Geolocation theoretically offers one of the biggest opportunities for publishers to use data to inform what and how they publish, but the full extent of possiblilities remains largely unrealised.

Location-based apps are allowing publishers to distribute some of their content based on where the user is at any given time. The trial of recent beacon-based ad drives, in which content was pushed by Bluetooth to consumers’ devices as they entered the range of signal-broadcasting device, is seen as a proof-of-concept of a hypertargeted marketing campaigns. 

Time Inc UK, for instance, is trialing, in cooperation with retailer Tesco, location-based benefits when consumers purchase a magazine in their stores. Their group digital publishing director, Paul Cheal, says that:

“Smartphone adoption in the UK continues to accelerate… iBeacons offer a logical way to start to bring together proven consumer engagement and in-store marketing opportunities.”

So as opportunities for proximity-based services increase on the user end, so too are there more opportunities for publishers looking for original distrubition methods. But there are also benefits for content strategy, rather than just distribution, that can come with accurate geolocation data. 

Publishing benefits

The Weather Channel, for instance, with its WeatherFX Off-Property platform, offers advertisers the opportunity to push adverts to consumers who are experiencing a particular type of weather.

That’s obviously extremely handy for advertisers, but similar technology could also be used by news publishers to send stories and articles to an audience in a particular area where that content is most relevant. It could essentially make it possible for national publishers to alert regional audiences to content that concerns them in a subtler way than announcing it to an untargeted Twitter audience.

Since hyperlocal publishing is (according to Digiday) impossible to grow from scratch, that offers obvious benefits to both publisher and audience. And the number of people using apps for news is increasing, which could potentially provide that data. 

So effective use of geolocation could be a hugely lucrative opportunity for publishers, offering as it does the ability to gather more specific audience data, and publish more relevent content and marketing at the same time. However, there’s still one big hurdle that makes geolocation a tricky area for publishers to explore – privacy.

Permission problems

Geolocation requires that users not only download the specific apps that allow publishers to gather data about their location, they also have to agree to release their geolocation data.

As aa new study from Pew Research demonstrates that 91 percent of US adults feel consumers have lost control over how their data is used, and privacy breach stories such as Whisper’s alleged underhand collection of geolocation data gain prominance, it’s far from a given that enough will sign up to those apps to make geolocation-based publishing worth it.

So the next best way for publishers to geolocate their users is through their IP address, which relies upon the ISP’s technology and only provides very broad location data, on a postcode level, and only when consumers are hooked up to fixed internet or WiFi.

That should be perfectly adequate for publishers’ purposes, but a study by Amy Schmitz Weiss, associate professor at San Diego State University, found that barely any publishers were actually taking advantage of that ability.

And even for beacon-based marketing services, it’s far from a given users will be queuing up to use the technology as it currently stands. As Cheal says:

“Retailer reluctance is understandable – everyone wants to avoid a scenario where consumers are so bombarded with messages in store that they switch notifications off.”

So the success of any geolocation-based services is reliant on the publisher convincing an audience that allowing them access to their location data is worth it. And while Time Inc UK and other publishers’ offering location-based discounts might demonstrate there are tangible benefits for distribution, getting that permission could be challenging for publishers looking to offer hypertargeted content to their audience.