Update as of 5/15/2020
The following blog was written to help businesses understand how Google has been limiting reviews and Q&A since March 20, 2020. In early April, Google indicated that customer reviews would be returning gradually by country and business category. Our own data shows that reviews, new and backlogged, are returning on Google My Business (GMB) listings across different industries. Q&A is returning at a gradual pace, as well.
For a complete list of updates, click here.
On March 20th, 2020, Google announced they would begin rolling out changes to some of its Google My Business (GMB) functionality. What began as a suspension of reviews and Q&A, has turned into a larger issue, impacting most functionality on GMB. In particular, no new reviews can be posted on Google, business owners will not be able to respond to reviews, Q&A has been removed from the knowledge panel, and edits to business listings may take longer than usual.
Just one day earlier, Yelp announced it would place stricter guidelines on new reviews. The company stated that “to protect local businesses from reputational harm related to these extraordinary circumstances,” it will not permit, for example, “claims in reviews of contracting coronavirus from a business or its employees” or “negative reviews about a business being closed during what would be their regular open hours in normal circumstances.” For now, Yelp is still allowing users to leave reviews.
Both Google and Yelp took these actions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has changed the way many local businesses operate and completely shuttered the doors of others. In an effort to protect vulnerable local businesses, Google and Yelp are trying to prevent an onslaught of reviews that might be ill-informed or malicious in nature. Until things go back to normal, businesses need to be aware of how these changes will affect them online.
Stay up to date with all changes made to local search and review platforms, here.
How will this affect businesses:
- Google has shut off the ability for businesses to receive new reviews. This includes reviews left via Local Services ad listings. On the user’s end, leaving a review appears to work as normal, but it will not be shown publicly—and may never be published. Google has not said publicly whether or not reviews attempted posting during this time will eventually publish. As of 4/8/20, Google has returned the ability for businesses to respond to reviews.
- Businesses have reported that GMB posts are being rejected due to violations. (Update 3/30/20: Posting has now resumed and Google is working to reprocess previously rejected posts.)
- Google is allowing businesses, such as restaurants, to add “Delivery Available” or “Takeout Available”, etc. to the business name! Normally, this goes against GMB guidelines. Note: This edit could take a while to be published.
- There have been reports that businesses are not able to add descriptions to their business profile. Keep up with the thread of reports here and contact Google for assistance.
- There have been reports of businesses being marked temporarily closed that did not request it. If this happens to your business, talk to a Google specialist to get it resolved. As of March 25th, Google has added an option to mark a business as “Temporarily Closed”.
- Most edits made in the GMB dashboard are pending. Things outside of hours, attributes, and business descriptions are not being prioritized. If you do make a change to your Google My Business listings, the changes will reflect eventually, but it may take longer than usual as Google goes through a verification process before publishing the changes.
Important: GMB phone support and chat support no longer work. The only way to contact GMB is to send an email.
What should businesses do?
In response to COVID-19, many businesses are closing their doors, leaving them scrambling to communicate with their customers and find ways to conduct business online. While Google has taken action to protect vulnerable businesses, it becomes challenging for businesses to communicate with customers in ways they might be used to. What can businesses do right now given the Google restrictions?
Keep review management a priority
Ask for reviews on other sites: Until Google restores this functionality, businesses should not ask customers to leave reviews on Google. This will create undo frustration for both reviewer and business owner when the review cannot be seen. There is still immense value in asking for reviews on other sites, though! Getting customer feedback is most often insightful and helpful. Ask your customers to leave feedback on Facebook or another industry-specific site to keep the flow of feedback open. The following is a non-exhaustive list of other sites still publishing reviews:
Lastly, we encourage you to ask for private feedback on a 1st party site, such as Vendasta’s My Listing. This will allow you to connect directly with customers and address any feedback from customers facing uncertainty or needing answers to their questions.
Respond to reviews: As of 4/8/2020, Google has restored review responses, however, because new reviews are still disabled, it's unlikely there are many new reviews to respond to. If your business does have unanswered reviews on Google, this is a good time to get on top of those.
Be sure to monitor reviews on all the other sites that have not enacted restrictions. Google’s reasoning to block new reviews is to stop misinformed comments harming a business’s online reputation. It’s still possible that customers will take their comments to another review site, making it pertinent that businesses monitor those sites. Responding to these should remain a top priority. Take the time to address each reviewer and thank them for their positive review! Customers that remain loyal to a business, especially during this tumultuous time, deserve many thanks.
If your business has received a negative review regarding COVID-19, respond and offer to take the conversation offline. If the review violates review guidelines of that site, such as with profanity or libellous remarks, be sure to flag the review to have it removed.
Communicate with your customers
Post on social: This is another channel for businesses to communicate with customers—and right now, keeping lines of communication open is important. Share detailed and timely updates about what’s going on with your business through social media. For example, include information about what products and services you have available or operational changes.
Posting business information and updates to other social platforms will be important while the Q&A functionality is suspended. In times of uncertainty, it is helpful to have a consistent brand voice emulated on social media. Scheduling posts in advance leaves business owners free to tend to other things to keep business running.
Use email or text messages to communicate: Now is an opportune time to communicate with customers in order to help establish brand trust. Use your customer list of emails or phone numbers to send a message. Giving updates this way can go a long way to reinforce the business’s commitment to customer service and satisfaction.
Update your business information
Let customers know your hours: If your business hours have changed, update the times when you’ll be open or closed. The hours will show when the customer visits your Business Profile, and they’ll know exactly when to visit. If necessary, use Google's new option to mark a business "Temporarily Closed" in the GMB dashboard.
Update the business name: The way people interact with businesses has changed, as more and more shut their doors to foot traffic and turn to methods of delivery. Google is allowing businesses, primarily restaurants and grocery stores, to add “delivery available” or “takeout available” to the business name. This is normally not allowed per the GMB guidelines. If your business falls into this category and it’s in the best interest of the consumer, then we recommend making the edit.
Manage your information: Explain whether or not your business operations are affected by COVID-19 and how. This could be: information about extra precautions, moving to takeout or delivery only, and whether the business is experiencing delays.
How we're supporting the agencies that help local businesses
At Vendasta our core purpose is to drive local economies. Fifty percent of the world's employees work for small and medium businesses. Small businesses fuel the world's economies, they invest in our communities, they unlock economic opportunities, create jobs, and grow the middle class. They make our communities worth living in.
COVID-19 is putting a disproportionate strain on local economies. We are here to help.
How will we do this? Read an address from CEO, Brendan King, which outlines our initiatives to help cloud brokers and their SMBs.
Stay healthy, stay safe, and #ProtectLocal.