Google Now Featuring a Location’s Popular Hours on Mobile Devices

Google just announced a new feature on mobile browsers, a chart showing the hours that a given business is popular. From their post:

Do you ever find yourself trying to avoid long lines or wondering when is the best time to go grocery shopping, pick up coffee or hit the gym (hint: avoid Monday after work)? You’re in luck!

Now, you can avoid the wait and see the busiest times of the week at millions of places and businesses around the world directly from Google Search. For example, just search for “Blue Bottle Williamsburg”, tap on the title and see how busy it gets throughout the day. Enjoy your extra time!

coffee2Here is an FAQ that I received from Google about the feature

Q: Is this available Internationally?

A: Yes; this will be available in all locales.

Q: Will this feature be available for all mobile carriers?

A: Yes, this feature is available for all mobile phones with an internet connection on modern mobile browsers and Android GSA, regardless of carrier.

Q: When will this feature be available in the Google App on iOS?

A: As of now, this feature is available on Android devices and a number of browsers, including Safari and Chrome.

Q: What types of features are associated with this launch?

A: This launch lets users see historical trends of how busy a place gets throughout the week.

Q: Where does Google get this data from?

A: The information is based on anonymized and aggregated visits to places from Google users who have opted-in to storing location data.

Q: Is Google tracking my location and saving it for this feature?

A: No. The information is completely anonymous and users must opt-in to store location data.

Q: What can businesses do if they don’t want the busyness data to show for their business?

A: We do not offer a way for businesses to remove this information. We believe this information is valuable for customers in deciding when and where to go.

Q: What types of places will this information show for?

A: This information shows for places where users are commonly worried about how busy it typically gets. Data will show up for locations with regular foot traffic and a local listing on Google Maps.

Since Google’s patent on using driving directions as a ranking factor, we have known that Google had the ability to track the times that a given business was popular. It is not clear that driving directions are the main metric used in this feature but it seems likely to me that it is a potential source. With mobile Google can obviously now learn not just whether driving directions have been requested for a given location but whether they have been used.

Google also has the ability to understand a users location via their mobile device and use that information to better understand commercial space. Another likely source for the information. They have access to a ton of related information via Android Pay, Google Wallet, browser histories etc that they could use to refine and check their data.

Now that they have started to surface this data, it will be interesting to see if it is used in ranking or allowing Google to change ranking during certain times of the day.

On Twitter, AJ Ginrich suggested a creative use of this data: Spy on your competitor & run ads at the right time!

It is rolling out now on mobile although I have been unable to bring it up on any of my browser/phone combos as of yet.

Google Alerting Accounts Deleted for TOS Violations

Google is apparently removing My Business accounts for TOS violations and sending along notices to owners and managers.

It is not clear to me the specifics of that triggered this action although clearly this has happened to more than a few accounts as there is at least one other report in the forum.

 Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 8.36.35 AM
This message confirms that the Google Account – – was deleted due to a violation of our Terms of Service that was left unresolved.To attempt to restore access to the account, please visit our password-assistance page immediately:Recover account Google Accounts can only be restored within a short period of time after deletion.


The Google Accounts team

This email can’t receive replies. For more information, visit the Google Accounts Help Center.
If isn’t your Google Account, you can safely disregard this email.
You received this mandatory email service announcement to update you about important changes to your Google product or account.© 2015 Google Inc., 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043, USA

The poster in the forum noted:
This has happened now to two of the companies that I assist with their SEO. They have not been active for awhile however, that doesn’t mean that we don’t still want the account. What terms of service were violated so I can find out what to make sure others watch for? This is unacceptable and without warning, years of emails are now gone. Please help me to understand what is going on so I can make sure that no other of us lose our accounts!!!

I received the notice for an account that I last touched almost 5 years ago. This was before managers were allowed. And I don’t think I have had any current relationship to this account although it is interesting that Google sent me the email.

I am at a loss to answer the poster’s questions although my assumption is that perhaps it was a duplicate, unused account that Google was cleaning up.

If you have more specific information about receiving the email and know the reasons, prey tell.

Google Removing All Non Verified Local Pages from Plus?

I have received a copy of a post made to Google Photographers’ forum. This was also recently posted at Linda’s forum:

Dear photographers and agencies,

In the past few months, you may have seen some changes in the look of Google+ pages that have been associated with Google My Business (GMB) accounts. These changes, including how we treat business pages without owners, are part of Google’s ongoing effort to simplify people’s experience with our tools. We are constantly working to provide only valuable and rich content to our users.

