Keeping Your GMB Listing Accurate & Updated During COVID-19 Pandemic

Update: April 8, 2020 (Original Publish Date – March 18, 2020)

  1. There is a new Google Post type for COVID-19 updates. This Post type gets top spot in desktop and mobile and expires after 14 days. Get the full details below in the Posts section.
  2. Businesses can update their GMB Title (Business Name) to add pertinent information, such as “Curbside Pickup” or “Takeout Available” to their business name due to COVID-19. (Check out the business information section below for more details).

  3. The Temporarily Closed feature is now available in the Info section of the dashboard. Using this feature no longer affects visibility and ranking, which it did when it first rolled out. Businesses that had used the Special Hours feature to add closures now have a banner in the Info section of the GMB dashboard, which says “Based on recent updates, this business has been marked as closed”. (Jump down to the hours section for more details on these updates).
    • “Businesses offering pickup or delivery services should not mark the business “Temporarily closed,” otherwise those services won’t show on Google.”
  4. GMB is now adding warnings to some listings encouraging searchers to verify hours and event information with the business.
  5. Additional attributes have been rolled out to all applicable Business Profiles. For example, shopping attributes such as “Order Delivery” and “ Order Pickup” as well as dining attributes such “Curbside pickup” and “No-contact Delivery” will become available.” H/T to Mike Blumenthal for reporting on this update.
  6. April 8 – UpdateGoogle is temporarily limiting GMB functionality due to COVID-19.  The Google team took precautionary measures to protect their team members and as such are operating with a limited team. As a result they limited GMB functionality to prioritize critical services. As of April 7th they restored the ability of business owners to respond to reviews, and “over the coming weeks, new user reviews, new user photos, new short names, and Q&A will be available. Their availability will gradually expand by country and business category.
  • The team is prioritizing the review of business edits for critical health-related businesses, and then open and closed states, special hours, temporary closures, business descriptions and attributes. Google recommends that you use Posts and available attributes to communicate time sensitive updates with your customers in the interim.
  • Review functionality is partially back – business owners can respond to reviews, but there’s still a lag in the publishing of reviews. You can still write a review on many listings and submit it, however it may take longer to go live. When you add your review a message pops up now, thanking you for your review and states, “Your contribution may be delayed at this time.”
  • Questions & Answers have been “removed” – but should be back live in the coming weeks. Any Q&A’s on a Business Profile are no longer visible or showing up. You can’t ask a question as a user or business owner.
  • Newly created listings, claims, and verifications will be delayed. Critical health-related businesses will be prioritized.
  • Google Now Processing Rejected Posts – If you were one of the businesses that had posts temporarily disabled, they have since resumed. If you had any previously rejected posts Google is working on re-processing these posts, so be sure to review your profile to see if your post goes live in the next few days. If not, create a new one as the feature should be up and running in your dashboard, the GMB app, or via API access.
  • Suggest an Edit functionality is frozen, edits will remain pending for now.

Businesses around the world are feeling the impact of COVID-19. Many businesses are implementing changes to their cleaning processes and opening hours, switching to remote work, and delivering their products and services via online channels. Customers are increasingly looking online for up-to-date information about the status of local businesses, and their first stop is often the Google My Business Profile for the business.

Fortunately, GMB provides many excellent features that can be leveraged to communicate any changes to your customers. There are a number of sections in GMB that you can use, including:

Beyond GMB, you should also make sure to update your website, answering machine message, and other places where customers are looking for information about your business.

Update GMB Features

Use the Temporarily Closed Feature

Google rolled out a “Temporarily Closed” feature in late March and even auto-applied it to some businesses based on government sources regarding business closures for some categories. Businesses can manage this feature in the Info section of the GMB dashboard.

Until March 26, marking a business as “temporarily closed” did impact the listing’s visibility and ability to rank. The business profile would not appear for branded search in some cases and would rank below open business in Google Maps. Danny Sullivan, Google’s public liaison of search, confirmed that the temporarily closed feature does not impact ranking or visibility anymore:

There is currently still a warning when marking a business as temporarily closed that says “Closed businesses will appear on Google with reduced visibility” but this outdated information and will be updated (see thread here).

Update Hours

If your business is open with reduced or changed hours for a tentative time period, use Special Hours on those days to override the regular business hours. You can find Special Hours below your regular hours in the Info tab of your GMB dashboard.

This is how special hours look published:

03/20 Update: Some businesses that had used the Special Hours feature to add closures received an automated email from GMB with the subject line, “Important: [Business Name] is marked as closed on Google”.

