The world has changed significantly since the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic – not the least of which has been the changes to how we do business. Now that the virus has reached US shores and begun infiltrating some of the most remote areas of the country, the resulting effects on the brick and mortar stores so many rely on have been devastating. Forced closures, reduced hours, skeleton crews and hasty pivots to include delivery and pickup service are an obvious result of the way physical business has changed – but now the first significant changes in the way Google handles Google My Business listings have emerged as well.Claim Your Free Local Listings Audit
Understanding Google My Business
Google My Business (GMB) is an online tool provided by Google for free as a way for businesses to manage their online presence. When a user searches for your brand or for a local business within your sector, a card with your information will appear. You can add, edit, and verify the information included, such as hours of operation, location, contact info, photos, and more.
Since GMB listings appear across multiple Google platforms, such as the Chrome browser, Maps, Places, and more, it’s essential to keep your information up to date. In fact, GMB listings should be a major factor in your SEO efforts, since customers can leave reviews, get directions, and ask questions. Interacting with your customers on GMB can help boost your click throughs, foot traffic, and more.
Changes to GMB
On Monday, March 20, Google released a statement that mentioned its focus on the health and wellness of its team members, therefore limiting or temporarily disabling certain GMB features that require its office staff. The first of these changes came on Wednesday, March 25, and include:
- Suspension of new reviews. Users can no longer publish new public reviews to GMB listings, though their listings are still visible to the user only. It isn’t certain whether these reviews will eventually go public.
- Suspension of review replies. Businesses cannot respond to existing customer reviews or edit existing review replies.
- Removal of Q&A. This feature, which once allowed users to ask pertinent questions about a business and receive answers from other users or business owners, is gone altogether. This means that existing answers are not visible, and users may not post new questions.
- Limiting the adding and claiming of listings. If you haven’t already claimed your GMB listing, Google warns that its review process will prioritize healthcare listings. As a result, you’ll likely see a delay, though Google hasn’t released a timeframe for approval.
- Delays in changes to your GMB listing. If you’re attempting to update your hours of operation or contact information – especially important during this time – you’ll see delays here, too. Currently, Google is prioritizing healthcare entities for these changes as well.
- Spikes in Google Post rejections. Although it hasn’t been confirmed by Google, some are seeing an increase in the company rejecting Google Posts. It remains to be seen whether Google will officially limit Posts.
- Addition of “temporarily closed” option. Within the dashboard, Google has elected to provide a temporarily closed button in addition to its open or closed selections. While this may result in a temporary drop in your rankings as Google prioritizes open listings, accuracy of information is key.
- Loosening of name edit restrictions. Previously, Google did not allow the addition of extraneous information into your GMB business name. However, it appears that this may be the best way to alert customers that you are still providing delivery, takeout, or other services at this time.
What Actions Should You Take?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to keep your GMB listings up to date – and that includes claiming and verifying your listing if you haven’t already. Consider taking these actions during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Consider listing your business as temporarily closed. If you’re unable to remain open right now, clarity is key. Be sure to alter your listing to incorporate the temporary closure rather than the permanent closure option Google offers. This distinction is an important one as it lets users know you’ll eventually reopen as soon as possible.
- Update your hours of operation, address, and contact information. If you’re an essential service and able to remain open, be sure to update your hours of operation to accurately reflect local policy. Similarly, if you’re working from home or must receive communication elsewhere temporarily, provide your new information so your customers can maintain contact if needed.
- Update your services offered. If you’re now offering pickup, delivery, drive through service or something other than your typical day-to-day, consider updating your business name temporarily to reflect your new services. Things like “Delivery available” have been allowed recently, and your customers will know how you plan to serve them through this crisis.
- Utilize Google Posts. Google Posts allow you to share critical business updates, announcements, stories, and more via your GMB dashboard. Posts can be up to 300 words long and may include a photo and clickable CTA. After you create a post, it appears in your GMB listing within the search engine results page for your business as well as within Maps.In this time of uncertainty, Google Posts allow you an effective means for keeping your clientele updated regarding what they can expect next from your business. There, you can list service updates, new procedures, link to longer articles including your company statement on COVID-19, and more. This longer format allows more flexibility than other GMB features and is particularly useful at this time.
Attention to SEO Remains Crucial
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, the landscape of modern business in America is increasingly uncertain. While there isn’t an end date in sight for the current changes Google has made, it’s clear that transparency is more important to your potential clients than ever. Update GMB and other online listings as soon as possible, as any changes you make will likely experience delays.
In the same way, the experts at Vizion Interactive pledge to keep you informed of updates to these policies. These changes are likely not the last we’ll see as the situation develops. As more customers are forced to experience your offerings online-only, SEO remains a crucial concern through these uncertain times.
For more information about optimizing your SEO and digital marketing efforts in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, reach out to us online at your earliest convenience.