Google My Business Features Temporarily Disabled During Covid-19
Businesses around the world are falling on hard times right now. Many are being forced to adapt and pivot as new mandates and regulations are enacted to stop Covid-19 from spreading.
New developments are arising affecting local SEO as a result of this global pandemic. Last week a significant change was made by Google. Google sent out a post on March 20, 2020, announcing a temporary disablement and limitation of Google My Business features, stating: “During the unprecedented COVID-19 situation, we are taking steps to protect the health of our team members and reduce the need for people to come into our offices. As a result, there may be some temporary limitations and delays in support as we prioritize critical services.”
Which GMB Features have been Removed?
- New Reviews – At this time, new reviews cannot be published on Google My Business profiles. Users can leave a review and see it themselves, but they will not be visible to the public.
- Review Replies – Review replies cannot be edited, and you cannot respond to any existing replies on your profile. With no new reviews coming in, this is less impactful than it usually would be.
- Q&A – Possibly the most substantial change to the platform is that Q&As have been totally removed from Google My Business profiles. Existing question and answer sections are no longer visible, and no new questions can be posted.
Which GMB Features have been limited?
- Claiming, Verifying, or Adding new Listings – At this time, health-related businesses are prioritized for Google’s listing review process. Expect delays for any listing claims for any business that are not health-related. Google has not specified the length of delay for claiming, verifying, or adding new listings.
- Editing Business Information – The same as listing review processing is prioritized for health-related fields. Such is also true for editing business information. Non-health-related businesses can expect delays when processing edits for the following:
- Business Attributes
- Business Descriptions
- Temporary Closings
- Special Hours
- Open and Closed States
These changes are both for the profile owner and users who try to update information.
GMB User Reports of Wider Impacts on Features
While Google has only mentioned new reviews, review replies, Q&A, listing verifications or claims, adding new business listings, and editing business information, end-users of Google My Business are taking note of other changes to the platform.
As far as we can tell, Google is not restricting Google Posts functionality at the moment. This means, there’s still time to share critical information with customers, such as changes made to hours of operation, or current special promotions by publishing posts.
Given the unpredictability of Google, this may possibly change with time. In fact, some SEO users on Twitter have reported an increase in rejection of their Google Posts. Twitter user Jason Brown stated, “Seeing a spike in Google posts being rejected. If your post fails, you are not alone.” He attached a photo of questions and comments the GMB community has posted to Google support, such as:
- Simple google business post rejected
- Rejected Post – GMB
- Why are my posts being rejected
- Post Rejected
- Why does every post get rejected!!
Google has not yet referred to why there is a higher rejection rate seen by some users than others, or whether the new guidelines are here to stay. Until we have clarity, Google Posts are still a highly effective form of communicating and informing consumers of changes to operations while staying visible in searches.
Users Jonas Henriksen report that user-generated content is unavailable at this time. Google hasn’t confirmed this information as of yet, so we don’t know if we’re seeing an error or if this was intentional.
Joy Hawkins is a Google My Business Product Expert, and a speaker at several SEO conferences such as Mozcon & Pubcon. Her tweet reached users across the GMB and SEO community, as she was joined in confirmation from others that user-generated content is suspended for the time being due to COVID-19.
Takeout and Delivery Available Additions to Business Names
While Google is typically stringent on sticking to guidelines when it comes to the business name on GMB, they appear to have loosened their guidelines for the time being. Restaurants can now add “delivery available” or “takeout available” to their business names.
Changing a business name now could be extremely helpful to businesses and customers for the short time being, however, it’s speculated that such a change could negatively impact Google Map rankings.
Why is Google changing GMB Features Now?
We speculate Google is making these changes to GMB Features for two reasons:
- Ensuring health-related businesses can keep customers up-to-date on critical information.
- They are limiting the burden placed on businesses who are likely fielding a surplus of questions related to COVID-19.
This double-edged sword arises because we want to commend Google for protecting their staff’s health while also prioritizing their focus on businesses that provide critical services such as healthcare to their community. On the other end of that, nearly every business relies on Google My Business, and even more so during this pandemic to keep customers up-to-date on changes to business operations, such as hours of operation. Shoppers making unnecessary trips to find a store is closed will likely result in them not returning to the business once they are open.
On top of that, small businesses need more support than ever right now, removing reviews takes away the customer’s ability to support their local businesses through word-of-mouth advertisement.
The local SEO community is rallying on Twitter with a challenge to share previous reviews for businesses they love, while inviting others to do the same, calling it the #5starchallenge.
Claire Carlile shared on Twitter to “post a review for biz you love, share a pic and tag three people, and challenge them to do the same. Small businesses are struggling, but reviews can help them bounce back when we can visit them again.” She tagged three friends who did the same, and thus the challenge continued.
While changes are happening to the GMB platform, we will survive, find our grounding again, and rise again once we find our new normal. We are excited to see communities coming together to support other businesses, and hope to see new connections made in the local SEO and global SEO communities around the world.