When an event impacts the world to the extent that the Coronavirus pandemic has, everyone is forced to adapt, and Google is no exception. As a company built around the concept of helping people find information they need, Google has made several changes to their services with the goal of helping people and businesses alike handle these unprecedented times. As the crisis grew, so did the number of changes from Google. Having a hard time keeping track of them all? Here’s what you need to know.
Updated September 9, 2020
September 9, 2020: Health & Safety Attributes Added to GMB
Around the country, restrictions have eased to allow many types of businesses to reopen. But while many businesses have been able to reopen, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re operating the same way they had been before the pandemic hit. Many businesses have new procedures and policies in place to help protect the safety of their customers and employees. Some of those policies may be required by government orders, but others are decided on a business-by-business basis and this inconsistency often leaves consumers unclear of what a business’s rules are before they arrive.
To help clear up this confusion, Google introduced new attributes in Google My Business to alert customers about which health and safety policies they’re following. These attributes include “Appointment required,” “Mask required,” “Staff get temperature checks,” “Staff wear masks,” and “Temperature check required.”
Even as restrictions ease, many people do care about being aware of these types of policies, and research has found that those who are in favor of mask enforcement are more likely to engage with businesses that communicate mandatory mask policies.
June 4, 2020: New Flexible Hours Options on GMB
Not all businesses operate on a uniform schedule. A credit union, for example, might have a drive through that is open during different hours than their lobby. Or a restaurant might have special hours for brunch or happy hours. The coronavirus pandemic also gave businesses new reasons to have special types of hours, such as designated shopping times for seniors.
To make it easier for businesses to highlight these different hours, Google My Business introduced new options for listing hours in GMB profiles. While some of the different types of hours are directly linked to COVID-19, such as senior hours and order pickup times, others could be helpful as businesses reopen, like drive through hours, brunch, and happy hours.
May 11, 2020: Google Introduces Linking to Gift Cards and Donations Through GMB
Buying products is just one way people can support their favorite businesses right now. For many businesses temporarily closed due to the coronavirus, gift card sales can give them some extra revenue to work with until they are able to re-open their doors. Some businesses are also collecting donations to help them cover their expenses.
To make it easier for people to support businesses those ways, Google added the ability to include links to buy gift cards or make donations through Google My Business. If you have a page on your site for gift card sales, you can link directly to that page. If your site doesn’t have a gift card page, you can still sell gift cards by registering with Square, Toast, Clover, Vagaro, or another one of Google’s partners. Donations will be handled through PayPal and GoFundMe. While Google is making these features available for free, it’s important to note that there may be fees from the companies Google has partnered with as part of this initiative.
May 11, 2020: Beta Testing for Curbside Pickup Feature in Google Shopping
For businesses using Google Shopping to list inventory on Google Shopping and are capable of offering curbside pickup, Google has begun beta testing a new feature to make it easier for customers to know that curbside pickup is available. Currently, this feature is only available to businesses running local inventory ads. If you aren’t running local inventory ads but would like to emphasize the option of curbside pickup, you can do so by editing the attributes in your Google Business profile so that curbside pickup is highlighted as an option in search and Google Maps results.
April 22, 2020: Google Begins Testing Question Hub in the US for COVID-19 queries
What happens when a searcher just can’t seem to find the information they’re looking for? For some U.S.-based searchers, they can simply let Google know. Google has begun testing Question Hub in the United States after launching it in India in 2019. When questions are submitted through Question Hub, Google passes them on to content creators through Search Console.
Currently, Question Hub is being tested out as a way to help Google identify gaps in information about Coronavirus. Given this focus, this is a great opportunity for health experts and news outlets to create content to help position themselves as authorities in their fields. Content creators interested in Question Hub can join a waitlist.
April 21, 2020: Free Product Listings Return to Google Shopping
As the Coronavirus crisis rippled through many industries, online sales became an essential way for many companies to do business. But with Amazon’s resources being stretched thin, Google started bringing back free product listings on Google Shopping to help bring greater visibility to other retailers. Paid campaigns can be supplemented with free product listings and existing users of Shopping ads and Merchant Center do not need to take any additional steps to start creating free listings.
