Most discussions involving Google over the past few days have revolved around the recent algorithmic changes and how they will affect industries across the Web. Lost to many in the announcement and ensuing debate was a less-discussed feature that has been added to Google Places – one that provides more evidence of Google’s growing focus on local commerce.
C'mon in, we're open
The new Open Now feature allows iPhone and Android users to filter their local search results to show only businesses that are open at the time of their queries, based on the business’ listed hours in Google Places. That presents a powerful tool for late-night restaurants, for instance, but also for any local business that operates outside the realm of a traditional schedule – especially if most of their competitors do keep traditional schedules.
More important, however, is the fact that Open Now is just one of many new features aimed at dressing up Places and making it easier for users to find local businesses on Google. A full menu of new local search options has been added to Places over the past year, and in just the past several months those improvements have been making their way to mobile searches as well.
The local advantage
After introducing the personalized social recommendation engine Hotpot, Google added filters for mobile users to narrow their searches of local businesses by user-generated star ratings and reviews. Changes were also implemented to filter queries by the distance a business is from a current location. Other improvements have included the addition of images and bigger buttons for users to view maps and call local businesses directly.
While each tweak made to Places presents a new opportunity for local businesses, it seems that only a very small percentage of merchants have even claimed a listing. Naturally, that means that an even smaller percentage are optimizing their listings to account for the latest improvements such as Open Now.
Merchants whose hours of operation and other pertinent information are not readily available to Google might as well not be open for business – ever – because that's how it will appear to users of the Open Now feature.
Don't miss out
Many believe that Google’s strong interest in local and mobile search is founded in Google Offers, a rumored daily deals, local commerce vehicle to compete with Groupon and the like. Whatever the actual motivation, Google is making it easier than ever for local businesses to get noticed on the Web.
What's surprising is that not all local businesses are taking them up on it. Actually, it's more than surprising – it's shocking.
Don't delay in claiming a listing for your own business on Google Places. It doesn't cost a thing and all you have to do is make sure your information is always accurate and up to date.