Content Marketing

When your Google My Business listing becomes your lifeline

The recent days and weeks have been a blur as I’ve helped clients manage their online reputations amid a global pandemic that continues to inflict a heavy toll. Oftentimes Google My Business has been in the eye of the storm, with businesses turning to their GMB listings to notify people of sudden changes ranging from scaled back hours to temporary closures. Here are three truths that have emerged from this experience:

1. Your GMB listing is your lifeline

Under normal circumstances, people rely on a GMB listing to get essential information such as store hours and customer reviews to learn more about a business’s location. During the coronavirus pandemic, the nature of those searches changed rapidly as consumers’ behavior changed. “What are your hours?” became “Are you open while we shelter in place?” “What does your menu look like?” became “Do you offer curbside delivery?”

Businesses needed to respond quickly especially in the early going when Google had not yet rolled out special features to support posting COVID-19 related information. They needed to share special procedures they were following to ensure the health and safety of customers, the availability (or lack thereof) of products on store shelves, and either reduced hours or temporary closures, among other critical updates.

As states enacted shelter-in-place mandates, essential businesses needed to remind customers that they were, indeed, still open. Many relied on Google Posts or Q&A features, but doing so was not always a reliable avenue with Google suspending Q&A functionality at one point. Simply put, keeping a GMB listing up to date could make the difference to a business even staying afloat – and it still does as the pandemic continues to spread.

2. Google is responding

Even though Google warned of reduced support, the company still took several steps to help businesses mind their reputations through their GMB listings. For example, Google suspended customer review and Q&A functionality to protect businesses from the spread of misinformation and from people unfairly maligning them due to circumstances beyond their control.

In time, Google began to launch features to make it easier for businesses to communicate vital information, such as the COVID-19 Post type to help businesses quickly update their Google My Business (GMB) pages with coronavirus-related information that affects their operations or a “temporarily closed” option for businesses shut down by COVID-19. When businesses reported glitches in those features, Google responded quickly to fix them. Normally, Google simply lives with flaws when they are reported, accepting the reality that even an imperfect first launch helps its customers. Not this time. Google realizes businesses are fighting to survive, with zero margin for error.

There is a silver lining amid the pain. I expect Google will make permanent many of the temporary features that the company has put in place during the pandemic, such as curbside pick-up and no-contact delivery attributes for restaurants. The possibility of making these features more visible in a knowledge panel can only help a business.

3. “Good enough” is no longer good enough

Back in December, I wrote about the need for businesses to manage their GMB listings as frequently as possible. I divided businesses into three categories: Google Master (those who update their GMBs daily), Google Journeyman (who update their GMBs weekly), and Google Apprentices (who do so monthly).

Four months later, it’s time to revise our thinking: you’re either a Google Master or you may be out of business. We’re seeing now how a GMB is a business’s lifeline during a time of disruption. And there will be more: both natural disasters and human-inflicted ones that disrupt a business without warning. When those disruptions occur, a GMB listing provides the first line of response.

The lesson to be learned is this: don’t wait for a disruption to mind your GMB listings. Businesses that had already been managing their content closely were better prepared to react to the pandemic than those who had allowed their listings to fall out of date. Businesses that had taken the time to learn how to manage features such as Google Posts were able to move faster to keep their customers informed in the early days of the pandemic than the ones who were caught flat-footed. Master your GMB listings now. And never let up.

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