A new alert banner now appears in the Info section of their GMB dashboard, that says “Based on recent updates, this business has been marked as closed”. When you click on Review update, it prompts you with a message to confirm if your business is closed (Yes/No). When you select yes, there will be a new option in the Info section under the header Reopen this business on Google where you can select “Mark as open”.

There has been a lag (which is to be expected because Google advised earlier this week that there will be delays in support) But we are seeing businesses that we’ve confirmed as Temporarily Closed to be labeled in search results, and their business profiles are still showing up for branded searches.

For instructions on how to upload special hours to an enterprise account (more than 10 locations) via bulk upload spreadsheet, check out this thread on the GMB forum. Do not delete your hours as an interim measure to change business hours – your profile won’t appear closed, it will look incomplete. You could also end up putting undue strain on your staff with an increase in calls to ask if you’re open.

If you need to get in touch with Google support you can use any of these channels: Twitter, Facebook or fill out the online support form to request a call back, start a chat or send an email (options vary based on request).

On March 15, Google released a statement about COVID-19 measures, stating “Based on data from governments and other authoritative sources, Google Search and Maps will now display if a place, like a school or local business, is temporarily closed. In the coming days, we’ll make it possible for businesses to easily mark themselves as “temporarily closed” using Google My Business.” They also plan to use automated calls to some businesses to confirm hours.

Already rolling out as of March 20, once the temporarily closed feature is available in your GMB dashboard, it’s a good idea to use this feature if your business is closing. You can go ahead and enable the feature. Continue to keep an eye on your listing for any incorrect changes and report those to Google support.

Note: If you manage a lot of locations, you can easily update Special Hours via a bulk upload or the API, however, with the temporarily closed feature you will need to manually enable this feature.

Below is a side-by-side view of a business using Special Hours to show closures and that same business using the Temporarily Closed function. Note that using the Temporarily Closed function removes Hours, Events (and their alerts) as well as Popular times from the Business Profile.

Special Hours Example 

Temporary Closure Example 

Update Your Primary Phone Number

In the case that you’ve had to close your doors and don’t have a messaging system or the ability to forward calls during this time, add a new primary contact number in the interim (like your cell number) and put your regular phone number as a secondary number.

Tip: If you have a store messaging system don’t forget to update it with your new hours, major changes, and important company details. Don’t forget that any update you make to your listing, also update your website contact page with the same information.

Update Business Description

Add pertinent information in the top of your business description regarding the status of your business. In general, the first 250 characters of the business description are previewed in the Business Profile – make these characters count!

Update the Primary Category

Review your categories to see if there’s one that’s more relevant to set as the primary category right now. For example, a business using the primary category “Sushi Restaurant” may want to temporarily switch to “Sushi takeaway.”

Update the Business Title (Name)

Businesses can update their GMB Title (Business Name) to add pertinent information, such as “Curbside Pickup” or “Takeout Available” to their business name due to COVID-19. Adding service information that is not part of the business’s real world business name is against the guidelines but is being temporarily permitted and should be removed when business returns to usual. More information is available in this Local Search Forum thread.

Add/Update Questions & Answers

  • On March 20th the Questions & Answers feature was temporarily removed.  Q&A’s on Business Profiles are no longer visible. When we first published this post on March 18th, we recommended that as part of your strategy for keeping your customers informed was to add updated Q&A’s. You can check out our suggestions below or just skip ahead to the Posts advice.

If any answers to previously added questions have changed, be sure to update them on your listing. You should also create new questions and answers to address any new frequently asked questions. Be aware that Google is currently filtering (not showing) any questions or answers that include “coronavirus” or “COVID”. It’s important to structure your Q&A without these terms so that they are visible to the public (filtered Q&A will show as published when logged in to the account used to manage your GMB).

A question containing “COVID-19” asked by the business is visible to the listing owners/managers only. There is no alert that the question has been filtered from public view:

Questions and answers containing the disallowed words are filtered from public view:

While you can’t use the terms “coronavirus” or “COVID” in your questions and answers because they will get filtered, when a searcher uses the Q&A feature and types their question, Google will automatically show content from Google Posts related to their query. Having a Google Post about COVID-19 will help answer searchers turning to your profile’s Q&A, and could reduce the amount of inquiries you have to answer. Searchers who ask a question using these filtered terms do not receive an error message or alert that their question is filtered and cannot be viewed by the business, so having that information available to them in a Google Post should eliminate the feeling that your business hasn’t responded to their question. Learn more about how to use Google Posts in the next section.

