When building an ad platform that offers geotargeting, a geo IP look-up tool is a must, as compiling a list of IP Addresses and their corresponding physical locations yourself isn’t feasible.
It’s important, then, to partner with the right geolocation tool so you can offer advertisers real-time ad targeting by country, region, city, and so on.
But with so many options out there, what’s the best geolocation IP vendor for you?
This will depend on your needs — predominately cost and coverage — and below dives into the Top 5 Geolocation Tools in the market, as well as what you should look for when picking a partner.
Important considerations for picking a geolocation tool
API vs storing locally
You’ll have to make the choice whether to ping the IP lookup vendor in real-time and wait for a response, or to download the database and reference it locally.
Most geo IP tools, for instance, have APIs that you ping with an IP Address (or, for some, lat/long for mobile) and they respond with a JSON object like:
You would then take this geo information and attach it to the ad request you send to your ad decision engine.
This method works if you don’t want to store the data on your own servers, but such an API call will introduce latency you likely wouldn’t have with internal storage — leading to slower ad delivery times.
To help with this, some services allow you to download the entire IP database directly from them, which you then store on your own servers. This would be advisable if fast ad load times are pivotal to you.
How often to refresh the IP database
The risk of not updating your Geo IP database often enough would be inaccurate IP location data that could hurt your relationship with advertisers if ads aren’t being delivered where they should be.
That said, location data doesn’t change that often. Revolutions, city name changes, annexations, Brexits — these are all events that could impact accuracy, but are relatively infrequent.
Many of the services tout constant updates — such as once a day — which means API calls would be up-to-date. But if you’re doing a database download, it’ll come down to how often you want to run the script.
Accuracy/scope/coverage of the data
It’s wrong to assume every geo-lookup service is made equal. Some are strong in certain countries — but go beyond that and the coverage and accuracy is poor.
Your vendor needs, therefore, depend on the granularity of your ad product’s targeting and where your user base is. If you have 95%+ EU traffic and want to offer just country-level targeting, you can get by with a simple, inexpensive tool.
Meanwhile, if your ad platform allows for city-level targeting and your audience is global, you’ll need a more robust solution. As you can expect, such solutions will be more expensive.
The pricing model of most geolocations tools is a flat fee that contains a certain number of queries per month/year. For instance, you pay $1K a year for up to 1 billion queries; $1.5K for 2 billion.
Some services that allow for database downloads may instead charge a flat monthly/yearly fee for access to the data.
The biggest variable influencing a vendor’s cost will be the accuracy and scope of the data needed. Cheaper solutions generally have fewer matched IPs and limited international coverage.
One thing to keep in mind is that there can be a cost to a less accurate solution, as:
- If the data is inaccurate and advertisers find out (such as discovering an ad targeting Venice appeared in Paris), they may demand a refund. Trying to save $1K/month with a cheaper solution may be offset by the $2K in clawbacks during that time.
- A database with more IP matches will result in more de-anonymized users whom you can then monetize. If one service only identifies 50% of traffic from Berlin — while another does 80% — the latter solution would lead to more available ad impressions for Berlin-targeted campaigns (resulting in more revenue for you).
You’ll also want to understand what languages the geolocation vendor uses for API calls and database downloads. If your system’s language isn’t supported, it could result in manual work trying to make it work.
If your ad platform is driving meaningful revenue, would you prefer a geo IP vendor that’s inexpensive and hands-off, or one that provides hands-on support to address any hiccups?
Understanding what support there is — if any — will be important in determining if they fit your needs.
Below identifies the top five geo-lookup services you should look into when building an ad server, in no particular order. Each has pros and cons; it boils down to your exact needs.
Digital Element, self-dubbed ‘the Global IP Geolocation Leader’, supports customers like ESPN, Hubspot, Twitter, Adobe, and LinkedIn. Their data can be downloaded locally or accessed via an API.
Digital Element’s strength is its coverage, with upwards of 10x more IPs identified as compared to some other solutions. According to them, they have 99.99% accurate rates at a country-level and 97% at the city-level, as well as coverage of 99.9999% of all global IP addresses. No other competitor used such high numbers in their marketing.
Costs are commiserate to coverage, though. If you’re driving billions of ad requests a month, you could be looking at $40K+ a year.
Digital Element, then, tops the list as the best-of-breed option for larger enterprises building high-volume, international ad platforms. If you expect your ad product to be focused on a single country or have country-level targeting only, though, you could likely get by with a simpler, cheaper solution.
MaxMind is a database-only solution that allows you to download a comprehensive profile of IP addresses, including country, state, city, ZIP, and more. It’s a good solution if you’re on a budget: for city-granular data, the cost is $100/month; for country-level, it’s just $24.
For compatibility, MaxMind’s databases make use of the MaxMind DB file format, which supports multiple languages, including C#, Java, Python, and Ruby.
MaxMind’s downside rests in its coverage: it works if your focus is US, but its international reach leaves much to be desired. MaxMind, therefore, is perfect if you want a local database with a US-focus; otherwise, it may not suit your needs.
Used by NASA, Deloitte, and Siemens, ipdata is an API-only solution that prides itself on reliability and speed. They offer 99.999% uptime in their SLA, a 60ms average response time, and 11 global data centers.
ipdata is a great solution for companies looking for a simple geolocation API to ping. Their basic packages include up to 300,000 requests a month for $30, and 3 million for $120.
Given the data isn’t downloadable locally, this 60ms response time would add a decent delay to your overall ad response times — but it’s also simpler than building and referencing your own internal database. For some smaller ad platforms, this slight delay may be worth it.
They also update their list every 24 hours, so if freshness is important to you, they would be a fine solution.
ipstack is an API-only geolocation tool that boasts an impressive customer list, including Microsoft, Airbnb, and Samsung — as well as 100K+ total clients.
Their cost lives between that of MaxMind and Digital Element, with packages including $50 for 500,000 monthly requests and $100 for 2 million.
Like ipdata, ipstack will appeal to customers looking for an industry-leading API-solution, and their response times do offer a competitive advantage to ipdata.
While not a geolocation tool per se, Adzerk is a suite of APIs for easily building and scaling custom ad platforms. Integrating with Adzerk provides instant access to a robust IP database with 99.999%+ of global IP coverage, saving you from having to pay thousands for a standalone solution.
Adzerk’s tools also enable you to immediately integrate country, region, and DMA targeting into your ad decision engine without having to write the code yourself.
Adzerk has already helped enterprises like Mozilla, Ticketmaster, United Airlines, and more build scalable ad products with highly-granular location targeting.
As you build your ad product, you’ll absolutely need a geolocation IP vendor to help identify where your users live.
There are plenty of solutions in the market, and the right fit for you will depend on cost, where your user base lives, and requirements around coverage, documentation, reliability, and compatibility.
Ultimately, if you expect to scale your ad platform with advertisers around the world, working with a solution that has high coverage and accuracy will be worth the incremental costs. Otherwise, if you just need accurate country data for a limited number of countries, one of the cheaper solutions will be a fine option.
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