Google Rolls Out Real Time Popular Times – What Can We Learn?

Last weekGoogle rolled out two new Knowledge Panel features; department hours (which show hours for any business “located in” a main listing and more significantly, they are now showing real time visitation in comparison to what it regularly is.

Here is a screenshot of the department hours of a local Walmart and search for you to explore this via clicking on the “see more hours” link.

wlmart More interesting and somewhat spookier is that Google is now showing actual visitation in real time.

As searchers we can extract specific value from the information and decide whether we want to visit or not. Clearly a nice feature.

But we can also gain some relative business intelligence.

For example we can see that the Kmart near the Walmart doesn’t even have enough traffic to merit popular times. While this is obvious to anyone entering the stores, it doesn’t bode well for K-Mart’s continued existence.


Or get a sense of how Lord & Taylor’s holiday sale is doing by looking at their foot traffic over the course of a day’s promotion during the holiday shopping season. 

Or we can see the relative amount of uplift that one store has compared to another at the same time throughout the day on Black Friday.


While as searchers we are only privy to this relative view of the data,  and it has some value to us as marketers, Google has a view of the absolute values.

Obviously this new feature implies both a great deal more real time data flowing into Google AND their ability to process it with a great deal of speed.

With this granular level of data, they can determine exactly how many folks are visiting where and when. I wouldn’t be surprised if they could actually determine this down to the individual level, which has its own very significant implications.

But the individual privacy issues aside they clearly have detailed insights into how strong one retailer is vis a vis another, they have data as to whether a sale advertised on Adwords created lift, they have access to historical trends and can know if a given retailer or industry group are trending up or down in these metrics and they can determine which retailers in any given category is more “prominent” than another.

The implications of this knowledge are far reaching and affect everything from local ranking* to informing who Google should target for Adwords. And beyond. They probably know more about many businesses than the businesses themselves.

*Just one of the many hidden pieces that Google could be using to determine prominence that we can’t easily see. Although I could imagine future Local SEO promotions incentivizing Android users to stop by to attempt to bump up these numbers. 🙂

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
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11 thoughts on “Google Rolls Out Real Time Popular Times – What Can We Learn?”

  1. But I believe these data can be manipulated in many ways. This feature is surely nice and interactive but how does Google assure that these data are fully trustworthy and not doctored.

    1. I think its still early days so the assumption of this data being manipulated really isn’t widespread but now these features are more visible its very likely some black-hat will try to game the system to their advantage.
      Once this starts happening then I am sure Google will start to clamp down on it – they tend to address these issues retroactively rather than proactively.

      Just noticed the duration data show up on a fairly low-trafficked client site too so it shows they are not only working with high volume locations but also low volume ones too.

    1. Joy – by default location history is turned off in Google Maps (and every Google app). They then hag you to “turn on always” or not. If you choose not the next you use the app they require you go to the settings are and define whether location is on always, when using the app or never.

      Apple will periodically check and remind you if you choose always to confirm that’s what you want.

      Thus I have to believe the data is primarily from Android.

  2. Mike,
    When did the DEPARTMENTS feature, itself, roll out. I do see the hours thing you’re citing here, but I don’t remember seeing the actual departments section of the panel before, the part which reads:
    Departments: Walmart Connection Center, Walmart Pharmacy, Walmart Photo Center, Walmart Tire & Lube Express, Walmart Vision Center

    Is that new?

    1. @Mariusz
      Google tracks users who have allowed location tracking on their mobile device mostly using wifi, some bluetooth and extrapolated gps positioning data…I am not sure which countries it has rolled out in but it needs both a lot of data and looooooose privacy laws.

  3. Mike: You dove deep into this via your reference to implications. Interesting. They have had this type of data for a while. Oh my oh my. I bet investors and Wall Street would love this data. Do ya think googlers are using it to invest and go short on stocks??

    As to Adwords…. Google doesn’t “sell” Adwords as say Yelp sells its advertising. They seem to have an aversion to selling. Of course they do enlist “trusted partners” to be their feet on the street.

    Hey mediocre blanket store. .. The store down the road is advertising blankets on Adwords and their aisles are packed. Advertise on Adwords or go out of business.

    Why the implications are Trump-like frightening.

    Way too many scary implications. Thanks for pointing this out.

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