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As many of us around the world continue to practice social distancing in order to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer behavior has dramatically shifted and businesses are adjusting their operations to accommodate these changes. Businesses have also had to effectively communicate these changes to potential customers. One of the best ways for multi-location brands to do this is by accurately updating their local listings and pages to reflect special announcements and services. Yet, with new updates occurring on a regular basis, it can be difficult to keep up with the latest best practices.

To take the guesswork out of the local marketing and local SEO updates your brand should be aware of during COVID-19, we began hosting an expert-panel webinar series. In the first part in our series, we covered key updates to Google My Business (GMB) and other search platforms, as well as answered some of the top questions we’ve received from clients. 

As updates are happening frequently, we recently hosted the second part of this webinar series, Navigating the COVID-19 Pandemic: How Multi-Location Brands Can Keep Customers Informed. Krystal Taing, Director of Local Strategy at Rio SEO and Ryan Weber, Director of Client Success at Rio SEO, answered the top questions being asked by enterprise brands around local marketing during COVID-19. Here are their responses. 

Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic Webinar Speakers

Can you discuss what kinds of delays we’re currently seeing for non-healthcare businesses, and what, if anything brands can do to ensure updates are being published in a timely manner?

Google has cut back their resources and staffing to ensure the health and safety of their workforce, which has inevitably led to delays in publishing updates for all non-healthcare businesses. Right now, any changes made to listings other than Google Posts, special hours, attributes, and business descriptions, are experiencing 3-5 day delays, unless you are a healthcare business. 

Additionally, we have seen Google suggesting updates for businesses that are not accurate, such as hours and temporary closure issues. We recommend you, along with your local marketing partner, keep a close eye on your GMB account during this time to ensure your listings remain accurate.

How will the recent pause on Google reviews and Q&A affect enterprise brands? Do you have any recommendations you can offer for brands to adapt?

Google reviews have been fluid since the onset of the pandemic. Just two weeks ago, we were advising brands to pay close attention to reviews and Q&A during COVID-19. Since then, Google has suspended both Q&A and reviews. However, your reputation management strategy does not need to completely halt due to this. 

While Google may be your largest source of local business reviews, it is not the only source and other platforms shouldn’t be neglected. We recommend you shift your focus to first-party reviews you’re receiving and other sites, such as Facebook, Yelp and vertical-specific directories. 

Your brand should also be prepared for when reviews are available on Google once again. Google is currently storing all new reviews your business receives, with plans to publish those at a later date. However, they are not storing review responses. You will want to decide how to respond to these reviews down the road and may consider a templated response for all reviews you receive around COVID-19. There’s no better time than now to factor this into your reputation management strategy so you are fully prepared once the situation normalizes in the future.

What are the recent updates to Yelp’s review guidelines?

Recently, Yelp implemented more stringent content guidelines for their reviews to prevent businesses from reputational harm related to COVID-19 feedback that is out of their control. Negative reviews due to operational changes are also being removed, such as a complaint about a restaurant offering curbside delivery only rather than in-person dining. Reviews you receive related to COVID-19 or your updated operations will not be accepted and will not affect your star rating on Yelp. 

What is the new Google Posts COVID-19 post type, how does it work and how brands can utilize it?

The COVID-19 Google Post type rolled out recently to all businesses that have Posts. It’s a simplified version of a Post, where you only have the ability to add a description and URL. The intention of these types of Posts is to communicate any changes or lack thereof to your business during COVID-19. For example, you may want to use this type of post to share information about curbside pick-up or measures you’re taking to ensure customers are safe when they come to visit your location. COVID-19 posts are very prominent on Maps and in search, similar to how an offer post would display.

We also recommend leveraging other types of Posts now that there is an influx of eyes on your digital door, such as special offers or discounts. Posts are now also available to chains via API for a limited time.

What elements on GMB can you update?

You can update all elements on your GMB, except for Google Q&A, you may just experience a delay in the speed in which these updates get published. Description, special hours, attributes and Google Posts are typically posting quickly and you should not experience delays publishing these changes to your business profiles.

What are temporary closures vs special hours? Which one should businesses be using?

Both temporary closures and special hours will communicate your business is closed, however, they will appear differently in your GMB profile. If you mark your business as temporarily closed, a bold banner will appear in your Knowledge Panel and your hours won’t be displayed at all. For now, temporarily closing your business will not impact your ranking.

If you are utilizing special hours, your hours will still be published, you would just be marking your business as closed. One advantage of leveraging special hours is that these can be updated in bulk or via API, which saves enterprise brands time. We have been recommending multi-location businesses use special hours rather than temporary closures given the manual process it will require to take down the temporarily closed banner across all your locations. 

Is it possible to redirect traffic from a location that is temporarily closed to a location that is open?

We recommend communicating this information in both a Google Post as well as your local landing pages. Through a COVID-19 Post, you can highlight your location is closed but direct customers to another location that is still operating nearby. You can also leverage your local landing pages to showcase which of your locations are open or locations that are temporarily closed. You have more control over your landing pages than your GMB listing to add banners and additional content to better inform your customers of changes to your business operations.

Temporarily closed example

We used special hours to close our locations through April 15. It worked for a few days, and then we saw it changed to temporarily closed. Is there anything we can do about this?

Due to information being sourced from the government and the disparity in lockdown guidelines from one state to another, we’ve seen several discrepancies in data. We recommend brands continue to monitor their listings to ensure they stay accurate during these times of uncertainty. If the problem persists, post to the GMB forum to make Google aware of the issue.

Can you discuss the new GMB attributes and how restaurant brands can implement them?

For restaurants specifically, we have seen Google highlight a few existing attributes, such as takeout, delivery, and most recently, curbside pickup. Now more than ever, it’s important for restaurant brands to utilize these attributes to showcase the unique, contact-free services they’re offering. All new attributes can be managed in bulk via API. 

We are not seeing any other industry-specific attributes yet besides restaurants, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be displayed at some point in the future.

COVID-19 special notices banner

Can a restaurant leverage GMB to promote a Donations Page for employees?

Understandably, restaurants are encountering a decline in business as consumers are told to stay home and forgo dining in. To help restaurant employees stay afloat amid COVID-19, many restaurants have started GoFundMe pages and want to effectively share these pages with their customers. To better showcase this in GMB, we recommend using a COVID-19 type Post to convey this information so it has higher visibility. You may also consider using the standard “What’s New” or “Events” post.

When are these notices being displayed and can businesses control their visibility?

We started seeing COVID-19 notices earlier this week affecting a number of industries, including retail and service. These notices read: “Hours and services may differ due to COVID-19” and are displayed on search results, listings, and Map Pack results. For businesses that set special hours for an extended period of time or if your business is marked as temporarily closed, this notice does not appear. We covered this topic more in-depth in the following blog post.

COVID-19 banner notice

What messaging and marketing recommendations do you have for when we start to see stay-at-home orders lifted?

Start reaching out to customers to find out what really worked during this process. Find out which services your customers love and how can you adapt your operations for the future based on this feedback. As a trusted brand, you want to make your processes as easy as possible for your customers. Now is the time to find out what impact you can make and how you can simplify the buying process for your customers. It’s inevitable that there will be a change in consumer behavior; collect that feedback now to find out what’s working and how you can adapt your business operations to meet consumer needs.

These are just some of the highlights covered during our recent webinar. For more information on the topics covered, watch our on-demand recording. Please feel free to reach out with any additional questions or if there’s anything else our team can do to assist you during this time.

Watch the full webinar now