Who Needs a Google Beacon? Google Location Accuracy Tested and Assessed

So you or your client has received a Google Beacon in the post. Do you use it or bin it? BrightLocal Contributor and GMB Gold Product Expert Tim Capper explains what this device does and takes a look at Google’s current location accuracy to determine if Google Beacons are worth the effort.

Google Beacons are not a new phenomenon. They originally launched in 2015 in an open-sourced Eddystone Bluetooth Low Energy format which was designed to help developers work with beacons and provide location-based information straight to a user’s mobile phone.

If you’ve ever been walking down the road and received a push notification on your mobile telling you that a coffee shop is nearby or a shop has something in stock, this was the result of a Google Beacon pushing it to your phone.

However, this functionality was recently shut down (in Oct 2018) and should apparently be completely removed by Dec 6th 2018. This planned closure of the notifications system is apparently due to spam, rather ironically. Instead of sending out relevant content, these beacons often sent out unhelpful notifications, resulting in what Google called a “poor user experience”.

Why Has My Business Received a Google Beacon?

If you’ve received a mysterious box from Google with the below device inside, then you’ve got yourself a Google Beacon.

Google Beacon

Why did you receive it? Well, it’s because you have location extensions enabled in Google Ads. (If you’ve received a Google Beacon and want to know what it does, take a look at Google’s article on it.)

I know, however, that even some pure SABs (Service Area Businesses) are receiving Beacons, which obviously can’t be used in vans and taxis. Beacons are intended for use only in businesses with a physical location, so if you’re an SAB that’s received a Beacon, I recommend you do not activate it. Heavens knows what unintended consequences this would have on your business listing.

What Will My Google Beacon Do?

The Google Beacon that’s landed on your doorstep is used to help determine a user’s location more accurately and provide more accurate information about that business to its potential customers.

Google Beacon provides users with things like:

  • Understanding where a photo was taken and allowing the user to upload that photo to your business.
  • How long the customer spent at the business location (“People spend an average of x minutes here” in GMB)
  • How busy the location is on a particular day and time (“Popular times” in GMB)
  • Ability to easily review the business (however, I don’t believe this will be a push notification after the spam issue)
  • Push notification question to the user to answer about the business, resulting in subjective attributes about the business in GMB (e.g. Is this place good for a romantic dinner? Is there wheelchair access? Does this business allow dogs?)

Bear in mind that, as a business owner, you can’t:

  • Have access to the Google Beacon data
  • Use Google Beacon data to target specific customers
  • Retarget or remarket to customers using Google Beacon data

Can My Business Get the Same ‘Benefits’ Without a Google Beacon?

After running tests with some local businesses, I’m pretty confident that you can pretty much get the same intended benefits without needing a Google Beacon. There are some exceptions, however, such as businesses inside a large shopping mall and businesses inside an office complex

However it would still be worth running through the steps below to see if you’d get get some benefit.

Testing Google Location Accuracy

Local to myself is an old village which contains a business that has three unique spaces within the building that are styled in different themes for customers to browse.

To test how accurately Google could define which business the photo was of, I took photos of each section in all three zones (pictured below) to see where Google identified where the photo was taken. (Same location data used for photos as in store.)

Google Location Test

Zone 1: Always understood the correct location. The pin marker is also here. (100% accuracy)

Zone 2: Occasionally selected the business next door or across the alley way as the location of the photo. (80% accuracy)

Zone 3: Always picked the incorrect location of the photo, either street facing or across the alley way. (0% accuracy)

The first step I took was to make sure the pin marker for the business location was as near as possible to the center of the businesses location or above the entrance.

Then I switched to satellite image and zoomed in to get as accurate as possible. I also cross-checked with street view.

Next I had the five employees stand in the middle of the store and open their Google Maps app (to locate the business) then select ‘Yes’ in the “Are you here now?” section (an example of which you can see below).

Are You Here?

Following that, we asked ten customers with the Google Maps app (four in Zone 2, six in Zone 3) to do the same. These were certainly odd conversations to have, but we picked regulars who were happy to help.

Further Testing

I now needed to test whether Google was able to understand the correct locations of customers in Zones 2 and 3 of the business.

For this part, I enlisted 10 college students who were happy to come in store in exchange for a couple of pints in the pub afterwards.

They took a selection of photos in each of the three zones.

