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Understanding Google My Business & Local Search

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. 🙂