Managing GMB Listings During COVID-19
The novel coronavirus pandemic has landed hard on everyone, but none harder than business owners. Small and medium-sized companies have struggled to cope with mandatory shutdowns, layoffs, reduced revenue, and an imperfect rollout of relief loan programs.
The last thing business owners want to have to worry about as they struggle to stay afloat is their Google My Business (GMB) listing. Though it's a critical online asset, it's the kind of asset most entrepreneurs wish they could set-and-forget. GMB, after all, is how patrons find your address, phone number, and hours of operation. In a perfect world, none of this would change. It's all many business owners can do to keep their Facebook and Instagram content fresh, let alone having to tinker with GMB.
Nevertheless, with the changes ushered in by COVID-19, updating your GMB to reflect those changes is essential. It could be a key piece of the puzzle to keep a business afloat. Especially while sheltering in place and social-distancing, customers rely on web searches more than ever to make their buying decisions. For many businesses, GMB is the first touchpoint in that buyer's journey. If the GMB listing carries even a whiff of pre-COVID staleness, potential customers are likely to move on, costing the offending business revenue it can ill afford to lose.
Working with Google through this difficult time has been a mixed bag. On one hand, Google has reduced staff like everybody else, operating with a skeleton crew and disabling all but essential features to manage the workload.
On the other hand, Google has responded proactively to the needs of struggling business owners with extra features and modified algorithms, an attempt to be part of the solution rather than the problem for companies trying to roll with the COVID-19 punches.
To stay ahead of the COVID curve, log into your GMB and use this guide as a checklist for Google My Business management during the coronavirus pandemic. Note - GMB policies are evolving by the week during the pandemic, so check for updates before assuming a service is altered or cancelled.
Understand GMB Listings
Creating a Google My Business listing is like hanging out your shingle, but on the web where everyone can see it. A GMB listing ties your business to an address, a phone number, an identity within the world's largest search engine. Businesses can add photos, answer consumer questions, list their hours, and post updates. Customers can ask questions and leave reviews, which the business can respond to.
GMB listings allow businesses to appear on Google Maps. Map results are often the top search results returned when a potential customer searches for a business, especially one that's local or nearby.
What Your Business Needs to Communicate During the Pandemic
Changes in operations that businesses may need to communicate to the public in the wake of the pandemic might include:
- Movement of services online, to eCommerce, online-order, or teleconference platforms.
- Temporary closures of stores, dining rooms, showrooms, etc.
- Availability of take-out, delivery, or curb-side pickup.
- Coupons that encourage social distancing, for services like free delivery or virtual visits.
- Safety measures implemented like plexiglass shields, gloves and masks, or work-from-home arrangements.
- Explanations of temporary stock reductions, extended delivery windows, or other changes in service.
How Your Business Should Adapt to COVID-19 Changes
Each business must choose how to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions, but the following adaptations are sure to represent lifelines with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.
- Communicate in Real Time, not just on GMB but across all available channels, including email, your website, public signage, and social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Yelp.
- Pivot services if possible to eCommerce, delivery or takeout, telehealth and teleconferencing, virtual visits--any way to serve customers while complying with health orders.
- Be creative to stay relevant and at the forefront of customers' minds through channels like social media livestreams, value-giving email content, special offers, etc.
- Support your community through charity, outreach, and crisis support, to maintain a connection with your customer base and align with the values of the community you serve.
How to Use GMB to Communicate with Your Customers'
Google has added the option to tag your GMB title with COVID-pertinent services like "Takeout Available"or "Curbside Pickup." If you add these tags in the title section, potential customers will see these services advertised right away, a crucial step to get the word out about your remaining revenue streams.
In late March, Google added the designation "Temporarily Closed" as an option for your business status, even applying it automatically to some businesses closed as a result of public orders. You can mark your business as "Temporarily Closed"with the click of a button, a separate option from "Mark as Permanently Closed." If your business was affected by shutdown orders, the "Temporarily Closed" designation might have been automatically applied to your GMB listing.
Since closed businesses rank poorly in Google's ranking algorithm, you might be concerned that this status hurts your rankings and visibility. As of March 26, Google modified its algorithm such that "Temporarily Closed"does not hinder your ranking or visibility.
The "Special Hours" option, found below "Regular Hours" on the info tab, can be used to temporarily override your regular hours without destroying the "Regular Hours" setting.
Businesses that Google automatically marked as closed may have had their Regular Hours replaced by "Closed" status. You definitely want to change these if you are still operating.
