Ranking Local Businesses Based Upon Quality Measures including Travel Time

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An Antique shop, formerly an apple factory
An Antique shop, formerly an apple factory

Google’s Travel Time Patent

Can the amount of travel time someone might take to get to a place be a good indication of the quality of that place? That is the assumption behind a recently granted patent from Google that focuses upon local SEO.

Travel time in the patent is referred to as a “time investment a person may be willing to make to visit a specific location.” The travel time patent provides more details with the words:

Quality measures for locations are often based on one or more reviews related to the locations. For example, user reviews and/or professional reviews may be utilized to determine a quality measure for a given location. The quality measures may be associated with the given location in a database and may be utilized by one or more applications and/or provided to a user. For example, a user search for restaurants in a particular area may return search results for restaurants ranked based on the quality measure and/or displayed in combination with an indication of the quality measure. Indications of the quality measure may include a numerical rating, many stars, etc.

This patent reminded me of one granted last week, which I wrote about in the post Google May Check to See if People Go to Geographic Locations Google May Recommend. In both, Google is looking at whether someone might have visited a place found in Google Maps, based either upon a recommendation of a place or seeing a place in search results. The “time investment” referred to in this patent does mean the actual time it may have taken to visit a place seen in search results:

The present disclosure is directed to methods and apparatus for determining the quality measure of a given location. In some implementations, the quality measure of a given location may be determined based on the time investment a user is willing to visit the given location. For example, the time investment for a given location may be based on comparing one or more actual distance values to reach the given location to one or more anticipated distance values to reach the given location. The actual distance values are indicative of the actual time of one or more users to reach the given location, and the anticipated distance values are indicative of an anticipated time to reach the given location. In some implementations, the anticipated distance value may be one or more distributions. Likewise, in some implementations, the actual distance value may be one or more distributions. Such distributions may be continuous and/or discrete. In some implementations, the quality measure may be based on additional factors such as one or more location characteristics of the given location and/or more user characteristics of the visitors to the given location.

How far away would you travel for a slice of pizza or a fish taco? Google seems to be using such a measure as a potential way to rank businesses against each other.

We are told that a ranking of this travel time to reach a particular location might include a ranking that indicates how many competing locations may have been bypassed to reach that particular location.

The patent is:

Determining the quality of locations based on travel time investment
Inventors: Andrew Tomkins, Sergei Vassilvitskii, Shanmugasundaram Ravikumar, Mohammad Mahdian, Bo Pang, and Prabhakar Raghavan
Assignee: Google
The United States Patent 9,558,210
Granted: January 31, 2017
Filed: March 15, 2013


Methods and apparatus related to associating a quality measure with a given location. For example, an anticipated distance value for a given location may be identified that indicates the anticipated time and/or distance to reach the given location. At least one actual distance may be identified that indicates the actual time for one or more members to reach the given location. In some implementations, the anticipated/actual distance values may include one or more distributions. A quality measure is then determined based on comparing the anticipated distance value and the identified actual distance value. The quality measure is associated with the given location. The quality measure may be further based on additional factors.

New Features at Google Maps

Google Maps is issuing some interesting new approaches and new features as well. For example, the patent that this post is about notes how to travel time to a place, and whether or not people are willing to take a journey to that place may boost the rankings of places in search results. Likewise, whether or not someone may visit a place recommended in Maps results could boost or reduce the appearance of recommendations for places, as in the patent I wrote about yesterday. Today, an article has come out that tells us about the ability to make shareable lists of places with Google Maps – Google Maps makes your favorite places social with the launch of shareable lists.

It’s fun seeing these new features and processes added to Google Maps and may leave us guessing what may come next.

The patent looks at other aspects of a “time investment” that people may make, which could be used to measure the quality of a place found in search results, such as whether people were willing to walk to a place rather than driving. That would be a slightly different way of thinking about travel time.

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60 thoughts on “Ranking Local Businesses Based Upon Quality Measures including Travel Time”

  1. Great Article !!! I always visit this blog, and I have learned many cool things here in this blog, always has interesting information and tips, very good …

    Congratulations !!!!

