Navigating the COVID-19 Pandemic (Part 4)It’s undeniable the world has rapidly shifted since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Businesses were forced to shut down, consumers have taken extra precautions while shopping in stores, and methods of service have been altered. Throughout it all, local marketing has evolved to accommodate these changes, helping you be seen by customers when they need your business’ products and services most. However, these updates occur rapidly and it can be difficult to keep up with best practices. In our recent webinar, Navigating the COVID-19 Pandemic (part 4), we tackled the most recent updates.

Over the past several months, we’ve hosted an ongoing webinar series, Navigating the COVID-19 Pandemic, featuring Rio SEO’s Krystal Taing, Director of Local Strategy, and Ryan Weber, Director of Client Success. These in-depth discussions feature our local search experts on local search trends impacting businesses during COVID-19, as well as key takeaways based on our experience supporting many enterprise brands throughout this time.

COVID-19 Webinar Speakers

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In the fourth part of our webinar series, we dived into the following topics:

  • Recommendations for brands as they navigate plans for re-opening
  • GMB virtual care links and display of COVID-19 testing sites
  • Updates to GMB attributes, COVID-19 Posts, Reviews, and Q&A
  • Google Shopping free product listings
  • GMB API v4.6 release
  • The latest Bing updates

What should brands keep in mind as they begin to reopen locations? What are the most critical updates from a local listings and local pages perspective?

As some of your locations begin to reopen, our local search experts recommend you see where all your locations are at. Get a full export of all locations to get a holistic view on where all your locations stand, identifying those that are currently utilizing temporary closures or using special hours. With those locations that are temporarily closed that now have an expected reopening date, you can leverage the reopening date field in GMB. While the location will remain temporarily closed, it will show the date you plan to reopen to better inform potential customers. You should also keep your attributes up-to-date across all your locations, using both the existing attributes and new attributes Google has recently added to more accurately reflect special services businesses are utilizing during this transitional time.

It is also recommended that brands use their local pages to communicate critical information about reopening, such as your revised hours of operation, if you’re allowing in-store shopping, and if you are limiting the number of customers in your store. Google Posts is also a great tool to convey those types of updates, and may even help cut down call volume and answer questions you receive from customers in advance.

Additionally, do not stray from any programs or operations you had while things were temporarily closed if they were successful such as takeout meal kits and curbside pickup. Even as your business reopens, customers will continue to remain cautious and use these no-contact services.

in-store shopping example

Should brands change their Business Names in their listings to better reflect special services they’re offering?

We recommend updating your business name to provide updates to customers only where there is no other option to convey it clearly on GMB. Google has made a plethora of changes in terms of attributes to better communicate special services your business is offering and also recently introduced COVID-19 Post-types. Name edits are likely no longer required now that Google has added new ways to showcase how your business is currently operating.

Can you describe the updated display in GMB for COVID-19 testing sites, as well as talk a little bit about the new profile links and how they’re being displayed?

Unfortunately, COVID-19 testing sites can’t control this information in GMB, and instead, you must contact your local marketing partner or your contact at Google to gain control. What brands can do to better communicate their testing options is to specify if:

  • An appointment or referral is required
  • You’re testing all patients or limited/select patients
  • There is drive-thru testing available

Healthcare brands can also add instructions for testing, such as if customers need to register online or if a televisit screening is required in advance. 

As of right now, healthcare brands can publish a general COVID-19 info link, or Google may populate this for you, pointing customers to the URL they think provides COVID-19-related information if you do not publish a link. To better track who and how many people are visiting your COVID-19 link, we recommend adding a UTM parameter to track conversion. Track whenever possible to allow internal and external stakeholders to see how powerful local search is, especially during this time.

COVID-19 Testing Site

Can you break down the new attributes (“in-store shopping” and “COVID-19 responder special policy”), where they are displaying, and how businesses in these verticals can leverage them?

