Google Maps Platform has been used by companies for years to solve many location-based challenges. One particular application of Google Maps Platform has been validating street addresses. Retailers rely on accurate addresses to ensure their customers’ purchases reach the correct destinations. Shipping companies want to deliver packages efficiently. And organizations that correspond via traditional mail want to make sure their documents reach their intended recipients.
Until recently, the primary solution for address validation in the Google Maps Platform ecosystem has been the Geocoding API. For those not familiar, the Geocoding API takes an address (or part of an address) and returns its latitude and longitude, along with the full street address. A search for “1600 Pennsylvania Ave” will return “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500, USA.” The API also returns the house number, street, neighborhood, city, state and zip code broken out as separate fields. It sounds like it should be the perfect tool for validating addresses, doesn’t it? In the same way that a screwdriver can be used as a chisel, the Geocoding API certainly can be used as an address validation tool. But is it the absolute best tool for the job?
The Wrong Tool for the Job
There are two reasons why the Geocoding API is not the optimal tool for address validation. The first is that it does not validate sub-address elements like apartment numbers. Because apartments share the latitude and longitude of the building they are in, an apartment number is not a necessary component to geocode an address. For example, if you ask the Geocoding API to process “1600 Pennsylvania Ave Apartment 21 Washington DC,” it will return “The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW #21, Washington, DC 20500, USA.” The latitude and longitude will be correct, but the API does not know if the White House is an apartment building. It simply assumes that since you referenced an apartment number the address must be an apartment, and it will pass this information through without verifying it.
The second reason is that sometimes the Geocoding API…guesses. The technical name for this is “interpolation,” and unfortunately it does not always return accurate results. For example, let’s say the Geocoding API knows that there is a building at 10 Main Street and another at 14 Main Street, but no entry exists in the database for 12 Main Street. The API will assume that 12 Main Street must exist between 10 and 14 Main Street, and it will return latitude and longitude values between those two. While this guess follows sound logic, not all street addresses are logical, and sometimes house numbers are skipped. As such, interpolating can occasionally return results that point to the middle of someone’s yard rather than to an actual building.
The Right Tool for the Job
The key to valid addressing is the Address Validation API by Google Maps Platform. Similar to the Geocoding API, it accepts all or part of an address and returns latitude and longitude values as well as fully formatted street addresses (which are also broken into individual components). Unlike the Geocoding API, it validates each of these address components individually. For example, searching for “1600 Pennsylvania Ave Apartment 21 Washington DC” returns a confirmed street number and address (although it still adds the missing “Northwest” to the street). As for the apartment number, it doesn’t know if there is an Apartment 21 at the White House, but it recognizes that it might exist and lets you know that it is “unconfirmed, but plausible.”
In real time, the Address Validation API can validate addresses entered by end users on your website by providing a cleaned, validated address for confirmation. The tool can also be used to verify the accuracy and validity of your entire address database.
If you have questions about the Address Validation API, or on anything location- or mobility- related, please reach out to us at https://innovations.woolpert.com/contact-us/. As a premier Google partner for nearly a decade, and with over 50 years of geospatial experience, Woolpert Digital Innovations can help you with your most demanding location-based challenges.