What is Geosearch?

This guide is part of our series about geosearch.

What do we mean by Geosearch?

There are few things more frustrating than needing an answer and not being able to find it, especially if you're looking online. When search engines can return billions of results in less than a second, our tolerance for slow or nonexistent answers is thin.

Searches involving location have even higher stakes, especially if you're trying to navigate somewhere or have a purchase delivered to the right location. Geosearch makes location searches easier by connecting the dots between what you search and what you want to find.

Geosearch can derive the correct location from a user's text input or predict the full search term from a partial input and return a list of possible matches. This process goes by many names, including autocomplete, autosuggest, predictive search and typeahead.

However, in addition to turning word subsets into full geographic names - such as completing par to be Paris, France geosearch also corrects incorrect text.

For instance, if you are typing your address into an online form, geosearch can autosuggest the right address to fix issues like:
  • Common typos
  • Phonetic spellings
  • Abbreviations
  • Too little information (e.g., number, street name and postcode, but no city name)
  • Incorrect spacing between words

With geosearch, location data included in forms and apps is entered more quickly and validated, saving the user time and possibly headaches from typing the wrong information.

Geosearch and Geocoding

Geosearch is often mistaken for geocoding, but since these processes can't be used interchangeably, it's important to know the difference between them.

Forward geocoding is converting a geographic reference such as a location's name, address or locality into coordinates. The opposite, converting latitude and longitude into a reference that a person would use to search for that location, is reverse geocoding.

While geosearch and geocoding are different, they can work together. For example, if you're in a new city and trying to find a restaurant, you might start typing its name in the navigation app on your phone. When you do, the full name and address will likely show up before you're finished typing. That completes the geosearch.

Selecting the correct result translates the name of the location to coordinates for the navigation app to use, which is forward geocoding. Those two steps together give the navigation app what it needs to get you where you want to go.

Geosearch and Normal Search

Whether you're searching within a website or using a search engine, a "normal" search will return ranked results based on the relevancy of your search term to a search index. The index is a snapshot of content on the website or across the internet as it existed at a certain time.

Where pages rank, or if they rank at all, in a search index depends on many factors including when entries in the search index were last updated, a period ranging from seconds to weeks.

With geosearch, however, search results are just as up-to-date as the database used to supply them. For example, if OpenStreetMap is used as the database, then the search results will pull locations from the most recent OpenStreetMap update as you type.

Related Geolocation Services

Geocoding isn't the only service that users mistake for geosearch. Browser geolocation and IP geolocation are often confused with the process as well. Browser geolocation is the capability of a web browser to pinpoint your location as coordinates with your permission. This is used, for example, if you're on a retail website and that site wants to show you what's in stock at a nearby location.

Please see our guide to browser geolocation (with code example).

Similar to browser geolocation, IP geolocation helps to determine your location. However, it does so using your Internet Protocol (IP) address, a unique address used to identify you when you're online. Unlike browser geolocation, it doesn't require your permission. It's often used for security, such as through your banking app to detect if a log-in attempt is occurring from an unusual location.

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