Zone 1: 100% accuracy

Zone 2: 98% accuracy.  Images were still being suggested as coming from across the alley way.

Zone 3: 80% accuracy. Images were still being suggested as coming from the street-facing business or across the alley way.

Test Conclusion

If your business is contained to one single space, I believe that you can ‘train’ Google to understand your businesses location when a customer visits. This slightly diminishes as the business space increases, especially around corners, but you can still improve the accuracy of Google predictions.

In my opinion, a Google Beacon in the above test location layout may have provided 100% accuracy in Zone 2, but not in Zone 3 because zone 3 was around a corner and sandwiched between two other businesses.

Google Beacons are designed to work over short distances using short wavelength UHF radio waves, and therefore accuracy diminishes the further away the from the beacon the device is.

It’s worth noting that, should you repeat this test, you have to wait for the Maps app to recommend adding your images to a location (this is not immediate). You can also go to the business listing in Maps and take photos to add direct to listing, however I did not use this because I am unsure if location data is used in this method and wanted to see how Google would assign location suggestions for the images.

Could Google’s Location Accuracy Improve with Google Beacon?

Even with a Google Beacon present, I doubt that I would have been able to achieve 100% accuracy from all zones because the Google Beacon documentation does say that you should not place it on walls that adjoin another business, so i think there will always be limitations to accurately predicting the user’s exact location.

Final Thoughts

  • I certainly wouldn’t worry if you don’t receive a Google Beacon. You can help Google understand your exact location by making sure your pin is correctly placed and using ‘Are You Here’ in Google Maps to achieve 100% accuracy in understanding your location.
  • When testing, make sure your pin marker is as accurate as it can be and ask some customers / staff to find the business on the Google Maps app and select Yes in the “Are you here now?” section.
  • Using a Google Beacon won’t add “popular times” to your business listing in search or maps because this is based on the number of people that visit the store, how long they stayed there, and the business’ size.
  • Where I do think a Google Beacon would be useful is if the business were located in a large office block or shopping mall, but I do think that even in these circumstances, some basic input from yourself can help increase the accuracy of Google understanding where you are located.
  • With regard to reviews, I do wish Google would start being more aggressive in using accurate location data with reviews left on businesses, as this would certainly cut down on review spam.
  • Finally, if you don’t want to use the Beacon because you’re in a detached, standalone business location, then it makes for a great bookmark!

Tim Capper owns and operates Online Ownership, a Local SEO consultancy in the UK. Tim is also a Google My Business Product Expert and helps local businesses with their local search presences.

The post Who Needs a Google Beacon? Google Location Accuracy Tested and Assessed appeared first on BrightLocal.

Upcoming Webinar: How Local Ranking Factors Changed in 2018

Who needs lots of generic end-of-year predictions for 2019 when you have actual data to analyze?!

We’ve gathered a panel of SEO experts to discuss the findings of recent SEO research studies (including Moz’s Local Search Ranking Factors Study 2018) against the backdrop of this year’s Google algorithm updates, such as ‘Medic’.

So throw away those crystal balls and join us for a special InsideLocal webinar focusing on what changed in local ranking factors in 2018 and, based on this, what might be around the corner for 2019.

Join us if you have questions like:

  • What should my local SEO strategy focus on next year?
  • Has the ‘Medic’ update led to a change in primary local ranking factors?
  • Are on-page signals still valuable?
  • Do review signals carry even more weight this year?
  • Where does my backlink profile fit into all this?

Be sure to reserve your space today to get to the insights behind the data!

The post Upcoming Webinar: How Local Ranking Factors Changed in 2018 appeared first on BrightLocal.

Poll Results: Did the Mobile-first Index Affect Local Businesses?

The mobile-first index should have come as no surprise to local businesses. Google announced its plans for mobile way back in 2016, and its slow rollout has given businesses plenty of time to adhere to the new expectations.

In July, many local businesses received notifications that mobile-first indexing was now enabled for their sites. And with Google’s John Mueller confirming once and for all that you cannot opt out of mobile-first rankings, it’s absolutely vital that websites are optimized for every device.

Now that everyone’s had time to get used to the new ranking parameters, we wanted to find out what this change has meant for local businesses.

We asked our user base of local business owners and local SEO professionals to share their experiences and opinions on the mobile rollout, exploring:

  • If local sites are optimized for mobile
  • How local rankings have changed
  • What’s held businesses back

A huge thank you to the 400 people who answered our poll.

