When Joy Hawkins revealed at an early December Local U webinar that she had seen examples since the last major Google update of opening hours having pretty drastic changes to the rankings, the industry started to buzz. Within the conversation at that webinar, some clear cases were pointed out where this could have a horrible effect on search for the long term.  Since then, Google has confirmed that “openness” has become a growing ranking factor, to mix into the overall local equation.  Let’s discuss what this could mean a bit for local businesses.

Some Negative Aspects of Openness as a Local Ranking Factor

As with anything Google gives weight to in its algorithms, many will try to bend the rules to take advantage. This one seems like it is just asking for a lot of nefarious cheating.  It is very simple to react by just setting your business hours to be open 24 hours. Many will do that.  Seems like that would lead to a bad user experience (UX), which though nebulous, Google itself has said is the top ranking factor. Google has since said that it will penalize businesses by suspending their listings if they do falsely represent their hours, so if you decide to “cheat” in this manner, know there is a potential major drawback in that sense.  If you try to be a bit more suave with AI answering services, etc. you may be able to work your way around it a bit more, but it is definitely a risky undertaking,

Bad Google User Experience

Forgetting those that are going to cheat though, let’s look at the user experience involved with giving heavy weight to “openness” to the point that Joy showed in her presentation. Where could this cause some drawbacks for user experience?

  • Traveling Situations: You are traveling and want to find something that “will be open” when you get there, but isn’t open now
    • This just happened to me recently when looking for a coffee place as I drove across Pennsylvania. Suppressing coffee spots that aren’t open “right now” makes my experience of looking for one open in an hour a bad experience. I don’t care if it is open at that moment.  Obviously, this can be applied to other situations while traveling.
  • Appointment-Based Businesses: You go into the search not caring if they are open right now because you plan to make an appointment
    • Dentists, chiropractors, and even auto garages can fall into this category, along with a myriad of other businesses. Possibly a majority of them.  You just want to find someone close by that you can get an appointment with. You are quite often not searching at the time that you would visit.
  • Researching For the Future:
    • Planning a dinner, gift, or future need. Often we get home from work or getting ready for bed and decide to get some digital errands done by figuring this stuff out with some local searches. We certainly don’t want to eliminate from contention all of the businesses that aren’t open at that particular time, since that is not the time you would end up having your experience with the business.

Good Google User Experience

I have been doing this stuff for almost 18 years now. Google gets better and better at understanding the nuance of search. Though it may be a bit clunky as it rolls out, every search is different and has different intent.  Hopefully, they evolve to weigh the “openness” piece of the algorithm a bit more realistically than what Joy was seeing with her initial studies.  Most of us have searched with “open now” at the end. I’m sure Google saw the influx of these searches, much as they saw the growth of “near me” a few years back, and tried to incorporate that into search. The difficult part is that I would guess that a very large percentage of these local searches, as outlined above, require “open now” to be a part of the result. But there are definitely times when it makes things better.

  • Near me right now:
    • We want a restaurant/bar/coffee shop that is near us right now. Of course this is a fairly common occurrence and “openness” factors heavily into these searches. Nobody wants to alter their route or head out to a place only to find it isn’t open that day or for a few more hours. It is definitely an improved UX in these situations.
  • Emergency situations:
    • Veterinarians/plumber/contractors where something bad has happened and you need help right away.  Having to sift through business hours just prolongs the time before you can get a solution to your problem. These situations beg for “openness” to be heavily weighted in the results.

So there are searches where this will be extremely helpful to the UX.  In the early going, it appears it may be a bit to broadly scoped, but it should get more nuanced with time.  I generally advise against cheating the system.  Just make sure you keep your business hours up to date, because one side effect of this is that Google will be keeping a closer eye on business operating hours and punishing businesses that misrepresent themselves there. Don’t misrepresent your hours. Not only can it lead to suspension, it will upset your potential customers and possibly lead to warranted negative reviews when they show up to find you aren’t open.