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Address Matching Without a Geocoder: Location Keys, Scripts + More

Apr 22, 2021 by Placekey

Address data isn’t very useful if you can’t match it to a physical location with accuracy. But traditional geocoders that just match an address to a location are outdated, clunky, inadequate, and can get very expensive. There are more accurate, flexible, and simple ways of address matching, including open source, free-to-use address matchers like Placekey!

A traditional geocoder gets addresses from latitude and longitude data, matching it to a physical location from information a user inputs. This is commonly displayed via a map or GIS system. These solutions are often rudimentary, costly, and have a poor user interface.

However, there are a number of ways you can match addresses without using a geocoder. We cover these methods below so you can do this without relying on an outdated geocoder.

  • Method 1. Using a universal address identifier like Placekey
  • Method 2. Other tools that generate location keys
  • Method 3. Running scripts (JavaScript, Python, R, etc.)

By the end of this piece, you’ll know the available methods for matching an address without a geocoder and how these alternatives can empower you to draw meaningful insights about addresses, locations, and points of interest seamlessly.

We’ll also cover how Placekey works to perform the same functions and show you the additional benefits you gain (it’s absolutely free to use, so there is no downside!).


Method 1. Using a universal address identifier like Placekey

Placekey standardizes location information across datasets

Why this is an alternative to traditional geocoding: Placekey does much more than simply match addresses; it simplifies indexing and recall, while allowing for more information to be encoded and accessed from a single place.

Placekey is a universal identifier for any physical location, that uses a standardized alphanumeric code that can be easily tracked and shared. Unlike other solutions, Placekey allows users to not only identify and map a specific location, but to encode points of interest to specific addresses.

Example of the Placekey structure

As you will see when we analyze other location key solutions below, Placekey is an advanced version of a location key, offering greater capability. Placekey’s ability to track POI information improves the value of the information data you map, identify, and track, as you can monitor how POIs change at a single address and track multiple POIs at the same address over time.

Placekeys are fixed and do not change over time. This is incredibly useful for managing and analyzing addresses effectively, as you can confidently refer to the same place over time. Duplicates are amalgamated to a single Placekey, eliminating room for error. 

Traditional addresses, in contrast, can go through a number of changes, such as a change in the street name or number. These changes make analyzing a single location difficult, as you need to know all different addresses that have existed for that place over time, and analyze them all. Placekey removes all of this complexity by using a standard, fixed location key for every place.

Placekey also allows users to use an attribute join to match addresses without a geocoder. With this method, users are able to input an address, city, state, and other traditional address information to match an address to a location. This is possible because this address information is linked to the Placekey so that Placekey users can gain valuable information about any location within the Placekey system.


Method 2: Other tools that generate location keys

Example of a generic location key

Why this is an alternative to traditional geocoding: Rather than just matching an address to a physical location, location keys create a standardized, universal code that represents the physical location.

Location keys are alphanumeric codes that represent a physical location in the real world, according to coordinates (latitude and longitude). These offer standardized, simplified systems of address management, as these keys are easy to use and share.

Location keys allow people to map locations that cannot be mapped using traditional address systems. For rural areas where there may be no access to a traditional address, these give you the ability to create one, gaining access to deliveries, emergency resources, and essential services. These location keys can be shortened (by removing unnecessary digits) for ease of use, as long as you know the city or area the location is in.

There are a number of location key solutions that exist:

  • Military Grid Reference System: the MGRS is a geocode standard for the entire globe, used by NATO militaries to locate points on Earth with specificity.
  • Google Maps Plus Codes: Leveraging Google Maps, users can easily create a Plus Code for any location based on an existing address or latitude and longitude data.
  • Mapcode: Mapcodes are short alphanumeric codes that consist of two groups of letters and numbers, separated by a period. This is enough to isolate a specific location, as long as you are also provided with country or state information.
  • What3Words: What3Words divides the world into a grid of 3m² squares, each with their own unique three word location key. This lets you identify locations with extreme specificity, even those without traditional addresses, but does not let you track addresses or POIs to those locations.
  • Geohash: Geohash turns location coordinates into a location key that represents that location in the physical world.

Unlike these location key solutions, Placekey is a more powerful location key solution that offers advanced features and capability. It consists of three components: the address, the point of interest, and the location (each of which forms a portion of the complete Placekey). Since these are already unique components of a larger Placekey, these can be easily indexed and allow you to search by any portion (or combination of portions) of the Placekey (address, location, POI).

Unlike most location key solutions that use a square grid for dividing up the physical world, Plackey uses Uber’s H3 hexagonal hierarchical spatial index. This H3 system divides the world into hexagons, which is a more accurate way of dividing a spherical object than a square grid (designed for dividing flat objects). This also improves users’ ability to draw meaningful insights from the location data, as the edges of a hexagon are virtually equidistant from the center point of the hex.


Method 3. Running scripts (JavaScript, Python, R, etc.)

How to match addresses in Python

Why this is an alternative to traditional geocoding: These solutions are not exclusively geocoders; instead, these are programming languages that can be used to geocode addresses for you, among other things.

Programming languages are an optimal way to perform address matching, as they automate the majority of the process for you. You can set up your own fuzzy logic address matching solution using a common programming language such as Python, SQL, R, JavaScript, and more.

Fuzzy logic essentially allows you to perform a standard logistic function that compares strings to determine the likelihood of a match. It then provides a value between 0 and 1 to indicate the match likelihood. The most common methods are using the Levenshtein Distance or the Damerau-Levenshtein Distance, both of which make it simpler to automate bulk address matching with few errors. You can create your own scripts to do this or download libraries that are set up to perform these functions.

Fuzzy logic formula for address matching

The choice of programming language will depend on what you are comfortable and experienced with using, and what integrations are necessary to have. Ultimately, any of these programming languages can be used to create a custom address matching solution. Alternatively, there are existing libraries and solutions developed by others for each programming language that can easily be downloaded and used instantly.

Because scripts can be altered slightly or created entirely from scratch to meet your exact needs, they make a great solution for address matching. This flexibility makes them relatively easy to customize, to integrate with your systems and into your workflow, and use to match addresses successfully.

While scripts can be a great way of matching addresses, Placekey is more accessible solution. As an open-source solution with a community of contributing members, you can find a solution that works for you without having to customize your own. This makes it simple and fast to adopt Placekey, without having to build out or set up your own solution.



No matter how you choose to do it, address matching needs to be done with care and precision to ensure your address data is accurate and reliable. But the fact is, even the best address matching solutions only go so far.

If you want to compare the performance of a Wendy’s and McDonald’s that operated at the same location, you can’t do this with simple address matching. Placekey’s universal location identifier can let you match a Placekey with raw visits counts tracked through Safegraph to gain detailed, valuable analytics data.

If you want to learn more about address matching exclusively, see our ultimate guide to address matching. Alternatively, learn why you should start using Placekey today!

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