Ways Businesses Can Respond to COVID-19 Using Google’s Tools

Content Strategist
Published 3/30/20
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For additional insights, check out this video showing the Google My Business Tools businesses can use in response to COVID-19.

With the breakneck pace of news, the evolving patchwork of pandemic responses across communities and states, dire economic predictions, panic shopping, and concern for the health of one’s family and self, it’s no mystery why the prevailing national sentiment is a mix of confusion and concern. As a result, people are trying to find answers to a variety of questions online — about travel, safety, and especially local businesses — but that effort is only as good as the information they find. 
Amidst the massive disruption to daily life, one of the best things businesses can do is ensure they are communicating clearly with both regular customers and the general public. Keep reading to find out more about ways businesses can keep the community up to date with the latest information online.

During the last several weeks many businesses have gone out of their way to increase communication with their owned audiences, including via social channels and email deployments. Updates have ranged from information about sanitation practices to changes in services or temporary closure announcements in response to the spread of the virus. However, only communicating with existing audiences ignores a huge potential customer segment because not everyone who is a customer of a business, even if they live nearby, will have followed a business on social media or signed up for their newsletter list. The majority of a business’s customers probably haven’t.

As part of our Google-DMO Partnership Program Support Services, we’ve audited nearly 60,000 business listings across the United States and around the world during the past two years. While results of individual businesses can vary significantly, the average benchmarks for business visibility in search results is 45% direct search (people looking for that specific business as part of their query) and 55% discovery search (people searching for a business category who then choose from a set of businesses locally). What this means is that on any given day the majority of visibility for a business is coming from people who found that business rather than starting with specific knowledge of it. If a business is only talking to their owned audiences, then they may very well be talking to less than half of their total potential audience!

Because of the popularity of Google search, one of the most effective ways businesses can communicate updates to a large audience is ensuring that they are keeping business information up to date and sharing additional updates with tools in Google My Business. Here are a few things to keep in mind for businesses.

Make Sure Your Business Hours Are Accurate

Whether your changing hours because of reduced consumer demand during the pandemic, adapting to local restrictions like a Shelter in Place order, or temporarily closing a “non-essential” business until the situation shows signs of improvement, it’s vital that consumers can figure out your new hours so that you don’t lose out on business. The accuracy of your business hours can also influence when and where you show up in search results when people are looking for businesses “open now” for example.

There are a few different ways that you can handle hours updates, depending on your situation. If you’re remaining open, but changing from your normal operating hours, then you’ll want to update hours in the Info tab of Google My Business. This would be the usual method of updating that information. If you’re changing your hours for a few days, but aren’t sure what will happen longer-term, then you could also use the “Special Hours” feature, which is also available in the Info tab. If you were looking at a change for a couple of days while figuring out how to respond to a situation, or you were re-opening on a limited basis, this would be easy because it wouldn’t change the hours you’d already setup.

If you are going to be closing temporarily due to local restrictions on non-essential businesses, then your best option is probably to choose “Mark as temporarily closed” option.  If you expand the “Close this business on Google” dropdown on the right side of the Info tab (desktop version), that will update your public-facing business profile with a “Temporarily Closed” banner without impacting any of your other business information. You can login to re-open the business at any point when you’re ready.

Make Your Menu Easily Accessible

For restaurants that are trying to navigate the transition from sit-down establishment to takeout-only, there might be some important information missing from your business listing: Your menu! There are two different ways you can update menu information for customers who are searching for your business. In the Info tab, there is a Menu link option that you can use to send people to your menu information online. If you already have an up-to-date menu on your website then you’ll want to make sure that link is present because it will route users your business profile in Google to your website. Pro-tip: Add a UTM code to the link to your menu and you’ll be able to track in Analytics how many visits came from your listing.

To add a more robust set of content to your business profile, use the Menu tab in Google My Business to fill out information about dishes, as well as pricing, pictures and more. This will allow users to find exactly what they want more quickly and ensure that folks who are ordering takeout know all of their options. Adding and editing menu content is fairly straight-forward using the content management tool in GMB. Ultimately, this option is probably better suited to restaurants where the menu isn’t changing too often. It can have a big impact on customer engagement, so it’s definitely worth the investment of time to set that up, if it’s appropriate.

Provide Updates Using Posts in Google My Business

The Posts feature was added to Google My Business without a lot of fanfare, so if it’s been a while since you last accessed your account, you might not have noticed it. But in situations where you need to share timely updates with potential customers, it’s perhaps the best tool in your toolbox. The Posts feature allows you to share information, including images, text with links, videos, events, and more directly on your business profile in Google. This gives you a nice piece of real estate that shows up to anyone searching for your business (or who happens to discover your business listing), and the visibility isn’t throttled like a post on Facebook or Instagram.

Note: The Posts feature is available for most business types except hotels.

To get started, go to the Posts tab in Google My Business, where you’ll find an easy-to-use content template where you can add information and content to share. If you want to announce information about updated sanitization practices, promote a virtual event that is replacing something that would’ve happened in-store, share special offers to incentivize online sales, announce new options for takeout/delivery, or other types of information, then Posts makes it easy. Each post is live for seven days, so make sure to create regular updates in order to maximize your reach.

Limitations for Google

The COVID pandemic isn’t just impacting communities, it’s also affecting operations with product teams at Google. As a result, there have been some changes that have taken place for Google My Business, and for the types of content that are surfacing on business listings. Until further notice:

  • There may be delays in publication of business profile edits
  • There will not be new reviews or replies published for businesses
  • There won’t be Questions and Answers present on business profiles
  • There may be some delay in the visibility of newly created business listings

With this is mind, try to stay ahead of informational needs of your audience by making updates in a timely manner, and use Posts to ensure visibility of important updates as needed. 

Conclusion

While these are certainly challenging and uncertain times for businesses, individuals and families alike, by providing people with the most current information, businesses can increase their opportunity to connect with potential customers who are searching online. Often times the act of updating information can be done in 15-20 minutes, but the impact can be much greater from a bottom line perspective. 

More Resources

Find more information about resources Google has for small businesses, or read more about the limitations on Google My Business content during the COVID crisis.