Are the sites you manage optimized for mobile?

Are the sites you manage optimized for mobile?

  • 63% of businesses were ready for the mobile-first index before it was enabled for their sites
  • A further 10% have optimized their sites since
  • 14% of respondents’ sites aren’t mobile-optimized, with a further 13% being unsure

73% of respondents told us that their sites, or the sites they manage for clients, are optimized for mobile.

While the vast majority of these sites were optimized ahead of the switch, a small proportion have made the changes since. Better late than never!

A significant number of respondents told us that their sites aren’t mobile-ready, with others not being sure. Google developed the super-handy Mobile-Friendly Test to analyze if your pages are easy to use on mobile, and to show what your site will look like.

Mobile-Friendly Test

How have rankings changed for the sites you manage?

How have rankings changed since mobile-first indexing rolled out to local businesses?

  • 22% of respondents reported improved rankings since the mobile rollout
  • 14% have seen a drop in rankings
  • 22% saw no change

Interestingly, 43% of those polled weren’t sure whether they had seen ranking changes since the update.

Of course, it can be difficult to attribute changes to specific causes (especially as the last few months have been so tumultuous). To keep track of your business’s rankings, you can sign up for a free BrightLocal trial.

Since the mobile-first index rolled out, 36% of the remaining respondents saw a difference in rankings – with more seeing a positive increase than those experiencing losses.

Businesses that do not ensure their sites are mobile friendly risk ranking drops. The 44% of respondents who saw increases or saw no change are likely to be meeting Google’s expectations.

What has held you back from optimizing your sites?

What held you back from optimizing for mobile?

  • 42% of respondents experienced challenges optimizing sites for the mobile-first index
  • 10% weren’t aware they needed to become mobile-friendly
  • 13% say they don’t have the budget to change

We asked our users to share the challenges they’d faced optimizing their sites for mobile. While more than half of respondents didn’t face any issues, there are a few problems holding businesses back.

15% of respondents told us they didn’t know where to start optimizing their sites. If you are confused too, start with Google’s best practices, and if you need more help, Jamie Pitman shares his top tips here

The second most cited challenge was local businesses’ lack of budget. We know that it can be difficult to spare cash for website changes, but if businesses want to be seen on Google, they really will have to put budget aside for mobile optimization.

It’s by no means a certainty that websites will need to make major changes, but with 97% of consumers looking online for a local business in 2017, businesses need to ensure they can be found.

A worrying 10% of respondents didn’t know their site needed to be optimized for mobile. This awareness may be skewed by the fact that the poll was made up of BrightLocal users, who are likely to be more informed of mobile requirements, so the overall proportion of local businesses unaware of the necessary changes could be far higher.

8% said they didn’t think it was important. I should reiterate here that Google now prioritizes sites that are usable on mobile devices in rankings whether results are appearing on mobile devices or not. Not being mobile friendly may not automatically tank your rankings, but would you risk it?

The Biggest Challenges with Mobile Optimization

  1. “Getting clients to realize responsive websites need to look good on all devices, not just a desktop.”
  2. “Explaining why these changes are important to our clients.”
  3. “Getting clients to prioritize this with respect to other matters within the greater marketing budget”
  4. “Achieving a good site speed on mobile.”
  5. “Clients not wanting to spend money on site redesign.”

Your Thoughts on Mobile Optimization

  1. “The fear of Mobilegeddon seems to be a bust. No penalty, no advantages from a direct rank correlation for our clients. Indirectly, perhaps, but there’s no metric to easily measure/report on that – so it’s not something we’re promoting.”
  2. “Responsive sites are not difficult, just another aspect of the www.”
  3. “Most clients have a responsive site design and can’t do anything different between mobile and desktop manually. It just is what it is based on how the site is coded for responsiveness.”
  4. “I have not had any issues with mobile. I build sites mobile first and have for years.”
  5. “If clients do not have a mobile responsive site, they don’t receive mobile-first rankings. Some don’t care to understand that.”

Despite the advance warning from Google, many local businesses are still in the dark about the mobile-first index. Has it affected the sites you manage? Let us know in the comments below.

The post Poll Results: Did the Mobile-first Index Affect Local Businesses? appeared first on BrightLocal.