What Role Does Location Information Play on the Web for Businesses?
One of the advantages that the web brings to many small businesses and freshly starting businesses is that their owners can conduct business without being located in a highly-populated area and without paying an expensive rent or purchase price for a choice retail location.
Yet location information still matters on the web for many businesses.
Some sites are tied to businesses with physical storefronts, and their website is used to reach out and draw customers into their shops, classrooms, or offices. Some businesses are tied to specific geographical regions, providing services such as classified ads or home sales, or other localized services to people who live there or may want to live there.
Other sites are aimed 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 Location Information
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 Research papers also look at locations involving websites using this framework of three different types of locations, that may help understand the approach that Microsoft is taking when it comes to an 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)
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 extract location information from websites involving all three types of location – provider, content, and serving area.
The Location Information Patent
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
A method and system for identifying locations associated with a web resource are provided. The location system identifies three different 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 of particular interest.
Why is understanding location 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. Still, 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.
Location Information Conclusion
I’ve worked with a site that provides services globally, yet the geographic location of the business behind the site is an integral and important aspect of the services they offer. Their geographical location is one of the main reasons people purchase their services, regardless of where those clients are located. Their provider location and content location match, but their serving location is of global scope. It’s important that a search engine or builder of location-based web applications understands this and doesn’t misinterpret geographic information on a website. So this is an area that I’ve been sensitive to for a while.
If you have a website, how easy might it be for visitors to your site, including search engines, to understand and distinguish 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 understand how those different types of content apply to your site more easily than a search engine could. You may have to spell the differences between provider location, content location, and serving area more bluntly for a search engine.