What is geotargeting? Hide your location from advertisers

Anton P. | September 21, 2021

Geotargeting is a strategy of serving ads to particular geographic locations. Your whereabouts, such as country or area code, guide specific promotions to your door. Take your social media newsfeed. While scrolling through, you likely notice ads for shops and services nearby or at least in the same city. But how do providers know that you live in London or Hamburg? The internet fast-tracks this process, allowing digital entities to pinpoint your location with varying accuracy. Let’s find out how geotargeting works and how you can prevent ad networks from discovering your location.

What is geotargeting?

Geotargeting is a powerful technique for promoting goods to people living in relevant regions. Consider a hypothetical beauty salon that recently opened in Chicago. What demographic would its owners want to reach? Primarily, people living in Chicago.

Other traits like female or male users, age range, and interests play a role as secondary factors. However, the primary purpose of any ad campaign is to get through to people considered potential customers. So, geotargeting allows advertisers to save resources and showcase products to people living in a targeted area.

Thus, geotargeting means an advertising strategy that shows promotions tailored to users’ physical locations. Businesses can also get creative when it comes to using the knowledge on their users’ whereabouts.

In 2017, Spotify made the White Denim’s new song only available when it rains. The service would determine users’ locations in the US and check the areas’ weather conditions. If it was sunny, users could not access the song. This fun marketing trick got some buzz in the media, proving geotargeting’s true potential.

How does geotargeting work?

Geotargeting is possible through several means:

  • The most accurate geotargeting happens when it relies on site or customer registration databases. Then, it relates that information to market descriptors. The latter include variables like area codes, time zones, or GPS coordinates.
  • Users can willingly provide information on their location, like country, state, zip code, or city. These details (usually supplied during registration) can also partake in geotargeting.
  • Netizens’ IP addresses also supply information on their whereabouts. The locations might be vague and less accurate than the previous options. However, it is likely the easiest to implement.

Let’s consider a common geotargeting strategy. You have downloaded an app that can access your mobile phone’s location. An example of such an application is Uber. Thanks to location-based services, advertisers get to know more about your location. And, say, you type in “hairdresser” into Google Maps to find a salon nearby. It is also a form of geotargeting, giving you options in close proximity.

The central idea behind geotargeting is the delivery of content to the right audience. Advertisers pair geolocations with other attributes, like age, interests, or previous search queries. However, geofencing takes a step further by presenting ads at the right place and time.

How is geofencing different from geotargeting?

Geofencing is a similar practice relying on users’ locations to generate ads. The word “fence” relates to the process of enclosing a particular area with a virtual barrier. Users within that zone get to see ads relevant to that parameter.

Say, a shopping mall can be an ideal place, generating ads from stores or on the best deals available. Areas like sports arenas can also depict ads related to sports or future events hosted at the stadium. Thus, geofencing looks at your location and tries to predict what else you might like or need.

Geotargeting helps companies target users even more exclusively. For instance, ads for baby carriers require a rather specific audience. Advertisers might consider locations in terms of possible shipping options. Thus, geotargeting narrows the scope of potential clients and delivers to a smaller, more customized group.

Examples of geotargeting campaigns

Geotargeting is a prominent strategy across the web. However, some companies (like the aforementioned Spotify) take their targeting to the next level.

  • Purple Mattress ran an ad campaign for “Sleep Cool” mattresses for users in warm climates. Thus, if you live in an area with high average temperatures, you might have been one of the targeted clients.
  • Sometimes knowing your target audience means that you can determine which establishments they will visit. Urban Outfitters sent push notifications about party dresses to female shoppers who had recently gone to bars and nightclubs. The idea was a success, with a 75% increase in conversions.
  • Dominos has shown how different weather conditions and circumstances can help them advertise their brilliant pizza. When clients sign up to receive Dominos’s offers, they might provide their locations (cities or streets). According to this information, Dominos would send unique messages addressing certain conditions. For instance, Dominos would suggest staying in and ordering a pizza on a rainy day.

Why users might feel uncomfortable about geotargeting

Like most tricks advertisers have, geotargeting shows us their impressive and spooky capabilities. They get to know a lot about netizens, like their interests, preferences, or current obsessions. On top of that, they know which services will be accessible to them. Thus, services in the same city are always a fair game, especially if users have shown interest in similar ordeals.

However, you might prefer that advertisers know as little as possible about your digital lifestyle and identity. Thus, the fact that advertisers follow your every move might make you feel restless and anxious.

Luckily, you can minimize the effects of geotargeting and prevent ads from constantly reflecting your whereabouts. Here are the steps to follow to avoid geotargeting:

  • Avoid providing location details during signup. Businesses frequently use their customers’ information to target them. Thus, leave such spaces blank whenever possible. Hiding your geographical location will not always be an option, especially when online stores need it for shipping parcels.
  • Do not reveal your location in quizzes, surveys, and questionnaires. The information you provide will likely serve a purpose. It might just be that a business wants to gather insights on their potential customers.
  • Steer clear of location-based apps. Such applications will require access to your location to provide their services. You can avoid some of them, but resisting UberEats might be too challenging. To the very least, enable location-sharing only when apps are in use.
  • Hide your IP address. Your IP address contains information about your location, such as the city, area code, and country. The location is not always accurate, but it typically manages to pinpoint the city you are in. Furthermore, IP addresses reveal your Internet Service Provider. Since some of them serve clients in particular areas, advertisers can predict your location even more precisely. Atlas VPN can conceal all of these details from advertisers and other online entities. Connect to a VPN server, and we will assign you a new IP address, pinpointing the location you have chosen. Advertisers will still associate a specific place with you, but it won’t be accurate. Remember that you will still see ads, but they will not reflect your location. But Atlas VPN can help you evade the irritating flow of ads, too. Our Tracker Blocker feature blocks ads and trackers, giving you a cleaner digital experience!
Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.

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