to the location of the web page, the web application might erroneously report to the user the web page for the Chinese restaurant because it contains “Peking,” which is a geographic location related to Beijing.

Conclusion

I’ve worked with a site for years that provides services globally, and yet the geographic location of the business behind the site is an integral and important aspect of the services that they offer. Their geographical location is one of the main reasons why people purchase their services, regardless of where those clients are located. Their provider location and content location match, but their serving location is of a global scope. It’s important that a search engine or builder of location-based web applications understands this, and doesn’t interpret geographic information on a web site incorrectly. So this is an area that I’ve been sensitive to for a while.

If you have a web site, how easy might it be for visitors to your site, including search engines, to understand and distinquish between where you are located, how location is tied to your content and what you offer, and the geographical scope of your intended audience?

A human visitor might be able to understand how those different types of content apply to your site more easily than a search engine could. For a search engine, you may have to spell the differences between provider location, content location, and serving area more bluntly.

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8 thoughts on “Location Still Matters on the Web: Types of Location Information”

  1. What’s great about the web is that you can operate anywhere, or in multiple places, in the world and provide information and content relevant to places other than their physical location.

    I work for a travel company and we provide accommodations for locations around the globe, plus we don’t have a traditional store front… could we potentially loose out on the web because we are not providing our content from those locations, or that we host from different countries (in all cases other than the US)?

    We have made a very large investment in link building and hired many content writers to improve our user’s experience. So, should our sites be discounted, just because we are not located in the destination where our services are being rendered?

    Any insight would be appreciated.

    pittfall

  2. I agree. That is one of the great things about the web. It’s been wonderful having a chance to offer services to people around the globe – though keeping track of different time zones can get confusing. :)

    The paper, Detecting Geographical Serving Area of Web Resources, linked to above is the clearest statement from Microsoft on how they would try to determine serving area.

    It looks at both IP addresses of people who visit the site (not of the site itself), and query terms used to find the site to attempt to determine serving area.

    I would suggest that a good mix of optimization for general terms that don’t rely upon geography as well as phrases that indicate geographic location would help a search engine understand that the geographic scope of your sites isn’t confined to a small area.

    Cheers.

  3. Now that I’ve got to actually writing content for the contact page, I do intend include a full formatted address and directions from the airport.

    However, I’ve got a simple thought: if an American searches for a software development company, doesn’t Google try to return sites that are closer to the US, than otherwise? I mean, from a purely local standpoint, doesn’t it make sense for G to do that? (Our site is on a .com tld.)

    And then a few thoughts came:
    – if I do make it obvious that our company location is Russia, would it actually hurt me in terms of US traffic?
    – if that’s the case, wouldn’t it make sense at least not to do anything about the address (even tho we have it in the whois record)
    – wouldn’t it help us to get an US address and optimize for that?

    Then again, you do mention that the link of our company (reach) to our physical location, so, perhaps, it isn’t a huge thing. But what if it is noticeable?

    Also, it’s been a while since the UK SERPs riot got loud, but I don’t see the opposite happen: I very rarely see ccTLD domains in Google.com SERPs.

    Thanks.

  4. Hi Yura,

    I don’t believe that it would hurt you in terms of traffic to your site if it’s clearly evident that the audience that your site serves is global in nature. I’ve seen sites located across the globe targeting audiences in the US achieve significant traffic regardless of their location. While your location (the provider location) may be in Russia, if it’s clear from the content of your site that your audience is global (the serving location), then you shouldn’t have a problem.

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