As your stores begin to open their doors again, some of your locations may now offer in-store shopping whereas others must continue to utilize curbside pickup to comply with local regulations. Google has now rolled out an “in-store shopping” attribute, which is visible on both desktop and mobile, to better help you convey which of your locations is allowing for customers to enter your doors. 

For restaurant brands, “no-contact delivery” also recently became available. For those in the hospitality industry, a brand new, COVID-19 policy for special responders link can be used for those who may have been converted to housing for frontline workers. 

As Google continues to release new attributes regularly, we recommend you look at your attributes every couple of days to see what is new and what you can add to better communicate your services. Attributes can be imported in bulk via API. 

Can you discuss how long COVID-19 posts are staying live and why these are still a critical way for brands to share this information on GMB?

The COVID-19 Google Post type has been a moving target, continuously shifting in length of duration. Originally, these Post types lasted 7 days, then we began seeing them stay visible for 14 days. They have since been allowed to post for 28 days, and we have seen some of our own clients have a Post stay up for 40 days. As COVID-19 continues to impact businesses worldwide, Google may revise their guidelines to allow these Post types to stay up even longer.

COVID-19 Google Post Example

What is the current state of reviews on Google, and can you discuss what brands should take into consideration for reputation management as we head into this next phase of re-opening?

We have begun seeing both backdated and new Google reviews roll out again for most retailers and foodservice providers, and we expect this will expand to other verticals in the near future. We do expect reviews for service providers may take longer to roll out, along with banking and healthcare as these reviews take more time for Google to modify. Google is being very specific with how this process is rolled out to all listings and is meticulously combing through reviews to ensure they meet their standards and expectations.

If your business does receive negative reviews related to COVID-19, have a response plan ready. Equip your customer success team with approved templated responses to use as a starting point and to help ensure your customers are heard and their frustrations are acknowledged during this difficult time.

Can you discuss how this will benefit brands that are currently using Google product listings, as well as for those that aren’t?

Product listings are helpful for small business owners that may have had to shut down their operations or are shifting to online ordering, and are now free to use at this time as Google continues to find ways to assist businesses during these challenging times. However, when it comes to adding GMB products, this should not be at the top of your business’ list of priorities, given the effectiveness of this has yet to be proven, as evidenced in a recent study conducted by Sterling Sky.

What does the release of v4.6 of the Google My Business API update entail and how this differs from the attributes we’ve discussed and any important implications of this update? How should brands utilize these service lists?

Google is now offering API support for service lists, which have already lived in the Google My Business dashboard. Unlike GMB attributes, which are tied to the primary category of a business only, service lists can be attached both to primary and secondary categories which is why it is essential to ensure both are accurate reflections of your business. Based on your primary category you’ve selected for your business, you could have a service menu that allows you to publish a list of service offerings, your pricing, and descriptions. Google assesses your primary and additional categories and uses this information to assume what services your business offers. We recommend your business adds any other services that Google isn’t aware of that you offer, which can be submitted via API, so Google better understands what your business offers your customers.

Will COVID-19 links be available for other business types?

At this time, COVID-19 links are only available for the healthcare vertical. Google’s intention is to have non-healthcare brands utilize COVID-19 Posts as a form of communicating COVID-19-related information regarding your business, and are available for all industries to utilize. Brands will benefit from using a COVID-19 Post rather than a COVID-19 link because these Post types allow for both a link and a description to add more context. COVID-19 Post types also appear prominently in the Knowledge Panel and can be submitted via the API in bulk. 

Why are we still experiencing publishing delays? 

Verticals which require longer review times, such as legal and service industries, may continue to see delays in publishing due to Google’s limited bandwidth. As reopening starts to progress, delays should continue to subside. 

Can you give us more insight into the new features Bing is offering to showcase specialty hours and COVID-19 links?

Bing is giving brands the opportunity to publish special hours as well as mark a location as temporarily closed, similar to Google. Bing also has an announcements feature, which is an open text field where you can share info about COVID-19 and add a URL to link to your COVID information. Just as with Google, we recommend checking your Bing listings frequently to ensure accurate information is being published about your brand.

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