On July 28th, Google will begin shutting down those GMB–associated Google+ pages that have not been associated with user accounts and are also not verified. You may find that some of your Business View tours also sit on such pages, but note that after their removal of unverifiedGoogle+ pages, the Business View tours will still remain available on Google Maps and Google Search.

Essentially, it appears this means that if a page is verified it will also have a G+ Page and if it isn’t, its main presence will be through the Knowledge Graph in the main Serps or in Google Maps. It seems to me that this change was foreshadowed by the many recent minor changes we have seen with the inability to get to Plus from Maps, the removal of the Local search from Plus, the removal of the G+ Page link from search results that weren’t verified and the change of the name of the link on closed pages to Place.

Clearly this is a final step in separating local from Plus. Whether local will stay “debranded” or possibly take on a Local Finder essence beyond basic search and Map results isn’t clear. What is clear is that G+ and Google Local are no longer going to be bed partners.

As to what this means for G+, in my opinion not much. It appears to me that it is being lead down the path of sinking or swimming unaided by props from across Google.

Don’t Go Looking for a Mobile Phone Store On Google

Dave Oremland has pointed out recently that searching for mobile phone stores Vienna Virginia produced terrible results. Tim Capper, another TC in the Google My Business forums, noted that they are terrible world wide. So for now don’t go looking for a mobile phone store on Google unless of your you think it is your lucky day… It’s not just Vienna, Va that offers up screwy results. The search for mobile phone stores plus just about any city produces very bizarre results.

In the search for mobile phone stores Rochester you get everything from a flag store to a fixture store and everything in between (like an adult shop). The searches in NYC, Chicago, Tokyo and Paris are equally bizarre.

Who knows what you will get in Rochester NY when you go in search of a mobile phone store on Google?

Snak Pack Rolls Out Interface Update

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 9.36.25 AMGoogle seems to have finally finished rolling out a Snak Pak update that layers a Hotel Finder like experience on all hospitality, food and entertainment searches. Colin Neilson wrote about some of the tests in early July as did Brad Brewer. Barry Schwartz noted the rollout in hotels several days ago. It appears to be international in scope as Petra Kraft noted that it is in Austria and likely all of Europe as well.

The interface, which I am referring to as the Local Finder,  is a vast improvement over the recent past and actually allows for both relatively easy recovery as well as discovery of new related opportunities.

Since its introduction last fall, the Snak Pak has been a poor user experience with a very modal feel on the desktop. It mimicked a mobile experience and the user had to drill into a single record and then back out again and in again if it wasn’t what they were looking for. As Dave Oremland has noted, it sucked.

The new interface, while still not showing critical contact details on the front page (and I thought Google was all about answering questions? Go figure.), does take the user into a functional list + Map view that allows them to get specific details as well as explore other locations.

The view is very similar to the one that used to be in Maps with the exception that 1) it offers a list view of 20 businesses and 2) the search bar if used again takes the user automatically back to the main page of search.  It is an interesting balance between the carousel of old, maps and search.

Although for my tastes, I would prefer a way to stay in the Local Finder view with new local searches rather than once again bouncing back out to the main search results page.

While I don’t like the fact that critical contact details are not divulged on the first page and there is no way to stay in the view for additional related searches, it is a vast improvement over the display that we have lived with on these types of searches for the past year.

From a strategic point of view, it would appear that it is one more reason NOT to visit Google Plus for these additional details. Or into Maps for that matter which has, with its recent interface upgrades, forgone its discovery capabilities. This is effectively a lightweight, fast Local Finder.

If you are interested in exploring which terms trigger the Snak Pak, you can find more information here.

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 9.37.10 AM
Food & recreation searches deliver the Snak Pak which when now selected take you into a Local Finder interface

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 9.36.40 AM
If you select the “Restaurants near buffalo ny” link you see the list with a Map and have the ability to drill into each listing for more information
Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 9.36.25 AM
If you select a specific restaurant from either search for the Local Finder you will see the Knowledge Panel overlay the Map area.

