2020 has proven to be a volatile year for businesses of every size. From the dramatic highs associated with a booming economy, to the economic and social disasters caused by the so-called novel coronavirus, businesses have been affected in many unpredictable ways. One of the unexpected effects of the virus known as COVID-19 was Google’s announcement that it was making temporary changes to Google My Business (GMB). Here is a look at the changes, how they may affect local business search visibility, and how businesses can overcome any potential challenges the loss of GMB feature might pose.
Google My Business: The Key to Local Search Visibility
Digital marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) professionals the world over have embraced Google My Business (GMB), a free service first rolled out by search giant Google in 2014. Businesses can claim listings on GMB and populate those listings with pertinent information about the business, including the critical N-A-P: Name, Address, and Phone Number. Once business profiles have been claimed and filled out, business owners gain improved visibility, especially in the ever-important local search arena, where customers from the vicinity can find information about a given business and even a map to its nearest location. GMB has been proven to drive local business growth, and it has become a valuable tool in digital marketing.
Google’s COVID-19 GMB Announcement
In a post published on March 20, 2020, Google’s support page for Google My Business, the company announced that it was making significant temporary changes to the GMB features, including limiting or disabling certain features. The company stated:
“During the unprecedented COVID-19 situation, we are taking steps to protect the health of our team members and reduce the need for people to come into our offices. As a result, there may be some temporary limitations and delays in support as we prioritize critical services. “
Google has shuffled its personnel and services to focus on disseminating COVID-19 information from authoritative sources like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
What are the Temporary Google My Business Changes?
There has been a wide array of changes, delays, and disablements reported in GMB, not only by Google but by users. Some of the changes and disablements include:
- Prioritizing GMB information edits for healthcare-related businesses and organizations. Certain information edits for verified businesses are also prioritized, including operating hours, any temporary business closures, and special hours or services to help others cope with the disease outbreak. Otherwise, users can expect delays to edits of business information.
- Delays in verifying new business listings, with the exception of critical health-related businesses. This latter group is being prioritized through manual review by Google’s support team.
- All new reviews, replies to existing reviews, and all Q&A – both new and pre-existing — have been temporarily disabled altogether. Users may submit and view their own reviews currently, but they will not be publicly available until GMB restarts this feature.
Users have reported several other changes or feature disablements not directly mentioned by Google’s GMB support team. Google Posts is one; users are currently available, but SEO professionals have been reporting a greater-than-usual number of post rejections. User-generated content, such as adding images to listings or reviews, has also been temporarily suspended.
March 25 Update: COVID-19 update Button Now Available
Overcoming Potential GMB Challenges – Allocating Resources to Other Channels
While Google My Business is an important part of the digital marketing landscape, business owners still have several options to employ in the face of temporarily-disabled features on the GMB platform. It should be remembered that the GMB changes are only temporary, and expect to be resolved as the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
What can business owners do to maintain great search visibility? The first option is to take advantage of social media. Businesses can share details about the business and its features on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and even YouTube or Instagram. Now would be a great time to bolster social media profiles, helping users discover and connect with your business. Sharing details on social media like revised operating hours or any special information like closures can temporarily take the place of GMB listings, particularly if the business is not considered a critical healthcare operation.
Secondly, business owners can take this opportunity to beef up SEO across websites. SEO professionals can help with getting new content added to existing sites, and to improve search visibility using a variety of other proven methods. GMB’s temporary changes have impacted business visibility and the ability to share information with others online, but with SEO and clever uses of social media, business owners can overcome any potential challenges they may face.
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