Lob's website experience is not optimized for Internet Explorer.
Please choose another browser.

Arrow Up to go to top of page
Geocodes 101
September 24, 2019

Geocodes 101

Author Avatar
Lauren Ritchie

A geocode is the latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates of a physical location and differs from an address as it is universally standardized, and doesn’t need to adhere to regional formatting. Geocodes are frequently referenced in location-oriented mobile applications + online services, and are used in everything from giving real-time directions to calculating expenses to cartography. Geocodes are designed to give you a better understanding of where your audience is and can increase the transparency of your offline operations. You can programmatically obtain a location’s GPS coordinates by using a Geocode API; however more advanced solutions, like Lob Address Verification API, increase your data’s integrity, giving you enhanced insights that can efficiently impact your workflows.

How To Get an Address’s Geocode

While it might be tempting to turn to search engines like Google and Bing to obtain geocodes, the applications for their geocodes are limited. Search engines can issue geocodes for locations that aren’t otherwise definable, like the top of a hillside or in some instances, fictitious— like the Bermuda Triangle. If your business model benefits from only interacting with legitimate locations, you’ll want to get geocodes from a platform that verifies addresses.

Address Verification APIs increase the integrity of your geocodes, by correcting spelling errors and populating missing information. For example, let’s say your contact has the following address:

1481 W 2nd St
Washington, NC

What geocode would be issued if you were to misspell ‘Washington’, leave out the street direction or state, and put in the wrong zip code? (2nd street and the city of Washington are some of the most popular street and city names.) APIs that issue geocodes without address verification can issue irrelevant geocodes. However, the Lob Address Verification API corrects addresses to identify their true positioning, then captures their geocode.

Geocodes 101 image 2

How Geocode Are Captured

There are two ways to calculate a location’s geocode:

Physically going to the location and using a GPS device to obtain its GPS coordinates. This is the most accurate way to obtain geocodes, but it's also laborious and difficult to scale. Geocaching, has gamified the operational impact on physically capturing geocodes. It pushes their thrill-seeking players to discover new locations, which frequently are locations with unknown geocodes.

Interpolation takes a location and references it against a map that has nearby locations geocoded. It then estimates the location’s geocode, calculating it’s relative position to the previously identified coordinates. Interpolation uses the same logic as your old math homework: Use points on a linear graph to find the positioning of unmarked points on the line. If math isn’t your favorite subject, here is a visual guide:


If points A and C have known geocodes, but point B doesn’t, it’s geocode can be estimated by looking at the map, as it’s halfway between point A and C. Interpolation is the fastest and most cost effective way to obtain a geocodes, but it isn’t the most precise. As sometimes relative locations aren’t exact locations.

3 Levels for Geocode Accuracy:
Rooftop Geocode
This is the most specific geocode, as it returns coordinates for the exact building you are locating. Operations that benefit the most from rooftop geocodes usually are involved with delivery operations, as it can be used to get real time updates for delivery and transit times.

Zip+4 Geocode
This geocode identifies a specific regions, which can contain a single building or be a community with 20 households. Zip+4 geocodes can be used to identify geographic patterns that impact customer-facing logistics, like finding where new storefront or pickup locations should be or establishing deliverability restrictions.

ZIP code Geocode
ZIP code geocodes offer similar insights as a Zip+4 but operates on a larger geographical scale. USPS uses ZIP codes to speed up the time it takes to process and sort mail.

How You Can Use Geocodes

Geocodes provide real time insights into logistics that impact the way your business operates and can make it easier to make data-informed decisions that have a geographical footprint. Using geocodes can allow to:

Aggregate different geographical datasets together
Amass and organize media by searching for content by geocode
Geographically segment your audience
Improve your local search lookups
Reduce time spent processing deliveries, by reducing the time spent sorting deliveries and finding the most efficient delivery routes

Additionally, geocodes can be converted into addresses, a process known as reverse geocoding. You can obtain your audience’s GPS coordinates through tracking their location on mobile applications. Reverse geocoding allows you to:

Engage your audience when they visit sites of interest
Expedite emergency services by knowing the exact location of where you need to send help
Identify suspicious activity and track fraudulent behavior

How Does Lob Obtain Geocodes?

Lob uses both physically captured and interpolated geocodes with data from the US Census Bureau (also known as TIGER data) and additional private sources. Lob Address Verification API is CASS Certified and programmatically standardizes and corrects addresses while returning metadata that can illuminate unique insights into your operations. Lob corrects, standardizes and formats every address, before pulling address metadata which includes Residential Delivery Indicator (RDI), Delivery Point Validation (DPV), and geocodes. Lob references geocodes for mail printed within its platform to intelligently route where it is created and processed, which effectively decreases the amount of time it takes to deliver mail.

Continue Reading