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Geocoding Definition

Geocoding is the computational process by which a physical address is converted into geographic coordinates, which can be used for a variety of mapping applications.

Geocoding example of various physical locations mapped in Baltimore.
Image from ArcGIS


What is Geocoding?

Geocoding, a subset of Geographic Information System (GIS) spatial analysis implemented through geocoding software, is composed of a reference dataset and the geocoding algorithm, each of which is composed of sub-operations and sub-components that work together to transform physical, input data into numerical, spatial data. Reverse geocoding is the process by which geographic coordinates are converted into a physical address.

Input data is categorized as either Relative Input Data, which refers to textual descriptions of a location in relation to another reference location, or Absolute Data, which refers to textual descriptions of a location that outputs an absolute known location independent of a reference location. Geocoding platforms do not typically support relative locations.

The first geocoding practices were implemented in 1960 with the invention of the Canada Geographic Information System (CGIS), which mapped, stored, and analyzed information about wildlife, forestry, and agriculture for the purpose of regulating land capability in rural Canada. The introduction of the five-digit zip code, the invention of the modern Dual Independent Map Encoding (DIME) vector mapping model, Mapping Display and Analysis System (MIDAS) software, Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing (TIGER), and the rise of Coding Accuracy Support System (CASS) address standardization have all contributed to the evolution of geocoding from a government sector solution to a user-oriented tool.

Why Do We Use Geocoding?

Geocoding software is implemented in a variety of industries, including but not limited to:

  • Health: assess patient access to healthcare facilities; study epidemiological patterns of a disease
  • Finance: determine lending activity in the community, including demographics data to assist in fair lending efforts
  • Public Safety: direct emergency response via locally developed street files and E911 points
  • Military: Military Grid Reference System (MGRS) is the geocoordinate standard used by NATO militaries
  • Commercial: directly factor geography into the business analytics process; monitor shipping patterns and customer sales

The advent of modern on-premises geocoding, geocoding online, and cloud-based geocoding Application Programming Interface (API) has facilitated greater precision and speed than ever, making geocoding a valuable component in Business Intelligence. An effective method for improving local search optimization is the practice of boosting local signals through geocode images. Incorporating images that are associated with places can provide additional opportunities for keyword signals, improving relevance for local searches.

How to Geocode Addresses

The Address Interpolation method for geocoding uses existing data from a street GIS to divide streets into segments, each of which has a range of addresses associated with it. Geocoding software identifies and matches physical addresses to particular segments in order to interpolate the location of a given address based on where it should be located within each segment.

Global Positioning System (GPS) location mapping is a beneficial geocoding service for areas without high-quality street network data. Geocoding to a street intersection or a highway mile marker are sufficient techniques for such purposes as emergency response, navigation, and maintenance. A combination of geocoding techniques may be implemented simultaneously. Batch geocoding enables the user to submit multiple reverse or forward geocode requests at once, with up to one hundred latitude/longitude or addresses per batch request.

What is FFIEC Geocode?

The Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) is a formal interagency body empowered by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (FRB), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) to develop and prescribe uniform report forms, standards, and principles for the federal examination of financial institutions. The FFIEC provides a vital standard for geocoding.

The FFIEC Geocoding System aids financial institutions in meeting their legal requirement to report information on business, mortgages, or farm loan applications. FFIEC Geocoding also provides census demographic information about specific census tracts, including housing, population, and income data, readily available in an instant search via the FFIEC online geomap tool.

Does HEAVY.AI Offer a Geocoding Solution?

The rise in location-enriched data has expanded the opportunity to extend location intelligence techniques to conventional big data analytics processes. Equally, geospatial-specific processes in GIS tools are becoming too slow for today's data volumes. HEAVY.AI bridges this divide. With HEAVY.AI, geospatial analysts can interactively explore up to millions of polygons and billions of mapped points, BI and big data analysts can now easily incorporate spatio-temporal analysis in their regular big data analytics workflows.