8 November 2021 | 6 min read

What Is IP Geolocation? A Comprehensive Guide For Beginners

IP geolocation can help optimize user experience online. But what is it, and can someone find your physical location using it?

IP geolocation with a magnifying glass.

IP address geolocation is the mapping of IP addresses of internet-connected devices to their geographic location in the real world. This mapping can be quickly done with the help of an IP geolocation lookup tool. 

With the help of an IP address lookup tool, the user’s location is effectively geographically mapped, and specific location information is provided, including:

  • Country of residence
  • State 
  • City
  • Postal code
  • Latitude and longitude
  • Area code
  • Internet service provider (ISP)

It’s important to note that geolocation services don’t pinpoint a device’s exact position in the real world. Instead, they only provide specific location data and show an approximate position that’s usually within a few miles of the user’s exact location. In other words, it doesn’t work in the same way as GPS, although it does use GPS data.

Various parties use IP geolocation data for a wide range of needs. However, in most cases, companies use this data to provide internet users with more personalized marketing offers.

In this article, we’ll tell you all you need to know about IP address geolocation and how it works and provide examples of how you can check your own geolocation. We’ll also cover the geolocation databases, IP Application Programming Interfaces (API) and more. 

First, to understand what IP-based geolocation is, we need to learn what IP addresses are. 

What is an IP address?

An IP address is a device’s unique identifier on a local network or the internet as a whole. IP is short for Internet Protocol – a set of rules for data sent through the internet. 

In plain terms, IP addresses make communication online possible as they are the equivalent of home addresses in the online world. Without them, devices wouldn’t know where to send data when they want to communicate with each other. 

IP address represented as a home address.
IP addresses work as home addresses of the internet

As you might expect, these addresses are not random. Instead, they are mathematically created and assigned by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority in blocks to Regional Internet Registries (RIRs). 

Each RIR then sends specific smaller blocks to National Internet Registries and Local Internet Registries. An internet service provider could work with an LIR or NIR or take the role of one. Its job is to assign a particular IP address to a specific end-user. 

How does IP geolocation work?

IP geolocation shows the geographical position of a user’s device. Still, it can’t show your exact physical location, only an approximation. It also cannot show your location unless the device is with you. 

So, if you’re carrying your mobile device with you while moving around town, IP-based geolocation will show data on your whereabouts throughout the day. 

But let’s take a look at what IP location can do in a more concrete example with the help of IPLocation, a tool you can use yourself as well. 

Once you go to the website, you can immediately find information about your IP location. As you can see, the service reveals your IP address, IP location (city and country), host name, ISP, type of browser and various other useful details.

Example of IP address details found using the IPLocation tool.
IP Address Details provided by the IPLocation tool

The tool can offer more information after geographically mapping your IP address. You can click the Details button (in the IP Location field) or enter an IP address into the IP Lookup search field at the top.

Example of additional geolocation data using My IP Location tool.
IP Lookup information of the IP address 8.8.8.8 provided by the IPLocation tool

All of these detailed results are possible because each device is connected to a unique IP address. IP geolocation can map the geographical location of that IP address and, consequently, show the location of the connected device. 

As stated, the result is not always precise, but it’s accurate enough for third parties to use it effectively. For example, in the US, IP-based geolocation is around 90% accurate throughout the country, while the accuracy in a city area may be between 50% and 70%

Free IP location lookup services are usually less precise. At the same time, their paid counterparts offer more accurate information and are thus more often used by companies relying on geolocation data in their businesses. 

How is IP geolocation determined? 

IP-based geolocation is determined in two ways:

  • By extracting information from an IP database and
  • By using IP location API

Let’s explain both in the following few sections.

IP geolocation database

The IP address rarely provides enough data, which is where IP geolocation databases come in. These databases contain basic information on a device’s position, including:

  • Continent
  • Country
  • State or region
  • City
  • Time zone

Specific IP geolocation database services build and administer these databases, and, as always, different companies offer free or paid IP geolocation databases. Both collect and store IP address information, but paid ones can provide more accurate data while providing dedicated support at the same time. 

Services like IP2Location and BigDataCloud use various sources to provide accurate information in their IP geolocation databases, including sources like:

  • Data supplied by ISPs and RIRs
  • Data supplied by users
  • Routing information
  • Whois databases

IP geolocation API

IP geolocation API provides location information on specific website users. More specifically, it’s a RESTful API that provides geolocation information on an Internet Protocol address. 

However, IP location API usually requires the user to consent to the web API services accessing this information. 

Websites and apps mostly use the information provided by IP-based geolocation API to provide improved and highly personalized services and content to users. 

Companies can use various APIs, including Google Maps Geocoding API, Telize and City Geo-Location Lookup

IT expert working with IP geolocation to personalize user experience.
IP geolocation helps personalize users’ experience

Why is IP geolocation useful?

There are many reasons why IP location is valuable and even essential to different parties.

  • Improved personalization

Websites can offer more personalized and consequently better services to their users. This is very useful in e-commerce, where personalization can increase ad interactions and conversion rates.

  • Location-based customized content

Geolocation allows companies to show customized content to users based on their location. For example, stores can provide prices in your local currency.

  • Simplified checkout processes

Businesses can simplify the checkout process with geolocation. For instance, geolocation can help pre-populate location-related text fields while also noting the shipping fees and taxes.

  • Highly optimized marketing strategies

Geolocation makes better and more optimized marketing strategies possible. For instance, companies can learn where most of their customers come from and tailor marketing strategies to those regions.

On top of these, there are countless other, more specific use-cases, like translating crucial messages to the user’s language, showing relevant business hours and more. 

Is IP geolocation always accurate? 

We already mentioned that IP location isn’t always accurate, especially in specific regions of the world with fewer people and fewer services. That’s because geolocation data is more accurate when there are more people in the area with devices using GPS and similar services. 

Smartphone uses GPS to find geolocation on a map.
Geolocation data is more accurate in areas with more devices using GPS

When it comes to businesses looking to use geolocation data in different locations, the accuracy of the information they receive varies based on the third-party provider they are using. If an ISP doesn’t provide accurate information, the business won’t get it either. They can opt for other databases, like the Whois database, but the information there can also be less accurate. 

This information isn’t always accurate because internet service providers don’t update their databases often enough as they don’t have a good incentive to do this.

The most reliable data comes from the users themselves, but many people are reluctant to share their location information due to various privacy concerns. 

As we all know, the world is increasingly more concerned with privacy, which is why more and more people are starting to use Proxies, VPNs and various other IP obfuscation techniques to conceal their IP addresses and real-world locations. 

This is not something that businesses can stop, but they can still ask their online visitors to share their location information. 

Geolocation Application Programming Interfaces can help here as you can use a simple HTML5 feature on your website that asks to collect your user’s location. The feature introduces a pop-up message asking the visitor to share their location. 

Conclusion

IP geolocation is a simple service that lets various entities and people determine the physical position of connected devices based on their IP addresses. 

We use the service for various reasons, and we let companies use it in exchange for improved and highly personalized content. 

However, due to privacy concerns and various other reasons, geolocation information is not always as accurate as it should be. Still, it’s accurate enough that businesses can use it to offer better services and improve marketing campaigns.

In other words, geolocation provides data that helps improve and grow businesses around the world.