Use Q&A to share information about:

  • Closures and changes to hours
  • Cancelled events and ticket refunds/exchanges
  • Volume of calls/emails and expected delays
  • Changes to procedures for appointments
  • How you’re increasing health and safety measures
  • Changes to services offered

Here are some examples of FAQ you can answer for your customers:

General

  1. Are you still operating as usual?
  2. What health and safety measures are in place?
  3. How are you keeping your office clean and employees healthy?
  4. When can I expect my call/email to be returned?

Appointment-based businesses (Dental, Paramedical, Legal)

  1. I have an upcoming appointment, what do I need to do to prepare for it?
  2. Can I still come to my scheduled appointment?
  3. Can I reschedule my appointment online/on the phone?

Entertainment Venues/Attractions

  1. What events are being postponed or cancelled?
  2. Will my ticket be refunded for the cancelled event?

Tip: Don’t forget to get 3 upvotes on your most important question so it shows up in your Business Profile when someone searches for your brand directly.

Stay Connected Through Google Posts

The Google Post feature is a great way to provide updates to your customers as the situation evolves. Google Posts remain active for one week but are date-stamped and superseded by the latest post, making it very easy to manage and share your latest message.

  • On March 24, GMB launched a new Google Post type for COVID-19 updates, with a text field and the standard call-to-action button options. This post type will remain in the top position of the Google Post carousel even if there are more recent posts. On mobile search, the COVID-19 Update post displays directly below the business information in the Profile under the heading “COVID-19 updates from business”. Google My Business Product Expert Krystal Taing confirmed April 1 that this post type expires after 14 days.

Here’s how the COVID-19 Update Post looks in a mobile browser:

On March 27, Google also opened it’s API for Google Posts to enterprise businesses, which previously could not post for businesses with over 10 locations. This is a temporary measure due to COVID-19.

Start using Posts to:

  1. Share any statement you’ve already prepared for customers. If you’re anything like us, your inbox is full of “our commitment to you during COVID-19” emails from every company you’ve ever interacted with. Cut through the noise with a Google Post, displayed right in your Business Profile for searchers to easily find. Keep in mind, you may need to trim your existing statement, the maximum content length for Google Update Posts is 1500 characters. If you have information on your website as well, use the “Learn more” button to link to that page.
  1. Let customers know what preventative measures your business is implementing due to COVID-19. Tip: Use the new option to add up to 10 images in a single Google Post to draw attention to every preventative measure.
  1. Inform searchers of closures, reduced hours, and cancelled or postponed events and services. If refunds/exchanges are applicable to your customers, be transparent about any special policies and how customers can communicate with your business.
  1. Link to a landing page with COVID-19 updates on your website to keep your customers informed about your operations and any preventative measures. This will reduce the time your business needs to spend constantly updating all your social channels and your Google Posts.

For a longer-term message to customers, such as a closure notice, consider an Event Post or Offer Post, which can be scheduled to display for the date range of your choice.

Events

If your business has had to postpone or cancel events, update event details across all channels (wherever you’ve listed it). To see what events are associated with your business address, view your listing on Search. Event information can be pulled into your business profile through event schema on your website or external sources including Facebook events, Eventbrite and Meetup.

As of March 30, if a business has Events in GMB, there is a new banner that says “Event information may be out of date due to the coronavirus (COVID-19). Confirm details with event organizers.” above any listed events. This helps businesses that may have event information being pulled into their listing from other sources that cannot be updated.

If other organizations host events at your location and their events are showing up in your business profile, contact them regarding any closure that will cause them to cancel or postpone events and ask them to update online information to remove incorrect event information from your business listing.

For example the Rec Room pictured above has their events still showing up in their listing, even though they’ve updated their website, and Facebook page. But because these events are hosted by other groups (YEGDate, and PartyBeep), who have not removed the events from Eventbrite, their listing will remain like this until the organizations go in and update the information.

Other Updates To Consider Beyond GMB

Update Other Important Business Profiles & Prominent Social Channels
Don’t forget to update your hours and add important updates on other top sites and social channels. Don’t worry about hitting every site, focus on the sites that make the most sense for your business and the channels your customers spend the most time on or that feed information to other sites in the local search ecosystem. Consider updating:

  • Bing
  • Apple Maps
  • Yelp
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Twitter (add a pinned post to your profile)

Add An Auto-Responder to Your Emails
Right now many businesses are getting slammed with a high volume of emails, phone calls, chat messages, and inquiries on social media. Stay one step ahead by creating an auto-responder to assure customers you have received their email, you’ll respond as quickly as possible, and thank them for their patience.