  2. Hi João,

    Thank you. This patent caught my attention at the USPTO site. It seems to follow a pattern of paying attention to where people are actually at, and how that might be tied into what they were viewing online, which is kind of fascinating. If Google can accurately track people’s locations, it looks like it can tell a lot about the influence of search results upon them.

  3. Hi Bill,
    Amazing article on local business, If I want to increase the quality of my business how can I do is Google give preference for this.

  4. Hi Alok,

    I would think that if you want to make a good impression upon people whom visit you because of Google; you should focus upon doing the kinds of things that would get any visitors to be happy with your business and want to return to it: Great service, great products; a nice location and a positive experience.

  5. Hi Bill, I’ve read several places that having actual driving directions on a page for local businesses helps to boost their rankings also. I’m not sure how accurate that is, what do you think? Also, how do you think this affects “near me” searches? Thanks for sharing, I always get value from your posts.

  6. Hi Matthew,

    Good hearing that my posts have helped you in the past. I can’t say that I’ve seen anything from Google itself that suggests putting driving directions on a site to improve rankings for local businesses. I possibly have suggested that myself in the past, in places such as forums. It does seem to have some merit to it as an approach to use. There is a white paper from Google that tells us that people asking for driving directions for a local business from Google is a positive sign, and something that correlates really well with positive reviews being written about a local business. That paper is worth reading. One of the co-writers is Alon Halevy, who is the head of structured data (like Schema and rich snippets) at Google. The paper is: Hyper-Local, Directions-Based Ranking of Places (pdf).

    I have searched to see if there was anything written by Google that talks about showing “near me” searches to searchers, and I haven’t seen anything that tells us more from Google about how to rank better for those, either. They have mentioned that “near me” searches have been effective in the past, but don’t go on to tell us more about those. When I search for “near me” searches on my desktop computer, it tends to show me businesses that are near where my ISP shows it is located. Results on my phone tend to be better, as long as the location at the bottom of search results pages tends to be actually near me.

  7. This has truth in it. I always travel miles to have a good dinner. I have restaurants closer to me, but they do not make my favorite dishes neither do they take the time to really cook. From order to food being server is less than 5 mins. This is a little peculiar. So I go the distance and get a real meal cooked for me and not a microwave one.

  8. Hi Bill Slawski,

    You have shared an amazing information. After reading your content, I have a question that you have told “user reviews and/or professional reviews” but I want to know how can I show Review Star in Google search result? As it is helpful for my local business.

  9. Hi Bill: In reading this article and the other recent one you did about location I can’t help but think these two patents are somewhat connected to the “Possum Update” from 9/1/2016: A description of some “impacts” being here: http://searchengineland.com/everything-need-know-googles-possum-algorithm-update-258900

    To me the single most important impact was a significant increase in local results in the 3 pac and maps being significantly more tied to a user’s location.

    Even more than in the past I see local results wherein when I don’t use a geo modifier: ie pizza, hotels, chiropractor, etc… the results are overwhelmingly local and based on proximity. Not just the city but down to neighborhoods. (I live and usually search in relatively dense metro regions).

    To be more descriptive and to compare and contrast to older maps/local results…for years I’ve searched on hotels (I live in Arlington, VA) and hotels Arlington.

    Arlington, VA has an enormous number of hotels and hotel rooms relative to its population. It is adjacent to Washington, DC. In South Arlington, an area that is adjacent to a major metro airport there is an incredible number of hotels and rooms. At one point that area had more rooms than any other subdistrict in the region (including districts in DC). If one used an older Google Location concept of “centroid”….the centroid for hotels in Arlington was in South Arlington (often described as Crystal City).

    When I searched anywhere in Arlington for hotels, or used the term hotels Arlington VA….the highest rated rankings were always in the Crystal City (South Arlington area). Always for years.

    I live in North Arlington, an area with a fair number of hotels but nowhere nears the enormity of hotels and rooms in
    South Arlington/Crystal City.

    Now when I search from North Arlington I ALWAYS get hotels located near my location (by mobile or desktop). Always.

