COVID-19 Pandemic webinar recap

As the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic continues to escalate at a global level, businesses around the world have inevitably become affected and now face the challenge of keeping their customers, community, and the general public informed. Providing the most accurate and up-to-date information, including temporary closures, special hours of operation and unique service offerings, are just a few of the many challenges businesses are facing given the unprecedented situation.

Multi-location brands have had to adapt and determine the best ways to communicate timely information around the coronavirus across hundreds or thousands of locations, with each most likely encountering their own unique challenges. To help your brand pivot its local marketing strategy and ensure you’re actively communicating pertinent information to your customers, we recently hosted a Q&A-style webinar with an expert panel to share insight into the most common questions we have received from our customers and community.

Krystal Taing, Director of Local Strategy at Rio SEO, Ryan Weber, Director of Client Success at Rio SEO, and Tyler Ludwig, Director of Enterprise Solutions at Rio SEO discussed updates you should make to bring your business’ critical local information to the surface when and where it’s needed most. Below, you’ll find a high-level overview of the topics discussed and questions asked during the webinar.

webinar panel

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How can I leverage my Google My Business (GMB), Yelp and Bing listings to share timely information and updates with customers?

We recommend updating the following:

  • Basic location data: Updating your hours if you’re operating with reduced hours or alternative hours right now, or your phone number if this has changed in your listings.
  • Detailed location updates: This is a customer-facing opportunity to highlight specific changes your organization is making in light of COVID-19 such as Google Posts or Yelp CTAs.
  • User-led updates: These are initiated by customers such as direct messages to your business (if this is a feature you have enabled in your GMB) or Google Q&A*.

* Please note that as of 3/20/20 Google has temporarily suspended new reviews, review responses, and Google Q&A functionality. Additionally, Google is prioritizing edits critical to health-related businesses, therefore there may be a delay in the publication of updates to listings. For more information, please see Google’s support article: Limited Google My Business functionality due to COVID-19.

How can listings be updated to reflect special hours or temporary closures?

In times of uncertainty, when information is constantly shifting and what is true one hour may change the next, rather than marking your business as temporarily closed, our advice is to leverage special hours in GMB rather than temporary closures.

We also recommend keeping an eye on your store hours in GMB to see if you notice any false closures. During this time, Google is doing its best to reflect accurate hours of operation, however, we have seen a few instances where a business is marked as temporarily closed when it is in fact open. If you’re working with a partner, they will be monitoring this as well.

Google has stated that they are using their Duplex AI technology to contact businesses where possible to confirm updated hours or temporary closures, so ensure your contact number is up to date and you look out for any calls you may receive from Google to verify business hours/information.

How is Google handling temporary closures, and how does that compare with Yelp and Bing?

Right now, Google has the most options available to keep users updated on special hours and store closures. However, we have seen that Bing and Yelp are also prioritizing new enhancements to better help stores communicate important information to their customers. We have started seeing some delays in turnaround times, and given the high volume of updates being made, it’s important to be aware that there could be delays in bulk updates made. As mentioned above, Google is prioritizing reviews for edits critical to health-related businesses.

What are your recommendations for publishing unique services and amenities?

If you have previously not prioritized these types of amenities in your listings, now is the optimal time to get started, especially if you’re offering special services such as drive-through pick-ups, curbside delivery, or scheduling appointments. Consumers are seeking options other than going into your physical location, and this is an opportunity to provide them with information on how they can still engage with your brand during this time.

What additional GMB features should we be leveraging and what recommendations do you have for leveraging them?

Google Posts are a great way to share additional or more detailed information, such as steps your organization is taking to ensure the safety of your customers and employees, special announcements about your store opening earlier to accommodate elderly customers, or highlighting alternative services you’re offering during this time. By actively using Google Posts, this may also lessen the support load on your business at this time, as consumers are able to find the information they’re seeking directly in your Post.

Google Post

What messaging and other updates would you recommend adding to local landing pages?

