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5 Best Practices For Maintaining Local Listings in an Unpredictable World

The first half of 2020 has presented numerous hurdles for businesses across all verticals globally. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses grappled with shifting their local marketing efforts entirely to accurately communicate updates to their operations–being forced to temporarily close locations when stay-at-home orders were mandated. As time progressed and the curve began to flatten, some business locations were allowed to open their doors and invite customers back inside. Now, as hospitalizations and case numbers surge higher than before, state governors are once again enforcing stay-at-home orders, causing businesses to close their doors for a second time.

In a world currently plagued by uncertainty, one thing is for certain: business will continue to not operate as usual for the foreseeable future. You may need to temporarily close and reopen some or all of your locations with minimal notice. Communicating changes to your business operations and safety protocols is critical. With nearly half of all Google searches seeking local information, your local listings must be the single source of truth for your brand to maintain the trust of your customers and support them with your products and services during their time of need. 

When customers need your product or service, they turn to local search.

The need for brands to be able to quickly pivot their local marketing efforts and communicate changes to their operations has become evident in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Brands must focus on their local presence to nurture your customer relationships. To help you better prepare and prioritize your local marketing efforts when the unexpected strikes, we’ve rounded up our top best practices for maintaining your local presence during times of ambivalence.

How to Keep Local Data Accurate

Customers turn to local listings during times of uncertainty to find more information about your business such as updates to your hours of operations, new safety precautions put in place, to read reviews from customers, and how they can get in contact with you. If any of this information isn’t accurate across any of your locations, you risk tarnishing your reputation and losing trust. As your store hours and safety procedures are undoubtedly in a constant state of flux amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s critical to make regular updates to your local listings as changes occur for each of your locations. 

In Google My Business, ensure you are updating your:

  • Location Status: You have the ability to mark your business as ‘Open’, ‘Temporarily Closed’ or ‘Permanently Closed’. As communities navigate changing orders about which businesses can and cannot operate and how, you may need to leverage these options while you adapt your business model.
  • Hours of operation: You may now be operating on a new schedule or offering special hours for at-risk patrons.
  • Secondary hours: This feature allows businesses that offer multiple services at different times to indicate it on their local listings (such as a bank that has different hours for its in-person services and drive-thru ATM).
  • Phone number: This is especially important to update if one of your locations is temporarily closed. Ensure your phone number routes to a contact that can be reached, even when your locations are closed.
  • Business description: You can leverage your business description to let customers know if you are offering any new services such as take out or curbside pickup only.
  • Profile links: Make it easy for your customers to book appointments for any services you offer such as online appointments, online services, view your menu or lists of services, or place an order.
  • Attributes: Mark all available and unavailable attributes for your stores to showcase the services you currently have. 

Local Listing Example

How to Add SpecialAnnnouncement Schema Markup

As the need to highlight critical changes to business operations surfaced in mid-March, both Google and Bing announced SpecialAnnouncement structured data, allowing businesses to properly mark up COVID-19-related content in the form of rich results. Content examples which would be eligible for SpecialAnnouncement rich results include:

  • Announcements of a shelter-in-place directive
  • Closure notices (for example, closing a school or public transportation)
  • Announcement of government benefits (for example, unemployment support, paid leave, or one-time payments)
  • Quarantine guidelines
  • Travel restrictions
  • Notifications of a new drive-through testing center
  • Announcements of an event transitioning from offline to online, or a cancellation
  • Announcements of revised hours, special hours, and shopping restrictions
  • Disease spread statistics and maps
  • Sanitation guidelines

For local businesses, Google has stated they can leverage SpecialAnnouncement markup for changes to store hours. Even if the rich result does not show up in search, this type of markup remains crucial as it facilitates the understanding of such content for search queries. Whether you need to communicate up-to-date public health guidance or encounter another unforeseen event in the future that prompts store closures, we recommend you utilize SpecialAnnouncement schema markup regardless to ensure searchers are finding the information they’re seeking most. 