    The algo has changed. Proximity seems to be key. It ways heavily on ranking.

    When I read the preceding patent which is somewhat related I started thinking of ways to “beat” the description ;) in the patent. I might just put something in place to see if one or more of our smb’s can attract customers from a location wherein there are competitors between us and the customers.

    I might try it. If we do and if it bears results I’ll give you a signal. :D

    As always, Bill, thanks for the writeups. They are always insightful.


  10. Hi Dave,

    I am familiar with the two patents I wrote about, but not with the guesses that have been made about the Possum update – I’ll have to look at it more, and see if it seems to be related to these two patents. As you know, I am very familiar with that part of northern Virginia (but not the hotels there).

  11. Great experience to read this blog post. This is the USP of this website that you always present new things in new way. I highly impressed with your post. Thanks for sharing with us.

  12. I am familiar with the two patents I wrote about, but not with the guesses that have been made about the Possum update

    The Guesses!!!! LOL. I like that!!! ;) My own observations are that there was a some relationship with local/maps ranking based on where a searcher was located….but now that relationship is Remarkably Powerful.
    Boy. I wish I had kept screenshots of that hotel example with views identified by time periods and by location from where I made the search!!!

    In any case, most practitioners of local SEO are commenting that they see similar types of results: The Local/Maps rankings dominated by proximity to the searcher. Even as I keep seeing that I search for the outliers.

    Again: tx for the write ups.

  13. Hey, indeed Great goods from you, man. I have understand your stuff previous to and you are just extremely fantastic. I actually like ranking on travel time and what you’ve acquired here, certainly like what you are stating and the way in which you say it. You make it enjoyable and you still take care of to keep it smart. I cant wait to read far more from you. This is really a terrific website.

  14. I guess location services of Google plays very important role in this along with Social reviews given by the Customers. Popular travel applications developed by giants can help you get good ranks on search results. Getting listed on travel & booking website is a good idea I guess.

  15. Really fascinating how far patents have come in terms of technology and search engines. Some clients of ours will often ask to rank in other areas outside of their locale and it is *possible*, but with all of the adjustments for Local SEO, it seems as though it will eventually be quite difficult to dominate a whole state due to the simple fact that search engines will be focusing on user-experience more than ever. Really great post about the business side (patents) of search engines! Thanks for creating it!

  16. Very valuable post.

    I want to than you from bottom of my heart for providing this information.

    Your blog is just like gold for me. I get to learn so much daily.

    With Love from INDIA

  17. A great overview on a rapidly evolving subject. Optimising for local search is key for 2017 and something we introduce all new clients to – where possible we try to build it into our design process from the outset.

  18. About local business ranking upon quality this info is almost very useful for all peoples So This information is very helpful me. I have to say that for the last few of hours i have been hooked by the impressive articles on this website. Keep up the wonderful work.

  19. This is an interesting take. I’ve heard it before that Google analyzed large geographical differences between a user and a company they reviewed (that is not in any travel-related industry) as negative based on the assumption that those reviews are not as likely to happen (i.e. a Miami resident writing a review on a window tinting company in Chicago). What are your thoughts on this?

  20. A rather interesting consideration to rank a place although don’t you think the real consideration is when the same person travels there twice or regularly?
    The first time a lot of people go to just try out new places but if they go again thats what determines if the place was and is really worth visiting regardless of the time taken to get there. Would appreciate your views about this. Thanks!

  21. Hey Bill,

    This will be interesting. I think it’s the right move for Google to give me back results based on how far away the place is.

    If I’m looking for something generic like, “pizza place,” I don’t want them to bring back restaurant that’s miles away just because they have more reviews – even though they might be better.

    For local searchers, I can see this making a huge difference!

  22. Nice post! I really appreciate to read the post here and also its great that the people here are giving their opinion which is really useful for me to decide whether it is good or not.

    Read More —- >

    Daniyal Don

  23. Hi Adam

    Distance is definitely one of the signals that Google will likely continue to use in ranking maps results. But, as this patent notes, if people are willing to drive a little further after they have seen results; they may boost those results in search rankings.