Take your auto-responder to the next level:

  1. Include updated business hours or details about temporary closure, if applicable.
  2. Address frequently asked questions.
  3. Include a link to schedule a call with a staff member, if applicable.
  4. Include any special policy changes (i.e. missed appointments, ticket refunds, etc.)

Pause Ad Campaigns
If your business is temporarily closing its doors or you are unable to fill orders, take appointments, or provide a product/service, don’t forget to pause your pay-per-click ads. Save that budget to kickstart campaigns when you can resume regular operations.

Create A Dedicated COVID-19 Landing Page On Your Site
Make it easy for customers to get the information they need by creating a dedicated space on your website or blog that hosts all changes, updates, FAQs, and additional information about your business. Share links to any additional resources your customers may need to access. If you’re able to update the page regularly, include the date with each new update.

Update Title Tags & Meta Descriptions
For businesses that are temporarily closing, or have implemented major changes to their daily operations, it doesn’t hurt to go the extra mile to inform customers.

  • Title Tag – Include the temporary closure details and a contact number if necessary.
  • Meta Description – Include any critical details about your closure.

Update ChatBot & Online Message System
Just like adding an auto-responder for email, be sure to include an auto-responder to your chat systems (including on social media platforms) to direct users to your COVID-19 landing page or company statement when your business is closed or when staff are not available to respond.

Communication Is Key

There has been a lot of disruption to regular business operations and there will likely be more to come, which is why it’s critical for your business to communicate effectively with your customers through all channels, and GMB is one that cannot be ignored. If you need help managing your GMB listing beyond this free resource, we have an awesome team of skilled experts that are available to support you. If you’re not sure where to begin with your GMB listing, check out our guide. If you have any questions about how to implement any of our GMB recommendations, let us know in the comments section and we will do our best to provide you with assistance.

AUTHOR

Team Whitespark

At Whitespark we are all about helping enterprises, agencies, and small businesses solve local search problems and get answers to their burning questions. We work together as a team to answer all your inquiries. The answers come from Jessie Low, Allie Margeson, Tessa Hughes, Sydney Marchuk, and Tomas Acuna .

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5 comments on “Keeping Your GMB Listing Accurate & Updated During COVID-19 Pandemic

  • While it’s no secret that I jokingly refer to GMB as a dumpster fire, Google really screwed the pooch on Covid-19. They are crippling businesses more by marking open businesses as temporarily closed and taking away Q&A’s. While I applaud them for allowing businesses to get creative with their naming conventions by allowing pick up or delivery only, they are hurting more businesses with their actions and overreactions. While businesses can use posts, hotels can’t. What if the hotel has a restaurant without a separate GMB listing? They would be marked as closed too.

    Whatever Google used to verify that businesses were closed, appears to have some flaws as users are coming to the GMB forum to report that Google mistakenly marked them as closed. Businesses marked as “temporarily closed” won’t show up in search results too. I attempted to check my wife’s favorite coffee shop this morning and even searching 85 degrees Fullerton, not only could I not find it, I was present the corporate office location. I don’t see how that is good for businesses or consumers.

  • I’ve had issue ever since Google put these into place. I can’t even find my branded search term or branded search plus location. I posted a handful of COVID-19 updates on the GMB and now Im nowhere to be seen in the knowledge panel when a branded search comes up…I feel like this isn’t just a coincidence as I hadn’t done anything prior to it just continually posting photos and posts to it as Google suggest.

    If anyone else has experienced this I would love to know but it is incredibly frustrating to follow their suggestions and then suffer because of it. My competitors NEVER utilize GMB and now they are reaping some benefits because my business doesn’t show up in the map pack.

    • Hey Windsor!

      We also encountered a short period of time where the listing Knowledge Panel (Business Profile) disappeared from search results when enabling the Temporarily Closed feature, but then it quickly returned. I did a search for your business when you commented last week and couldn’t find your results either. But I see now you reverted that feature. It’s definitely annoying to lose any visibility, but we did find it came back pretty quickly. I suspect it was a bug/glitch with the roll out. Are you open and operating at your regular hours right now (as results say you are)? If you dislike that feature and aren’t open for your regular hours, I would say use the Special Hours feature – it works well, and you won’t need to worry about losing search visibility.

  • Re: “Temporarily Closed” not affecting visibility and ranking — my tests show otherwise.

    I’m in charge of local SEO for a brand with close to 200 franchises across Canada. As of today (04-01-2020), I’m seeing that of that number, those that have marked their their location as “Temporarily Closed” are now filtered from map results. Those that have made no changes have maintained their visibility.

    If you’re not seeing customers at your location because of COVID but still want to be found, you might want to avoid using this feature.

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