To help new users get up and running as quickly as possible, Google has also announced a new partnership with PayPal and has been working with their eCommerce platform partners, including Shopify and WooCommerce, to help make it easier for merchants to manage their products.
To start taking full advantage of this free exposure, it’s very important to make sure your shopping feeds are set up accurately and that listings are optimized. There are a couple of basic things to check that can greatly improve your performance. The first being optimized product titles. Since Shopping campaigns do not use keywords, this is one of the primary factors Google uses when determining if your product will show or not.
Similar to a page’s title tag, product titles should be descriptive and include target keywords near the front if possible, being careful to avoid spammy keyword stuffing. Some possible attributes to highlight in the title could be brand, size, gender, model, or style.
April 17, 2020: Google Allows Retail Chains to Publish COVID-19 GMB Posts at Scale
With all the changes businesses have been facing because of COVID-19, GMB Posts can be an effective way to inform customers about things like location closures and other changes in operations. To make it easier for “chain” businesses (businesses with 10 or more locations) to provide customers with these kinds of updates, Google made it possible for them to publish COVID-19 posts at scale through the GMB API rather than posting them individually for each location.
Google has also made it possible for chain businesses to publish non-COVID GMB posts at scale. It’s unknown if this functionality will remain in place once the coronavirus pandemic has calmed down, but at least for the time being, it does offer significant time-saving benefits for large companies.
April 9, 2020: GMB Support Documentation Indicates Returning Functionality
In response to the initial wave of changes brought on by mandated shutdowns, Google temporarily limited some functionality on Google My Business. With Google’s limited staff availability, it was important for some functions to be prioritized over others. Features like reviews, new user photo uploads, and Q&As were among those temporarily disabled. However, on April 9, 2020, GMB support documentation was updated to indicate these features will be gradually returning by country and business category.
The ability to reply to reviews has also been restored, and we expect customer reviews to also return in the near future. As reviews return, it’s very important for businesses to closely monitor their reviews on Google and quickly address any concerns. If you’ve been working to gain reviews, use caution with your messaging. Remember, many people are feeling very sensitive these days, so a message that aggressively solicits reviews could potentially backfire. If you would like to resume gaining reviews, we recommend using natural messaging that focuses on connecting with your audience rather than pushing reviews.
April 3, 2020: New Schema Properties and GSC Functionality for COVID-19 Business Announcements
With so many companies looking to provide people with important information related to coronavirus, new schema properties and Search Console functionality were added to help special announcements stand out in search results. Of the two options, implementing SpecialAnnouncement structured data on a site is the more ideal way to let people know about things like business closures and event postponements because your announcements can automatically be updated as your page changes. If you aren’t able to add structured data to a site, COVID-19 announcements can be submitted through Search Console, but those will have to be updated manually.
These options were initially prioritized for government agencies and healthcare websites, so it’s particularly important for those types of organizations to consider using these features. It’s currently unknown if Google will make these options available to other types of businesses and organizations, but if they do and you’d like to be ready for it, you can start implementing the markup on your site.
March 17, 2020: New Schema Properties for Virtual, Postponed, and Canceled Events
The coronavirus pandemic forced countless events to either be cancelled, postponed, or turned into virtual events. In response, Google and Schema.org created new properties to help people find out about what has happened to events they were planning to attend. With the eventStatus Schema markup, it’s easy to mark an event as canceled, postponed, rescheduled, or moved online. Users can also use it to indicate an event is a virtual event rather than an in-person event.
TRAFFIC works with several clients who routinely host various types of events and, as a technical SEO agency with expertise in various types of schema, we have been paying close attention to new developments so that we can utilize them to benefit our clients.
March 16, 2020: New Schema Properties for COVID-19 Announcements & Testing Facilities
To keep up with growing demand for information about COVID-19 testing availability, the release of Schema.org 7.0 included a SpecialAnnouncement option that made it easier to highlight information like school closures, public transportation closures, and travel restrictions. A CovidTestingFacility type was also added to highlight information about coronavirus testing facilities, whether they’re at established medical facilities or temporary testing locations.
As testing grows and becomes available at more locations, it’s particularly important for facilities that offer testing to implement this type of structured data to make sure their information is as accurate as possible.