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.
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.)
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).
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.
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.
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.
- 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.