How to Optimize Your Local Pages

There is no shortage of coronavirus-related content on the internet as of late, and the world is searching for and expecting accurate information. If your critical resources are not surfacing across online search engine results or in your local pages, you risk losing your customer’s confidence with your brand. Your local pages present an opportunity to communicate long-form content and videos to your customers, no matter the crisis or incident. We recommend not only updating your listings, but your local pages as well to convey changes to your:

  • Hours of operation (such as which of your stores are temporarily closed, offering only curbside pickup, or if in-store shopping is available)
  • Special hours
  • Social distancing measures in place (such as curbside pickup, drive-thru, virtual appointments, and no-contact delivery)
  • Sanitary procedures (such as how often you’re cleaning your stores, protective barriers, temporary ban of recyclable bags, cashless transactions, and more)
  • Health protocols you’re adhering (such as mandatory temperature checks and use of masks in your establishment)

best practices for maintaining local listings - Local Pages Videos

Local Pages also offer prime real estate for promotional banners to prompt the use of new services. For restaurants, you may want to showcase a promotional offer for takeout family meals to encourage both sales and safety for potential customers. For retail brands, you may want to display a promotional banner for free shipping for online orders or buy two get one free with curbside pickup.

Local Pages Unique Services

Additionally, we recommend updating both your title and meta tags to include target keywords for each of your locations. Currently, we are seeing many of our own clients adding keywords such as “Curbside Pickup” and other relevant social distancing terms to further highlight the special services they are offering.

Why You Must Be Prepared to Make Regular Updates

Any one of your locations can face adversity at any moment, whether battling COVID-19 forced closures or simply facing an unforeseen power outage. No matter the disruption that causes a store closure or multiple closures, your brand must be equipped with both the tools and knowledge to quickly adjust your local marketing efforts at a moment’s notice.

In recent times, in light of both an unexpected pandemic and riots, we’ve seen a number of our clients facing the inevitable need to change their store hours quickly to better inform their customers. To do this, your brand must maintain the integrity of your data across all your locations and be prepared to communicate these changes swiftly to either your internal teams or local marketing partner. 

Proactively publish updates to your operations as they happen, even if this entails daily or multiple updates. For enterprise brands, managing your local marketing efforts at scale can prove to be an arduous endeavor. To implement changes at scale, especially during times of crisis, it may be worthwhile to turn to a local marketing partner to provide both the guidance and support to ensure timely updates are made and your information stays accurate.

Why You Should Prioritize Your Reputation Management

Consumers are 21% more likely to leave a negative review after having a negative experience with your brand than a positive one. The unfortunate truth is consumers who have a pleasant encounter with your brand are much less likely to share this information with strangers and friends. What’s more, even one negative review is enough for 35% of visitors to decide not to buy. While earning perfect reviews for your business isn’t critical, how you approach your reputation management strategy is, especially when your business is not operating as usual.

In an age of digital, your local listings are where your customers will turn to hear what others are saying about your business. To ensure you’re not missing an opportunity to convince and convert a potential customer, we recommend focusing on the following:

  • Responding to every review your locations receive across all review platforms, whether it’s a positive or a negative review.
  • Having templated responses available for your support staff and breaking these templates down by categories. Templated responses provide the framework to leave thoughtful responses to customers’ concerns and praises, and they set the standard for your brand’s public-facing communications.
  • Collecting your reviews at each of your locations to mine for common themes. Your reviews serve as a rich source of information about how you can improve your current practices and what you’re doing well. Monitor what customers are saying to stay in the know.
  • Utilizing a reputation management solution for improved visibility into what consumers are saying about you. This too will offer you unparalleled access into every review you receive and allow you to easily respond to these reviews all within one centralized dashboard.
  • Putting actionable steps in place based on customer feedback. For example, if customers are complaining your employees are not following proper precautions to ensure safety during COVID-19, such as failing to wear gloves while bagging their groceries, you can then focus on improving your safety measures and effectively reduce the volume of negative reviews surrounding this concern. This applies to other issues that may arise from future unexpected events.

best practices for Maintaining Local Listings, answer negative reviews

Do you have the tools and team in place to effectively reopen or close your locations with minimal notice? We are here to help. Rio SEO has both the expertise and solutions to help drive your local marketing efforts during the highs and lows. Reach out to our support team if you need guidance or a partner to turn to. Additionally, we are consistently adding COVID-19 resources to help you stay informed on local marketing best practices and pertinent updates.