On a related note, Moz Cast picked up what looked like serious testing of Google showing the Snak Pak across a broader range of searchers during that this same time period.
Continue reading Snak Pack Rolls Out Interface Update

Google MapMaker Soliciting Regional Editors

Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 4.33.02 PMIn anticipation of the re-opening of MapMaker as announced last week, Google is now actively soliciting applicants to become regional editors.

Here is an email that I just received asking me to apply to be a regional editor.

Subject: Invitation to become a Map Maker Regional Lead

Date: July 17, 2015 at 2:59:19 PM EDT

As you may have seen in our forum announcement, Google Map Maker will be reopened for editing in early August, and we’ll be relying on trusted users in specific regions to help us make decisions on edits submitted in their regions. To enable this, we’re selecting users who have a long history of making high-quality edits using Map Maker and inviting them to become a “Regional Lead” for their region.Based on the contributions you’ve made to your region, you have been shortlisted for consideration as a Regional Lead. As a Regional Lead, you will have the power to approve or deny edits made in your region. While Google operators may still moderate edits, the Regional Leads will predominantly determine the outcome of many edits. In short, you become part of an elite team of Map Maker users that lead mapping in your area. You also receive access to regional forums to interact with mappers in your region and a private forum where you can interact with the Google Map Maker team.Please indicate your interest to become a Regional Lead by filling out this application form (link removed). This application will be open until July 22, 2015. We will evaluate users who express interest and select qualifying users as Regional Leads. We will get back to you by July 27, 2015.To keep up with the spirit of this program, we will require you to sign a “Non-Disclosure Agreement” if you are selected. This means you agree to keep the contact information and substance of your discussions with the Map Maker team confidential, unless stated otherwise.

Last but not least, we want to reiterate the high level of trust we place in our Regional Leads — our most committed users — regarding the edits you make or approve. You’ll be the front line of the Map Maker community to prevent spam or abusive activity that will lead to poor experiences on Google Maps. We will also be monitoring closely for spam, and any users found engaging in such activities will be blacklisted and may lose their ability to use Map Maker. We trust you to exercise sound judgment as a Regional Lead.

Thank you for your continued support and patience. We look forward to hearing from you soon!

Pavithra KanakarajanProduct Manager, Google Map Maker

The note is interesting in several ways. Firstly, while I have done a ton of Map and Mapmaker edits I have avoided being too involved with the MapMaker community because the technology was so arcane with no simple path to learning but even more so because the other volunteers did not seem collegial.

Also in reading the note, there is no description of their expectation of this new category of volunteer. How much work is needed to be considered active? How much work is there? What is a region composed of? What tools will we have available?

Lots more questions than answers at this point.

Google Upgrades Mobile Browser Display to Allow Reviews

iphone-reviewLeaving a review for a business on Google via a mobile has long been a pain. However starting in early May on Android 5 and gradually working its way across Google’s & Apple’s mobile browsers, users can once again leave a review for a business using almost any mobile browser. This includes Safari and Chrome for iPhone as well as the mobile browsers for Android 4 and 5.

Since 2012 when the mobile web version of G+ had its review link removed, the only way to leave a review was to use the Google Map App or to do an ugly work around using G+ local search. With the advent of this search display update users can once again leave mobile reviews  across both major platforms and browsers by simply searching for the business, selecting the more info button in the Knowledge panel, scrolling down to the rate and review area and selecting a star rating. Thus one of the easiest ways to get a customer to leave you a review is to just ask them to search for you on Google and either click the “write a review” link on the desktop or select the more info button on mobile.

Life just got a lot easier.

Here is a video showing the process of being able to leave a review via Safari on the iPhone. It works similarly on Android 5, Android 4 and iPhone Chrome. It does not yet work on Google Now for the iPhone but I presume that will follow shortly.

Update 7/9: If you would like to read some ideas on forming the “perfect URL” for this project read my recent article at LocalU: Use This Link to Ask For Google Reviews on Mobile (& the Desktop)

Disclosure: I am a principal partner in, an online solution to reputation building and review acquisition. So I suppose it is necessary for me to alert you to the fact that writing about reviews might server a larger, more self interested objective. :)

Google Finally Announces Use of Google Local Reviews in Adwords

Google has finally acknowledged publicly that they were now adding Google Local reviews to Adword ads that use Location Extensions. These were seen in the wild starting several weeks ago.

emmets_NexusTablet_v3These reviews can be seen instead of seller ratings from 3rd party sites. Previously it was only possible to get Google Local review stars if you were using AdWords Express. Typically they would show if you had at least 3.5 stars and some minimum number of reviews. In the case of seller ratings that number is 30, I am not sure how many are required to show the Google Local review in Adwords.

