Google Is Using AI to Improve Business Listings — Here’s How

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It happens all the time. Someone searches for a business on Google, stumbles upon an outdated Maps listing, and arrives at a time when the business is closed. Frustration ensues, often followed by a series of negative online reviews. Outdated business listings are the bane of consumers and business owners everywhere. And yet, with store hours changing frequently during the pandemic, it’s been a monumental task for businesses to keep their listings updated across all major directories and platforms.

That makes Google’s recent announcement intriguing, especially for multi-location brands. In a blog post, the company said it would be using artificial intelligence and machine learning to build a self-updating Maps product that predicts when business hours are likely to be wrong and updates listings automatically using AI-generated predictions.

How Google’s approach to local info has evolved

Thanks to its vast size and market share, Google Maps has become one of the most important sources of business information for consumers online. Google Maps has more than 154 million monthly users, with users contributing more than 20 million pieces of new information each day.

“Business hours are one of the most dynamic elements within your Google Business Profile and likely the most susceptible to errors or change,” says Krystal Taing, Senior Manager of Solutions at Uberall.

Google has traditionally relied on third-party sources of data for business listings when businesses have not provided a complete data set. Now, that strategy is set to change. In a description on its website, Google says its systems consider multiple factors to predict outdated store hours, including when the business profile was last updated, other online information about the stores’ hours, and information from the Popular Times data Google collects about most businesses in the U.S.

Google’s Popular Times product has been live for more than two years, using aggregated and anonymized location history data from consumers to calculate how busy specific businesses typically are for every hour of the week. Google’s location data is collected exclusively from consumers who have opted-in through their Google accounts. A business’ busiest hour becomes the benchmark, and Google displays “busyness” data for every other hour of the week relative to that data.

This Popular Times feature takes center stage in Google’s latest move. As an example, if it’s determined that a business is especially busy on Monday afternoons, but the business’ Google Listing shows it being closed during that time, then Google now has the ability to override the outdated listing information based on its own consumer location data.

Google will also be using information about competitors’ businesses in its new AI product. If similar businesses are open at a certain day and time, the algorithm sees that as an indication that a business listing is likely to be outdated as well. The company expects to update the store hours for more than 20 million businesses around the globe in the next six months. 

“Google also derives many of its innovations based on search patterns and behaviors they know about users, so they likely are seeing a shift in searches as well as what users are interacting with most on Google Business Profiles,” Taing says.

Despite its heavy reliance on location data and machine learning, Google is also enlisting the help of its Google Maps community to guide its decision making on when to update business listings. Local Guides and business owners themselves, through their Google Business Profile, will be asked to verify the information that Google’s algorithm predicts. In certain countries, including the United States, Google is using Duplex conversational technology to call businesses and ask for their hours directly. 

What’s at stake in Google’s Maps policies

A lot is at stake. Google earns more than 80% of its revenue from ads, and it commanded 29% of digital ad spending globally in 2021. If this new Google Maps strategy leads to an increase in inaccurate listings, frustrated business owners could take their advertising dollars elsewhere.

In the meantime, Taing suggests that businesses keep a close eye on their listings and monitor their profiles regularly to look for signs of irregularity.

“Maintaining your data on Google Business Profiles and all other physical and digital properties is still essential, even if Google is using AI to update some of this information on their own,” Taing says. “If Google is getting consistent updates from your business, they will be less inclined to rely on other sources. However, if Google does look to supplement your business hours by relying on other sources, it will be critical to ensure this information is correct.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.