Google has also tagged some GMB listings with alerts or warnings to update their hours.
Enterprises with 10 or more locations can update office hours by bulk spreadsheet upload.
Businesses that have relocated operations due to social-distancing strictures may want to update their phone number.
However, the ranking of your GMB listing is helped by web citations (references to your contact info elsewhere on the web, discoverable by Google search engine bots). If your number no longer matches your citations, you will lose this SEO advantage. It should come back once the number switches back, but you donâ€™t want to lose hard-earned SEO juice during a cash flow crunch.
A better solution may be to explore call-rerouting options, possibly even porting the number over to a VOIP, so the same number rings your cell phone at home.
If you have to change your primary number, keep your regular number on the listing as a secondary number.
Best practices right now to show that your business is pandemic-current is to state your COVID-related policies, closures, and operational changes in your business description. A short sentence or paragraph should appear in the first 250 characters, preferably right at the top. The first 250 characters get displayed in the front-page of your GMB listing. Customers have to click deeper to read the rest; don't make them work that hard. Put your Covid information at the start.
You might not have initially realized this, but your business might be better served by a different primary category while restrictions are in place. If your usual category is "pizza restaurant," "pizza takeaway" might serve you better until dining rooms reopen.
Questions And Answers
Google temporarily removed the "Questions and Answers" section from all GMB. It is expected to come back in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out.
You may be tempted to use the Q&A section to update the public about COVID changes, but note - before it was taken down, Google was filtering Q&A that contained keywords relating to the pandemic - "COVID," "coronavirus," etc. The owners and managers of the GMB account could see the questions and answers containing the filtered keywords, but the general public could not.
Whether this filtration will continue when the feature returns is unknown, but it would be safer to plan to disseminate critical information via the "Description," "Posts,"or other functions. Alternatively, consider phrasing your Q&A to communicate changes without referencing the pandemic directly.
On March 30, Google tagged all active events with the legend â€œEvent information may be out of date due to the coronavirus (COVID-19). Confirm details with event organizers.â€ Nevertheless, while you are making changes in GMB, don't forget to update any posted events to reflect any cancellations or rescheduling.
What About GMB Reviews?
Google temporarily disabled business owners' ability to respond to reviews, but restored it on April 7, 2020. GMB account owners can once again respond to user reviews. However, like many moderated functions, review responses may take longer than usual to post for the public.
Google My Businesses Posts: A Primer
Contrary to Q&A, Google has been making it easier to use posts to apprise customers of coronavirus-related conditions. Posts are like Facebook wall or status updates, but for your GMB profile instead of your Facebook profile.
Google introduced a special category of posts for COVID-19 updates. Posts with this tag are automatically sticky, remaining at the top of your GMB â€œpostsâ€ section even if you make subsequent posts. This makes Posts a particularly useful feature in delivering coronavirus-related updates to searchers, including service changes and countermeasures - your COVID-related posts will be the first ones that potential customers see.
Google used to prevent enterprises from making posts to more than ten locations at a time, but this restriction has been temporarily lifted for the duration of the crisis. Enterprises can now make global posts for all locations.
Examples of useful posts to apply the COVID-19 tag to might include:
- Announcement of safety measures.
- Stock or inventory notices.
- Updated contact info, hours, etc.
Other Concerns You May Have
While they might not apply to refreshing an existing GMB listing, the following COVID-19 concerns are worth keeping an eye on:
Newly-created GMB listings may experience longer processing times due to reduced manpower at Google. Critical health-related businesses receive priority service.
Google has also resumed processing rejected or temporarily-disabled posts. Look for action to be taken every few days.
Suggest An Edit
The "Suggest An Edit" function, available to consumers and anyone who does a Google search, has been temporarily disabled to alleviate the workload of the skeleton crew maintaining GMB operations.
Google is a lynchpin of world commerce. Some businesses feel adversarial toward Google, a company that has conquered vast territory in the real estate of attention and set itself up as a "neutral" gatekeeper.
To other businesses, Google is a boon - an avenue for the "little guys" to compete even if they have little know-how of the system.
Love it or hate it, with world commerce slowing to a trickle in the face of an invisible enemy, you want Google on your side. Understanding how best to manage your GMB can help you safeguard the health of your business while societies batten down the hatches to safeguard the health of populations vulnerable to the most deadly effects of COVID-19.
Do you need help understanding and managing your GMB listing? Digital Authority Partners has a plan and strategy in place to take your business to a whole new and exciting level.