Here is the Google Adwords post:

Location extensions can now show ratings from local Google My Business listings

Last year we made it easier to manage location extensions by automatically linking your Google My Business location information to your AdWords accounts ( Starting today, ratings from your Google My Business listings are eligible to appear in ads with location extensions enabled on desktop and tablet. People increasingly rely on the opinions and experiences of others to help make decisions like which pizza parlor to visit, where to get your tires rotated or which dentist to make an appointment with. Local ratings make your ads more useful to consumers searching for local information, and can improve your ad performance. To showcase your Google My Business reviews in your ads, make sure to have location extensions enabled in your account. Learn more (

Here is an example of an Adwords Ad showing on a branded search for a competitor. According to Dave Oremland, the ad placed for Professional Bartending School, has seen increased CTR in general. Showing up against a competitor might not deliver lots of click throughs but it sure is visually impactful:


Full disclosure: I am principal in, a product designed to help location based businesses understand their quality performance and earn more reviews.

Google Local Updates – Review Stars in Adwords & Amenities for Hotels

Photo Courtesy of Graham Johnson of PcRepair Croydon

Joy Hawkins reports that Adword customers that are using Location extension that are synced with GMB are now showing their review stars in the Ads. Previously this feature was only available via Adwords Express and to get the stars you needed to work with a 3rd party review site like TrustPilot.

I first saw these show up last week but couldn’t find any documentation about the feature. Still can’t. It is not clear how many reviews a business needs to have, what star rating they need to be or any other requirements.

Annie from Acorn pointed out something that I had noticed out of the corrner of my eye that Google was now displaying additional details about hotels and B & B in the Local Stack (Snack Pack) and Knowledge Panel.


It is not at all clear what source Google is using for this data although early money is on that seems to have embedded themselves into the booking tool. Several other oddities are that Google seems to have the data in the expanded Knowledge Pack but doesn’t always display it as in the Hyatt above. Note too that if the third listing displays the amenities they seem to get cut off in the main search result display.

The amenities also show up in Maps when you roll over the pin:

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 3.12.47 PM

Update: Google has published a Help Page on Amenities and notes that there is no way to directly impact the content of the display and if it is wrong to contact support.

Uber Hires Brian McClendon, (ex) Google VP of Maps

alumni_03Re/code has just reported that Uber has hired Brian McClendon, the former co-head of Google Maps. McClendon has a storied history in the mapping world having created Keyhole and Google Earth and having marshalled many of the technical developments at Google Maps over the past 10 years. According to Wikipedia he holds 12 Map patents including 7 related to KML.

I understood that he and Jen Fitzpatrick co-ran Google Maps and the Geo technologies at Google.  Apparently, last fall, Jen Fitzpatrick was put in sole charge of Maps.

Uber isn’t wasting any time building out a significant mapping and self driving car infrastructure. They are obviously very serious about having gutted the Carnegie Mellon research labs by hiring away many of its engineers earlier this year, acquiring long time mapping, driving direction & routing company DeCarta and having made an offer to purchase Here (aka Navteq) from Nokia.

Horace Deidu has pointed out  that creating and operating a mapping company costs $1-$2 billion per year. Because there is obviously little value in licensing of the data there needs to be another model for making money off of the investment. Google does so by selling advertising against the map, Apple by selling devices on which users expect a navigation system. He posits that Uber’s interest reflects a third business model where the large expense of mapping can be supported by transportation services where accurate maps are the key to autonomous vehicles.

Clearly Uber has the resources and they have the chops to make a significant move in Maps. For Apple, Google and now Uber, it appears that a billion or two a year is worth it. But mapping is haaaard…. Particularly at the level of the self driving car and it will not happen overnight. Uber won’t have any easier time of it than it did at Google or Apple.

The implications of the further “privatization” of Maps are not totally clear. Other local search companies and consumers will rely on sole sourced mapping technology that for competitive reasons is kept close to the companies controlling it.

Will our world be a better place for having three companies each dumping $2 billion per year into a Map race, the benefit of which is largely kept for the sole use of the companies acquiring the data?


Developing Knowledge about Local Search