  24. Awesome post……. your article is really informative and helpful. Really you have described everything in descriptive, simply yet effective too. You’ve done a great job with this. Thanks to share this informative article.

  25. Informative content and i m new to your blog. After reading this looking forward for the other articles too. thank for the post

  26. Hello Bill
    your article is very great. i like your post. i like your Share. Thank you for sharing. I agree Local Business depends upon quality and travel time.

  27. Interesting read,,, If you think about it, it does make sense.

    Every other weekend me and wifey goes out to our fav restaurant which is out of city and has a 1 hour drive.

    This does speak volume about the restaurant,,

    but my question would be:
    How will google know when I am going to the restaurant and how will it understand the distance travelled.?

    Cheeky buggers,, they are always tracking us now.

  28. Do you use Google maps to get there Ishan? They keep track of where you’ve been.

    If you have Google maps on your phone, you probably have your settings set up that it’s always running in the background. Example: right now, I can see the traffic near me and how long it’d take to get to my next appointment.

    If you’re an hour away and use Google maps to get there, they can tell that – they use your starting and ending location.

  29. Over the last year I’ve noticed Google getting really aggressive with their local/maps engagement. With every picture I snap on my phone I get a Google Maps popup asking me if I want to add it to [whatever business I happen to be closer to].

  30. This is the first I heard of this. Never new google took travel time in to account as well when ranking local sites.

  31. Another stimulating post by you Bill… I also find the comments to add to a better understanding. Big thanks and gratitude for “SEO by the Sea”

  32. Sorry, I just could not help but also mention that your comment,

    “But, as this patent notes, if people are willing to drive a little further after they have seen results; they may boost those results in search rankings.”

    is seen by me to be a future search result factor most likely…

  33. The last comment by Dave cracked me up :)

    Bill: but don’t you think that would be unfair for, say, a nearby food joint that is on par with a food joint out of town?

    Also how much do you think this will contribute to better ratings/rankings?

  34. I read out this article Thanks for sharing this informative article. This blog is very useful for everyone. keep it on.

  35. This website is very informative to read. I am a huge follower of the things you talk about. I also love reading the comments, but it seems like a great deal of readers need to stay on topic to try and add something to the original topic.

  36. Woo boy, this should be fun … there are probably a lot of bad businesspeople thinking that hiring an SEO pro will fix all their problems … turns out, customer service is now a local SEO metric! ;)

  37. It makes sense to me that the longer it takes somebody to go out of their way to visit a place of business then it should play in to the popularity of that business and in turn be seen as a ranking signal.

  38. Bill, You’re the #1 sailor of the SEO sea. I like your advise about local ranking factors. Its very informative and you did amazing in travel time. I feel very proud of you and impressed to get the idea and tips. Hope marketer improve their experience and working progress. Keep it up!

  39. Hi Shakoat,

    It was really interesting that they would try to get an idea of which places people choose to actually visit, regardless of how long it would take. That seems like a signal worth considering.

  40. It was really interesting that they would try to get an idea of which places people choose to actually visit, regardless of how long it would take. That seems like a signal worth considering.

  41. this is a very useful article about local business and travel time, it explore too many things your article is really informative and knowledgeable

  42. The “near me” searches makes sense now. As Google search tries to give more and more precise results and experience to the searcher, factors like this become really important for local businesses. Thanks for sharing this article, really interesting for future local SEO!

  43. Belo Post was what I was looking for, I’ve been following some posts from this site and I’m really enjoying reading them.

  44. A great overview on a rapidly evolving subject. Optimising for local search is key for 2017 and something we introduce all new clients to – where possible we try to build it into our design process from the outset.

  45. I am trying to list my cleaning business in the local map results. This is something I was not aware of. Thank you for sharing such a useful information. This will be of great help.

  46. Thank you for sharing such useful information. I didn’t knew these kind of factors are affect the local map results. Using this information I think I will be able to enhance my listing.

  47. I am wondering if reviews help with local search engine optimization? I am talking about genuine reviews not the fake ones?

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