Your pages allow for more creative freedom on the information you need to communicate with your customers. With more customized options available, you can add longer-form messaging, imagery, or videos to share any customer-facing information, business impacts or proactive measures to help your customers.

What should you do with local pages for locations that are temporarily closed?

If one of your stores is temporarily closed, your local pages present an opportunity to communicate in-depth information to your customers. Here, you can keep them updated on when you expect the store to reopen again, point them to other locations in the vicinity that are still open or direct them to purchase online rather than in-person.

Additionally, Schema.org has now added coronavirus-related structured data types in version 7.0 to help businesses provide event updates in search results.

What other adjustments to our content/communications would you recommend at the local level?

Rather than sending a generic, mass email blast out about the impacts of COVID-19 and risking this being archived with the rest of the emails consumers are being inundated with, the approach we recommend businesses take is to put your content where your consumers are. Think about where your customers are most likely to search for information, which at this time is likely on Google, Yelp, social media channels and directly on your corporate website and local landing pages.

Facebook post about closed restaurant

What approach should brands take to reputation management in times of uncertainty, such as with the current COVID-19 crisis?

It’s now essential for multi-location brands to have a clearly defined, well-documented process internally for your review/response strategy. Brands should also have an established workflow, for who at each of your locations will be responsible for monitoring and responding to reviews. 

At this time it’s important to note that your customers can still write new reviews on Google for your business. However, new reviews are not being published, due to a temporary staff shortage on Google’s moderation team. It’s currently unclear whether new reviews submitted during this time will ultimately publish or not.

Google has also temporarily removed Google Q&A due to its inability to moderate new posts. At this time, previously-submitted Q&As will continue to show up on your Google Knowledge Panel. 

What adjustments should we make to our review response strategy?

The unexpected can, unfortunately, cause panic and raise concerns. Your business is being more highly scrutinized than ever during this new normal. Make sure your teams are prepared to answer negative reviews, once Google has the bandwidth to moderate new reviews again, and understand this is temporary given the COVID-19 pandemic. 

If you have marked your stores as temporarily closed in Google, be aware that you can then not receive any Google Reviews, which will cause a decrease in the number of reviews your organization typically receives.

What adjustments to our local strategy should we consider?

Now is the opportune time to consider what needs to be adjusted in terms of your local marketing strategy. Keeping local context in mind, you will have centralized updates at the corporate level, but organizations also need to be prepared to provide specific updates at the regional and local level. Bi-directional communication is key right now so that corporate can not only provide direction at the local level but also in order to hear what people in the field are saying and to make adjustments as needed.

What metrics are the most critical to keep an eye on? Should we be focusing on our standard reporting metrics?

It’s important to understand that your KPIs will likely shift right now. For retail stores, you may now need to track online conversions as opposed to in-store visits. For restaurants, your focus will likely turn to takeout orders rather than dining in. Healthcare providers may experience a large upswing in telemedicine instead of in-office visits. The situation is rapidly changing and therefore your KPIs will too.

What should we change in terms of measurement right now?

Monitoring customer feedback and taking the time to analyze and respond appropriately (where possible) should be a priority. This will give you invaluable insight into what your customers need at this time and where you can improve service.

Do you anticipate a significant downturn in performance due to the COVID-19 crisis?

Circumstances are changing day by day. What is happening in your business this week may not be the same as next week. During times of crisis, there will be an inevitable adjustment in performance and some metrics may fall behind while others increase. For example, you may see an increase in phone calls and online appointments, but not as much foot traffic in your stores. Expect some of your performance metrics to change, but celebrate wins in areas that once fell behind.

What recommendations do you have for agencies to best support their enterprise clients who are impacted by COVID-19?

We are all in a very fluid situation. Guidance is changing on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day. For agencies, continually reassess campaigns you’re running right now, especially creative and category-driven campaigns to ensure the messaging is hitting the right tone. Push towards more informational messaging in your campaigns, rather than funny or out-of-the-box ideas. 

For brands with significant reach, it may be beneficial to share important information from the CDC to take a leadership role and show clients you are here to support them.

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.

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