- We have established a relationship between higher average local rankings and business's 'open' hours.
- Google has confirmed it uses "openness" in its local ranking systems.
- However, Google may 'dial back' opening hours as a local ranking signal after further evaluation.
- Movie theaters do not appear to be affected at all by use of opening hours as a local ranking signal.
- Service area businesses (such as electricians and HVAC Contractors) set to 'open 24 hours' do not appear to see fluctuations in local rankings.
- Opening hours set to 'open 24 hours' do not seem to necessarily result in higher local rankings.
- BrightLocal does not advise changing your business's opening hours to anything other than what is true and accurate.
Do things ever quiet down in December? In the search world? Are you kidding?
As we wrote about recently, at the start of the month, Joy Hawkins of Sterling Sky caused a slight thunderclap in the local search world. She announced a new local ranking factor: opening hours.
You can read the thread of events in the piece linked above. But with such heated discussion on the matter, and only several small-scale tests conducted so far, we wanted to carry out a study with a greater breadth of business types, covering various US states and timezones.
So, we took 50 business locations across 10 primary business categories and used BrightLocal’s Local Search Grid to analyze their local rankings outside of their listed opening hours and during opening hours.
Five businesses were chosen at random within each of the following primary categories, for a total of 50 locations. We selected a variety of business types to reflect different searcher intent.
- Coffee Shop
- Day Spa
- Department store
- Fast Food Restaurant
- HVAC Contractor
- Movie Theater
- Real Estate Agent
Each location was set up in Local Search Grid, using the following criteria for the report:
Grid size: 7 x 7
Keywords: 10, non-navigational (listed in the Appendix)
Note: Grids were only adjusted if automatically placed over large bodies of water, national parks, or rural areas etc.
Reports were run manually, twice a day for three days: once outside of business opening hours and once during opening hours. Exceptions are marked where some businesses are listed on Google Business profile as open 24 hours or have no opening hours associated.
Local Search Grid Study Results
The charts below show the average local ranking for each primary category outside of business hours against their open hours. This average looks at all keywords tracked in the Local Search Grid reports.
Across the board, it’s clear to see that Local Search Grid reports run during each business’s opening hours reflect higher local rankings, on average.
The primary category ‘Fast food restaurant’ appears to show the biggest fluctuation, with local rankings improving by 2.4 positions on average during opening hours.
However, if we compare these results with some of the previous tests conducted in recent weeks, the fluctuations we see are much less severe.
While previous tests have shown dramatic fluctuations between reports for individual business locations and specific keywords, taking the average across a list of 10 keywords reflects a more steady variation.
We can look in more detail at some of the business categories and show their results day by day.
Open vs Closed
With the exception of Coffee Shop #3, each coffee shop business in the chart above reflects a fairly steady result across three days and shows higher local rankings during open hours.
Although we did not use any navigational keywords for the coffee shop report (i.e. ‘coffee shop near me’), it does make sense that a coffee shop listing would be prioritized higher in local rankings if it is open when the user is searching. This doesn’t necessarily mean it is the most helpful result. As we’ll discuss later on, there are plenty of reasons a user might be searching for something like a coffee shop other than to visit it in the immediate future.
We have included the above chart for Dentist here, as you will note that Dentist #1 and Dentist #2 offer slightly differing opening hours and are closed entirely for some days of the study.
For example, Dentist #1 was closed on Fridays and Dentist #2 closed on Wednesdays. We continued to run manual Local Search Grid reports in the timeframe they would normally be open (10am CST for Dentist #1 and 9am EST for Dentist #2) to note what happened to local rankings.
We can see here that their local rankings during the day—when other nearby dental practices are likely open and operating—drop much lower than their typical local rankings outside of normal practice hours.
Businesses set to ‘Open 24 hours’
Some locations selected for the study are listed on Google Business Profile (GBP) as ‘open 24 hours’. So, it’s interesting to compare their local rankings to similar businesses listed with standard business opening hours.
For HVAC Contractor #3, despite being listed as ‘open 24 hours’, we ran the reports at two different times of day (8am and 10am PST) to determine any fluctuations in local rankings. As you can see above, this remained steady across the three days at 3.5, except for one result showing an average of 3.6.
