SEO, Local SEO, Industry Updates

Google My Business Optimisation For The COVID-19 Situation

The current world-spread situation has impacted our lives forever ..
Everyone has now had to adapt to new ways of living – with empty food and essentials shelved, incremental unemployment rates, pay cuts and more.

And those still working are mostly working from home and facing .. well, no one else other than their household members.
Inevitably, businesses all around have also been impacted the world and many have had to learn to adapt to their new environments.
This unprecedented economic situation has exerted a lot of strain on business owners and most probably also many small business owners. Who are now at the point of deciding whether to keep fighting for the business or – perhaps, completely shut down?
Luckily, the Australian government is ready to lend a significant helping hand on those financially strained. And it is our duty as digital marketers to make sure that such businesses don’t forget their online customers and keep providing the best information possible in staying relevant to their users.
I have listed a few points below for your local SEO – that are worth considering when managing your online presence during this unforeseen pandemic.

Start By Optimising Your Google My Business Listing (Those Search Results Where Customers Find You First)

1. Change Your Opening Hours

If your working hours have been restricted to align with the new government rules, make sure they are up to date so that your customers are aware of the changes.

It is now more important than ever to ensure that customers don’t need to spend unnecessary time outside of their homes yet can still purchase everything they need.

If your business had to shut down seasonally or completely for the time but planning to re-open, Google My Business has an option to mark your business as ‘temporarily closed’. This option will not affect your current rankings either. Read Google’s guidelines on how to implement it here.

It is also worth mentioning that if your business doesn’t serve customers on premises but is still allowed to provide services (for e.g. delivery or take away) – then it shouldn’t be marked as closed altogether.

2. Add An Informative Description

If your business was affected by COVID-19, make sure you update your business description on Google My Business profile.

Add in all the relevant information that a potential customer might need to know.

If you have had to temporarily shut down – let them know that you will be back and fully operational upon legislative permittance and will update said details accordingly.

Alternatively, you can also suggest sending a ‘business back to normal’ update via. email for those interested in getting first-hand information.

If your business is still operating, but in a slightly different manner (for e.g. restaurants and cafés), ensure you add as much information into the business description as possible.

3. Add A Post

Google My Business posts have been quite underrated by business owners but excel at attracting eyes to new information that pops up on listings.

On top of the action mentioned above, posts can also be an additional source of information for the users. We need to make sure that such important information isn’t missed.

Your activity on Google My Business is also an additional sign to Google and your customers that you continue to be active online and hence – are caring for your customers.

Other Considerations For Making Changes To Your Google My Business

 

We need to remember that Google trying to adapt to these unusual, situational changes by way of implementing safety and precaution measures.

Which is why you need to consider that some changes on Google My Business may take longer than normal to be accepted due to their staff working elsewhere (or not working at all.) This means it’s in your best interest to make sure the edits you make are right the first time.

Additionally – Google is adapting its tools to help provide the most relevant information to all of the users – business owners and customers.

Here are some of the recent changes noticed in the industry:

 

  • You might not be able to add your business description. There have been many reports that it’s been a struggle for some businesses around this, so ensure that you provide information through as many sources as possible.
  • Some businesses have been marked ‘temporarily closed’ automatically. If your business is still operating, then check your Google My Business profile. And if this is the case, then simply unmark your business from ‘temporarily closed’. Make sure this change is published right away. If not, contact GMB support.
  • Google reviews have been switched off since the 20th of March and are now gradually returning. This has also impacted new users photos, new short names & Q&A’s:

‘Review replies are now available. New user reviews, new user photos, new short names, and Q&A will gradually return by country and business category.’

If you were planning on asking for reviews on your Google My Business profile, it is best to put it on hold as it’s unclear if reviews that were left during the shut-down period will eventually be published. And of course – you don’t want to ask the same person for a review twice.

  • Responses from businesses also seem to be disabled and aren’t showing-up on listings. Best to leave this task for post-COVID listings as you might end up doing the same work twice.
  • Google has added additional attributes indicating what services are available. Currently, it seems to be aiming towards restaurants and cafés only:
  • Individual local listings, listings list and local pack now all have a warning message added about the hours being different than usual.
  • Google My Business is currently only providing support through email – no phone or chat support is available for the time being.
  • Google is currently holding up on GMB listings’ business information edits – with an exception of edits critical to health-related businesses.

Items To Consider If You Need To Pause Your Online Business

Are you in a situation where you need to pause business activity during these difficult times?

Google has provided a few considerable options on how to do so in a Google/User-friendly way. And if you plan to re-open in the near future, it’s important to plan ahead and ensure you don’t lose your rankings and equity on Google. Or at least – minimise these losses.

Instead of shutting your website downturn off some functionality.

1. Out-Of-Stock – Instead Of Removing Products

If your business is an E-commerce, consider marking your products as out of stock instead removing them from the website. Users will still be able to browse your products, read all the information provided and potentially come back for a purchase when it is available. Additionally, by keeping all the information on the website you also allow Google to crawl the site and rank your products for relevant terms.

2. Disable Shopping Cart

By only disabling your shopping cart/checkout process you allow your website to be accessible with all the relevant information to users and Google.

3. Structured Data Updates

If you are using structured data, don’t forget to update it to reflect any changes made on the site. Additionally, Google is encouraging to use structured data even more during these uncertain times to provide the most accurate information to users. It has also released new structured data options for COVID-19 related updates ‘special announcements’ and ‘event attendance mode’, read more about it here.

4. Additional information On The Site

Add an immediate user update message about your business situation when entering the site, it could be a pop-up message, a site-wide banner. Make sure you open with your customers and are providing relevant information regardless of whether it is a temporary shut down or only a partial functionality and service limitation. When implementing interstitials, don’t forget to implement it within Google guidelines.

5. Business Events

If you have any future events planned, make sure that you mark them as postponed, closer or virtual (if that’s an option).

 

Google highly discourages anyone, planning to get back into business, from disabling their entire website. It is suggested that such drastic options should come as a last resort and be thoroughly planned.

However – If you absolutely need to shut your website down, it is recommended to do so for 1-2 days maximum. Otherwise, it will start negatively impacting your site’s presence in search.

Use 503 status code on an information error page while allowing the crawler to crawl the robots.txt file – follow Google’s advice on best practices for disabling the site.

If you are one of the businesses that continue to work per usual during COVID-19, make sure you take the time to re-think your current online strategy.
Read about the COVID-19 impact on Search Marketing for more information.

More Articles

Would you like to improve your online conversions? Apply for a FREE quote