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

Update: July 6, 2020 (Original Publish Date – March 18, 2020)

  1. Support links: You can now connect online gift card buying options and accept donations through your business profile for some categories in limited countries. 
  2. Google Posts: COVID-19 Post types are now live for 28 days. While the COVID-19 post type is positioned higher in the GMB Profile than the regular Posts carousel, having this post type now removes the regular Post carousel from your Profile. To get the regular carousel back in it’s usual place, just remove your COVID-19 posts. 
  3. Questions & Answers: This was removed from GMB profiles on March 20 and has been re-added to all categories that previously had the feature. Prior to March 20, questions that contained the words “COVID” or “coronavirus” were being filtered from public view but are now publishing. 
  4. More Hours: You can add hours for specific services to your business profile.
  5. Attributes: Several new COVID-triggered attributes are available for some categories. 
  6. URLs: Additional links to COVID landing pages are now available for some business categories including a COVID-19 info link and a Virtual care link.
  7. Edits: The “Suggest an Edit” function in Google Maps is no longer frozen and edits are publishing, but expect some delays.
  8. New Guide: Google released a new COVID-19 guide on June 23 that walks business owners through updating their business profile to reflect updates due to COVID-19.

Businesses around the world have forever been impacted by COVID-19. Many businesses are implementing changes to their cleaning processes and opening hours, switching to remote work, and delivering their products and services through 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 2020 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 

More hours

In the Info section, under the Hours field there’s a new field called More hours. This field will allow you to post special hours for specific services to your business profile such as senior hours and pickup windows.

The options to add More hours to your business listing are category dependent, and include:

  • Senior hours
  • Delivery
  • Pickup
  • Drive through
  • Access
  • Kitchen
  • Brunch
  • Happy hours
  • Takeout

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.

Support Links

The option to add support links will only appear in dashboards for eligible businesses. Support links are not available to service area businesses, you must have a physical storefront to be eligible. Businesses that take advantage of these new offerings were featured prominently in the Google Maps mobile app and on Google Maps around June 24. Learn more.

Attributes

All attribute availability is category dependent. New Google My Business attributes released during the COVID-19 pandemic in Spring 2020 include:

  • Online appointments
  • Online care
  • Onsite service
  • Curbside pickup
  • Delivery
  • In-store pickup
  • In-store shopping
  • Same-day delivery

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

  • In May 2020, the Questions & Answers feature was re-enabled. This feature was disabled and temporarily removed from all business listings on March 20. Before the feature was temporarily removed, questions and answers containing the terms “COVID” or “coronavirus” were filtered from public view. These questions and answers are no longer filtered and now visible to business owners as well as searchers. Check your business listing for questions submitted over the past few months that may have previously been filtered for containing these terms.

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. As of our most recent update (July 2020) you can now use the terms “coronavirus” or “COVID” in your questions and answers without getting filtered. When a searcher uses the Q&A feature and types their question, Google will also show content from Google Posts related to their query. Having a Google Post about COVID-19 will help answer searchers turning to your business profile’s Q&A, and could reduce the amount of inquiries you have to answer. Creating a Google COVID-19 Post will also help you address the most common questions and concerns at once. Learn more about how to use Google Posts in the next section.

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.

  • The COVID-19 Post type now has a 28-day lifetime. This post type includes a text field and the standard call-to-action button options but does not allow for an accompanying image. The COVID-19 post displays prominently in the Business Profile under the heading “COVID-19 updates from the business”. While the COVID-19 post type is positioned higher in the GMB Profile than the regular Posts carousel, having this post type now removes the regular Post carousel from your Profile. To get the regular carousel back in it’s usual place, just remove your COVID-19 posts.

Since its launch at the end of March 2020, the COVID-19 post type has changed several times. Originally live for 7 days on Desktop and Mobile, by April 1 a Google My Business Product Expert confirmed that the posts expired after 14 days, but this increased again weeks later as the pandemic continued to affect businesses around the world. Currently, this COVID-19 post type expires after 28 days.

Having a live COVID-19 post type currently removes the regular Google Post carousel from your Business Profile. From our observation of hundreds of Google Posts, COVID-19 Posts tend to get many more views than other Post types, likely due to their prominent placement in the Profile. We recommend using a COVID-19 post (even though it virtually hides your other posts) as the high position of this post type is more visible and is likely answering your customers’ top questions at this time. Previously, this post type did not eliminate the Google Post carousel from the business profile and the post would remain in the first position of the Google Post carousel even if there were more recent posts.

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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8 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.

  • There also seems to be a bug with the Hours. Our restaurant does not serve brunch or happy hour, yet our GMB listing shows that we have brunch and happy hour hours. I can’t remove them. They aren’t in our GMB Info, they aren’t on our webpage, yet they’re there and nothing I do will remove them. Suggest an edit only shows you regular hours to change, not special ones. The restaurant is getting calls thinking there are Happy Hours and Brunches, and it’s a problem. I see it’s reported in the Google support forums with no resolution. Has anyone found a way to remove special hours that aren’t in our GMB dashboard to begin with?

    • Hi Janette,

      That does sound like a bug and a frustrating one that’s bad for business too! Sorry to hear about that. Is the More Hours section showing up for your business in the GMB dashboard (it should be in the info tab below the regular Hours section)? You could try and edit the hours there. Do you use any listing management tools? It’s possible that Google could be getting the information from another source.

      If you are not able to edit More Hours, feel free to send your business name to localq@whitespark.ca so one of our GMB experts can take a closer look!

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