covid-19 local marketing changes hero image

As more local businesses become impacted by COVID-19, search platforms have been hit with a wave of support requests. The need for businesses to reflect accurate listings information to their customers and special services being offered has become a top priority. However, amid a staff shortage, Google has had some difficulty keeping up with the influx of requests. Just last week, Google announced they will be operating with less support staff in an effort to protect the health of their team members and noted they will be prioritizing critical services, such as support for healthcare-focused organizations. This has caused some delays and limitations that are impacting local businesses.

At Rio SEO, our goal is to empower multi-location brands by providing the latest updates on local marketing, especially during times of crisis. That’s why in this post, and each week that follows, we will explore the latest updates we are seeing related to COVID-19 and how multi-location brands can adapt to these changes to facilitate communication with their customers during this time.

In this week’s update, we’ll cover the following local marketing updates from the past week:

  • GMB temporarily suspends new reviews, review responses, and Q&A
  • Yelp updates review guidelines for COVID-19 mentions
  • New COVID-19 Google Post type
  • New GMB profile attributes for restaurants 
  • New GMB temporary closure functionality
  • Delays in GMB listings updates for non-healthcare businesses

Can businesses still receive and respond to reviews? What about Q&A?

Google has temporarily suspended accepting and posting new reviews due to limitations in staff support. Additionally, new questions and answers will also not be accepted at this time. In a recent help document, Google states, “New reviews, review replies, and all Q&A will be unavailable during this time. Thank you for your patience. We will provide further updates as they become available.”

Is Yelp still allowing reviews and responses?

At this time, Yelp is still allowing for reviews and responses. Yelp has also taken the extra step of protecting local businesses by only allowing trusted content. Yelp recently announced, “We have zero tolerance for any claims in reviews of contracting COVID-19 from a business or its employees, or negative reviews about a business being closed during what would be their regular open hours in normal circumstances.”

Is there a timeline for when reviews and Q&A will be available again?

As of the time of this post, we are not aware of a timeline for when reviews will be available again. Google has not publicly shared any information on their short term or long term plan for reviews. We will continue to actively monitor this until they become available again.

What is the new COVID-19 Google Post update?

Businesses can now utilize COVID-19 Google Posts for any important information they’d like the share regarding their services or important updates. COVID-19 Posts will appear more prominently on your business page, allowing customers to easily understand the current status of your business and your operations during this time.

What is the difference between a COVID-19 Google Post update and a regular Google Post?

COVID-19 Google Posts allow for only a description and a URL to be shared, making it a quick and convenient way for your business to keep customers up to date. Additionally, COVID-19 Post types will be available for 14 days (What’s New Google Posts are only available for 7 days, Events and Offers can be extended). 

Google Post example

Can you explain the recent update for chains related to COVID-19 Posts?

Google recently announced, “Posts related to COVID-19 are now temporarily permitted for chains”. This temporarily lifts the previous 10-location limit. Chain businesses will now be able to more easily communicate COVID-19-related updates across all their locations.

What should restaurants be aware of right now in terms of their listings?

There are two elements on restaurant listings brands should be aware of. The first is the notation of dining options — take out, delivery, dine-in. This information is likely crowd-sourced from your business attributes layered with the information Google has about closures in certain communities. The second element is pick up and delivery CTAs, which are now showing up prominently. If you are a restaurant business, be sure to have the Google Food integration enabled to allow for this functionality.

delivery takeout options

Should we mark our business as temporarily closed?

This week, Google has introduced a new option in GMB to mark a location temporarily closed; however; we would not recommend for enterprise brands to mark their locations as temporarily closed unless it has been determined a location will be closed longer than 2-4 weeks. The reason we advise against this is closing and reopening a business is a manual, time-intensive process. Instead, we recommend for multi-location businesses to leverage special hours. By utilizing special hours, you can then submit your new or updated hours via bulk API, making it less cumbersome for your business to put up and take down. 

temporarily closed example

Can we update our business name in GMB to add special services?

We’ve noticed Google has slightly relaxed their guidelines during COVID-19. They are temporarily allowing for small edits to your business name when it makes sense and where it’s applicable. For example, we’ve seen a few businesses add their unique services after their business names such as virtual visits, appointments only, drive-thru, or curbside pickup available. It’s important to note this will only be allowed temporarily and businesses will need to revert back to their standard names after COVID-19 resolves.

Why are we experiencing publishing delays?

As aforementioned, Google is operating with reduced support staff, which has led to delays in posting new listings, special hours, open/close status, descriptions, and attributes. Google has stated they are prioritizing edits for healthcare organizations, which means non-healthcare organizations will likely experience delays in the meantime. For now, one way to quickly communicate your special services, such as a takeout option if you’re a restaurant, is to add that to your business name. 

Our team is here to help answer your questions and provide support throughout the crisis. As mentioned, we will continue to publish regular updates on a weekly basis, in addition to blog content, webinars and other COVID-19 resources that we will continue to share.