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Local Marketing, Marketing

Google Search Now Shows “Popular Times” When Local Businesses Are Busiest – What Does This Mean for Your Small Business?


According to a recent article in TechCrunch, Google Search recently announced some changes to the way they show search results for local businesses. From now on, whenever you search Google for the name of a local business – whether it’s a restaurant, a coffee shop, a retail store, etc. – along with the store hours and directions and other details, the Google results now show “Popular Times” when the business is busiest.

For example, if you’re trying to decide which coffee shop to meet your friends at on a Saturday afternoon, you can use Google Search to figure out which place is likely to be more crowded. If you have to run errands on a Sunday afternoon, you can figure out what time of day is likely to have shortest checkout lines. If you’re trying to decide which night to go out for dinner at a restaurant, you can use Popular Times to figure out which time on which day will be easiest to get a table. The Popular Times feature in Google Search is meant to show you which time of day is the best time to visit each particular business – and you can even scroll through a convenient graph to go day-by-day in case you need to plan your errands in advance, or want to figure out which day is best to go grocery shopping or want to avoid the biggest crowds and maximize your time.

Google says that it has created the Popular Times ratings based on aggregate web searches and mobile search data – making it possible to track foot traffic at various local businesses according to how many people are searching for the businesses from mobile devices and tracking GPS data from Google Maps.

The Popular Times feature should be helpful for consumers – but what does it mean for small businesses? We talked with some online marketing experts to see what the implications of the new Popular Times feature might mean for your business.

Is the new Popular Times feature going to be a good thing for small businesses, or could it drive customers away?

Ashley Halverson, VP of Marketing for Openbay, the online marketplace to comparison shop, book and pay for auto repair:

“I see the volume of customers to these businesses only improving; now consumers may simply adjust their schedules to visit businesses during quieter times, instead of choosing to go to the non-busy shop down the road. Also, some consumers prefer quiet restaurants while others prefer a more buzzing, lively venue, so it’s an opportunity for consumers to pick the place that best suits their style.”

Brett Bastello, SEO Manager with Inseev Interactive, a full-service digital marketing company in San Diego:

“It is a good thing for small businesses to have consumers be able to see when local businesses are the busiest. One of the constant conversations in SEO is how Google favors big brands over Mom and Pop shops. With that said, it’s very hard to drive a

consumer away from a big brand that they constantly see on various advertising mediums all day long. When a small, local shop does get the opportunity to service a customer that normally shops at a big brand shop, they want to be able to serve the consumer with their best foot forward. By not knowing that the store may potentially be busy, if the consumer shows up at the local store when it is busiest, it may be a major turnoff to the consumer and they will not return again.”

Brock Murray, Director of Web Marketing for seoplus+, a Canadian digital
marketing agency with clients all over the world:

“I think this will be one of those things that time will tell how much of an impact it makes for small businesses. Initially you might assume that businesses will end up having an influx of traffic during the “slow” periods. There are some businesses that are only open during lunch hours, such as downtown lunch restaurants, that it won’t affect. It could come in handy for customers that want to plan their day around stops at specific businesses. It will be interesting to see if Google continues to update their
data for this feature, or if it is relatively static.”

Mike Wilton, digital marketing strategist who specializes in local search marketing and has worked closely with Google’s local products and maps:

“I think this is a bit of a double-edged sword. In some ways it may help businesses since it will give customers insight into the time of day the business may be less crowded. I can see this being particularly helpful for restaurants or similar businesses. If someone thinks a business is busy at a particular time and it turns out based on Google’s data that it’s not, it might actually encourage them to visit the business more.”

Are there any possible downsides for businesses? Might the new Popular Times tool inadvertently drive customers away by making people think that a certain business is “too busy” or “too crowded?”

Ashley Halverson: “Perhaps the mediocre businesses – ones that are not providing customers with the exceptional value, quality or atmosphere they are getting elsewhere – are the ones that will suffer. And as those businesses see their competitors’ traffic, they’d be wise to consider points to improve their own offerings. But it would be a while, if ever, before we saw those types of macro changes take effect. In addition, it doesn’t look like Google will be
providing actual data; just volume relative to that business, so even if a
shop “peaks” at 12 p.m., that peak may only be five people. Most consumers are
willing to take that chance as long as it ends with them accomplishing what
they sought out to do.”

Brett Bastello: “I disagree with the idea that being seen as “too busy” is a downside. I used to work at the #1 nightclub in Pittsburgh for several years, and we always strived to have a line of people waiting outside our doors – if that many people are waiting to get in then there MUST be a reason why. Being busy is always good for business.”

Brock Murray: “It could be a downside for businesses, however, it likely won’t affect their bottom line. If a customer is looking at the “busy times” and chooses not to go in at a specific time, they will likely choose an alternate time instead.”

Mike Wilton: “I think this has the potential to drive away some users, but I feel that this is only going to apply to die-hard users who are looking to determine if a certain business is busy at a particular time. Again, thinking of the restaurant business, I can see this potentially hurting a business if it’s extremely busy during a certain time, as
compared to other eateries in the area. I can see myself personally comparing busy times of a handful of restaurants in a single shopping center to determine where to go for dinner on nights I am running errands with my family.”

How could this Google Search data be a new source of insights for
business owners?

Ashley Halverson: “The key opportunities that come to mind are staffing, competitive analysis and new customer acquisition opportunities by capitalizing on the downtime. Here’s an example: if a local cafe sees that its traffic is always lowest between 8-10 a.m., and they do some research and see other local cafés in the area seem to be suffering that same fate, there could be an opportunity here. It may be that consumers in the area don’t know what breakfast options these cafés have available. A café with quick thinking and local marketing may be able to promote its
breakfast offering, winning the local market simply with the data that Google has provided.”

Brett Bastello: “Google Search data can support businesses with insights about peak times in the exact same way seasonality plays into their marketing strategies, however this is just on a much more micro-sense. Another insight from this new feature is that local SEO is more important now than ever. Local businesses should be striving to incorporate fun and effective ways to increase their social followers and brand engagement on these major social sites.”

Brock Murray: “It will be interesting to see if this Popular Times data can be manipulated. If businesses (or marketing agencies) can leverage this technology to skew the numbers and drive additional foot traffic. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, to see this feature either improved (giving more control to business owners) or scrapped altogether in the near future.”

Mike Wilton: “Assuming that this data seems to mimic what a business sees in its own trends, it might be a means of helping to determine things like staffing and business hours. Google’s Popular Times data could also be used for things like flash sales and promotions. If a business finds the data is relevant they could run special promos at certain times of the day, or adjust promotions for when they are seeing
the most foot traffic to get a boost in sales.”

Kabbage Takeaway: Google Search has a new Popular Times feature that shows consumers which times of day are the busiest times for local businesses. There are some interesting implications of this new feature for small business marketing. Look for ways to use the Popular Times data to get insights about your business’ peak time of day compared to competitors, and keep making your online marketing more “local” in nature to keep customers coming through the door!