However, Contractor #4 also shows a good level of consistency in its local rankings across the three-day study. It also maintains an average local ranking of around 2, so it does not appear that setting opening hours to ‘open 24 hours’ necessarily gives an advantage for better rankings.
Real Estate Agent
For real estate agents, it does not look like setting opening hours to ‘open 24 hours’ helps maintain consistency in local rankings. Both Real Estate Agent #1 Real Estate Agent #3 show fluctuations across the three days.
It’s not clear why this might be from just these results, but I do wonder if Google has somehow weighed up the legitimacy of these business opening hours. It makes sense for service area businesses to work outside of standard hours and on an emergency basis, but real estate agents? It feels a little bit like a ploy to be more visible on GBP (see also: Lawyer in Appendix).
What if there are no opening hours listed on the Google Business Profile?
It’s interesting to note that some business types appear not to show any opening hours on their GBPs as a sort of ‘industry standard’. We found that this was the case with the category ‘Movie theater’, which makes sense given the changing nature of movie releases and schedules, as well as one-off screenings such as late-night premiers. But would local rankings be penalized as a result?
These results are particularly compelling as they show that movie theaters do not appear to be affected at all by using opening hours as a local ranking signal.
It could be the case that each business has opted to show as ‘Open with no main hours’ as per the GBP editing screenshot below, and that they are technically shown as ‘always open’.
However, a quick Google search for three of the five movie theaters’s names plus ‘opening hours’ does return an immediate snippet-type result by Google. So, it’s not entirely clear if Google is pulling this from other business listing sites like Yelp. Either way, it does not appear that any of the movie theaters are impacted by the existence of opening hours.
As with the movie theaters, Electrician #1 has no opening hours listed on its GBP and is not ‘open 24 hours’. We ran two LSG reports a day, at times when most electricians would typically be closed (6am HST), and when they would typically be listed as open (8am HST).
In this instance, as we saw with the dentists that were closed on typical days you might expect to be able to visit, it appears the local rankings suffered more for Electrician #1 at a time when searching for an electrician is deemed more common.
Electrician #4 appears to follow the same pattern as discussed with HVAC Contractors listed as ‘open 24 hours’ and shows consistent local rankings throughout the study.
What do these results mean?
As of December 15 2023, Google Search Liason confirmed that Google has long used “openness” in its local ranking systems, but that it has recently become a stronger signal. However, given such polarized reactions within the local search community, this may change if Google decides to ‘dial back’ the signal strength.
The team tells me we’ve long used “openness” as part of our local ranking systems, and it recently became a stronger signal for non-navigational queries. This might change in various ways, as we continue to evaluate the usefulness of it, however.
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) December 15, 2023
And there are plenty of reasons why they should dial it back. Although for navigational queries or searches that demonstrate the intent of wanting/needing something ‘right now’, it makes sense to prioritize businesses that are open and available to you in that moment, there are a whole host of other reasons why people may be researching different businesses outside of typical open hours.
I, for one, am an avid food researcher when I travel. I could be looking for brunch, lunch, street food, or dinner establishments in another European country at any given point in the day, weeks before I’m due to visit.
For professional services such as law and real estate, or healthcare like dentistry, a prospective customer will likely be doing their research in several stages before deciding to book an appointment or instruct a professional.
Agreed. Those are good points that I and a few others are discussing with the team. It’s why I said this might change in various ways.
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) December 18, 2023
As we stated in our previous write-up, it’s important not to make any drastic changes to your business’s GBP as a result of what we’re seeing currently. At the very core, your business information should be accurate so that it meets your customers’ needs and provides them with the most helpful and useful information.
As we found in the Local Business Discovery and Trust Report 2023, 62% of consumers would avoid using a business if they found it had incorrect business information listed. The report also delves into how things like incorrect opening hours can affect their trust in a business, therefore potentially damaging a business’s reputation, and even highlights the industries in which information like opening hours are deemed as most important to consumers.
So, for the sake of a couple of ranking positions that may or may not fluctuate throughout the day, and may also change if Google does re-evaluate the signal strength, please ask yourself: is it really worth it to mess with your opening hours?!
For full study data, including the local rankings for each business category across the three days of the study, you can find the remaining charts in the appendix below.
Publications and individuals are welcome to use the study findings, charts, and data, provided BrightLocal is credited and linked to via this page’s URL.
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