Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, enterprise brand marketers have had their priorities shift dramatically and often. Budgets have had to be reimagined, entire campaigns reworked, and even entire business strategies rethought. Yet, throughout all of the uncertainty and turmoil, the prime concern for brands has been the need for timely, reassuring customer communications.  

When a crisis strikes and you need to pivot quickly, customers turn to your local listings for the information they need to continue doing business with you.

In this post, we share insights gained and lessons learned from managing local listings in a time of crisis for over 200,000 U.S. stores, offices, branches, and service areas. You’ll also find 6 tips to help you better manage your own local listings in times of crisis.

In EY’s most recent Global Risk Survey, 79% of board members stated that their organizations were not prepared for a crisis event. COVID-19 has proven exceptionally challenging for enterprises in that this particular crisis has been going on for months now—and there is no clear end in sight. Natural disasters wreak massive destruction but enable businesses and the public to enter into a period of recovery together, and quickly. Not so with this pandemic and the ensuing lockdown. 

Complicating local business recovery further is that regions are affected to varying degrees and in different ways; there is no one set of rules or standardized messaging for consumers to rely on. COVID-19 has kept consumers in a state of high alert for an unusually long time. In fact, that heightened anxiety around business transactions that were once routine is becoming the “new normal”.

Local listings are your top opportunity to connect with customers in crisis.

Right now, customers are actively searching for information about sanitization practices, updated hours, or temporary store/office closures, product and service availability, and more to help them make local purchasing decisions. As we saw in our recent COVID-related local keyword research, they’re also looking for businesses with specific social distancing measures in place, such as drive-thru banking, curbside pickup, contactless delivery, etc.  

And overwhelmingly, they’re looking for these solutions on Google. In fact, 88% of all US searches happen there.

Google isn’t just a discovery tool or a path to your website, though. Today, 78% of marketers recognize the search results page as a one-stop-shop for local searchers, who more often than not find exactly what they need without ever clicking through to visit a website. 

Customers are turning to Google as they seek answers for:

  • Where can I find this product or service nearby? 
  • How do I get there?
  • Is the business open right now?
  • What measures is this business taking to keep me safe?
  • Will I need to behave a certain way or take specific steps to follow this location’s social distancing guidelines? Should I wear a mask? Do I need to sanitize my hands upon entering the location?
  • What experiences are other people having at this location?
  • Can I call and talk to someone about the specific questions I have?
  • Does this location offer online ordering, curbside pickup, or contactless delivery?
  • Are there special store hours or services for people like me?

You have plenty of opportunities to answer these questions for your customers in your GMB listings. We recently put together an infographic called ‘Best Practices for Optimizing Your GMB Listing’ that walks you through all the features available to you. 

Optimize all areas of your GMB listings to improve search visibility.

Depending on the category of your business, there may be additional tools you can use, as well, such as menus for restaurants or services, or booking systems integration for hotels.

Tips for Managing Local Listings In a Time Of Crisis

It’s important that you maintain a baseline of clean, accurate, optimized local listings so that as you’re trying to distribute important information to the public in a time of crisis, you aren’t having to combat listing inaccuracies on top of everything else. What else can you do to more effectively connect with customers via your local listings in their times of need?

1. Stay on top of Google My Business updates.

Google rolled out many helpful features for businesses during the Coronavirus pandemic. For example, businesses with the primary category “restaurant” were given the ability to change the dine-in designation. In the GMB Community Forum, we saw a number of businesses struggling to understand when and how to update their attributes as Google made changes like this. 

You need to stay on top of these updates to spot new opportunities as they arise. Bookmark our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Local Marketing Resources page and check back for new GMB features and updates as they arise.

2. Make good use of special hours and attributes.

This information displays prominently not only on your listing but in Map Pack results, as well. 

Managing listings during a time of crisis Walgreens example

3. Use Google Posts to highlight service updates.

Google Posts are a great way to add visual interest and important updates to your listing. There are different types of Posts available to you whether you want to post an event, share what’s new, promote special offers, communicate updates related to COVID-19, or showcase specific products. 

From each Post, you can link to more information on your local page. Download our free ebook, Google Posts 101: Creating Engaging, Eye-Catching Local Business Posts, to learn how to master this innovative search content format.

4. Use your search insights including queries in GMB to inform service updates and content creation.

Consumer needs and preferences have changed fast and furiously throughout the different phases of lockdown and reopening. Search insights are the voice of your customer—comprehensive local reporting and website analytics tell you what your customers need from you right now

5. Evolve your local reviews strategy.

It’s important that you have a review monitoring and response process in place, including identifying which reviews will be escalated (especially around safety issues). If you’re making adjustments and trying out new services, you are going to have issues come up that aren’t in your reporting. You need to control and be a part of the conversation—and that is never more true than in a time of crisis.

During the Coronavirus pandemic, we saw a short suspension of new Google reviews publication. If this happens in the future, be prepared to consider changing review generation campaigns to push reviewers to internal surveys or your first-party review URL rather than to Google. 

Keep in mind that even those reviews left while publication is suspended will eventually publish. All reviews should be a part of your monitoring and response efforts.

6. Update Local Pages in keeping with your local listings information. 

On Local Pages, you have the opportunity to get more in-depth about your safety and social distancing policies, reopening plans, etc. This is a chance to highlight service and product features such as drive-up or curbside service. From local listings, your Local Pages are often the next step in a customer’s journey from search to sale.

In times of crisis, brands need to be nimble and leverage every tool at their disposal.  Because the most important information is keeping customers updated on how to do business with you.

Want to learn more about managing local listings in a time of a crisis or your local marketing efforts overall?