Google does not openly advertise the fact that they have different location data for different users. However there is good anecdotal evidence an hearsay that Google Maps API returning inaccurate results may be by design.

The evidence is most prevalent in the geocoding of locations. The latitude and longitude Google assigns to different addresses is not “set in stone”. It is an interesting anomaly given the fact that places on earth should not move with regard to their latitude & longitude outside of plate tectonics.

The team at Store Locator Plus® has long held a theory that Google intentionally subverts accurate location data; quite likely to gain competitive advantage for their own products and services.

Same address, different locations

The team at Store Locator Plus® has long known that Google returns different results from their public Google Maps site than they return from their API calls. Go to maps.google.com and type in an address. Make the same call via the Google Maps JavaScript API using identical parameters. The latitude and longitude are quite different.

Does Google have three different data sets?

Years ago we were “coached” into buying a Google OEM license from Google. It was like their current “pay as you go” Maps API on steroids. When we first tested basic API calls using our new OEM license we noticed that some addresses came back with a different latitude and longitude. They were more accurate.

Public Google Maps Canada location for St John, New Brunswick

Off-the-record our Google sales associate told us that the “Google OEM service” used a more accurate database that was updated more frequently. It was more accurate because it had newer information. We were told during this call that the public Google Maps database was updated every week. The OEM database every few months and the free-to-use (at the time) Google Maps API database was updated once-or-twice per year.

Intentionally moving locations

Nearly a decade into providing map services we have a different theory. Google intentionally provides inaccurate data for some locations. It also adds “jitter” via algorithms to ensure their own internal database is more accurate than their OEM (high-dollar licensees) data which in turn is more accurate than the “pedestrian” run-of-the-mill API-accessed data.

We will dig into this more in future articles, but the bottom line is that the results you get by going to Google Maps will not always return the same latitude and longitude returned via the Google Maps JavaScript or Geocoding APIs. Often the results returned by Google are grossly inaccurate.

Cleaning up inaccurate locations with Store Locator Plus®

In Store Locator Plus® we provide the ability to manually edit the latitude and longitude for any location you’ve added to your site. This is useful when adding a location has retrieved bogus data from the Google geocoding database.

Google Maps JavaScript API location for St John, New Brunswick

Unfortunately that workaround is only useful for locations in your database. When a visitor to your site enters an address in the search box on your map page you are 100% beholden to what Google’s least-accurate database returns for that address. If they think St. John in Brunswick Canada is in the Arctic Circle, there is little you can do about.

MySLP provides more accurate location data

We have implemented a location improvement service for My Store Locator Plus® users to help deal with Google inaccuracies. With MySLP geocoding we use several more accurate databases before we fall back to Google to find a location.

MySLP Locations Interface

We also have a mechanism in place to correct bad location data whenever one of our MySLP clients reports an invalid latitude/longitude. We can correct the location for all users after our team validates the proper location.

Tired of inaccurate Google Geocoding? It may be time to consider a MySLP account.

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