There is no doubt that the Coronavirus COVID-19 is greatly impacting the search marketing industry. Every single day, Google has taken unprecedented action to help buffer the widespread negative effects the Coronavirus is having on businesses and websites, as well as provide users with the most updated information possible on COVID-19. Their actions include launching information and resources hubs, making temporary policy changes to Google My Business, and offering support for new structured data types.
Google’s Official COVID-19 Resources Page
Google’s New COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports
On April 3rd, Google launched a website called COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports, which compiles aggregated, anonymized location traffic insights. The website helps public health officials make decisions to combat COVID-19. These PDF reports are broken down by location and display the change in visits to places over the course of the past month. Categorized places that Google is currently tracking for these reports include:
- Retail & recreation
- Grocery & pharmacy
- Transit stations
Google has announced that these reports will only be available for a limited amount of time, presumably until the current health crisis ends.
Google has made the effort to make accurate & updated information on COVID-19 more accessible on search results pages. They’ve implemented emergency informational panels at the top of SERPs for medical facility-related queries such as “doctor’s office near me,” and “hospital,” as well as general health queries such as “women’s health” and “baby health.”
Interestingly, the information panel does not appear for specific queries relating to Coronavirus symptoms, such as “coughing,” “sore throat,” and “difficulty breathing.”
You Can No Longer Sell Face Masks on Google Ads
According to SEORoundTable, as of March 11th, Google no longer allows Google Ad users to bid or place ads on face mask-related keywords.
Additionally, Google updated its Inappropriate Content ads policy, which now condemns ads that “potentially capitalizes on or lacks reasonable sensitivity towards a natural disaster, conflict, death, public health emergency, or other tragic events.”
Google My Business: New Post Types, Temporarily Closed Visibility Update, and More
Google My Business (GMB) has been making quick changes to make sure businesses are still receiving visibility & showing updated information during quarantine.
Limited Google My Business Functionality
In order to reduce the need for team members to come into Google offices and endangering themselves & others, Google has limited the functionality of the Google My Business platform.
The GMB team will now prioritize listing and review edits for health-related businesses only. Newly created listings, claims, and verifications for all other types of businesses are being manually reviewed by the GMB team, which will likely result in delays. Additionally, users can no longer post new reviews, new review replies, new short names, photos, videos, and Q+As on any listings.
Google My Business has also limited the ways users can contact them for support. GMB phone & chat support no longer work — the only way to contact GMB with any queries or problems is through email.
New Post Type for COVID-19 Announcements
Google My Business has debuted a new post type for businesses to post any announcements relating to COVID-19. On the menu, users can now choose to post a “COVID-19 Update.”
This post type doesn’t feature any new fields, but it will appear pinned at the top of the GMB listing in local search. Business owners can use this post type to post updates about their business’ current state of affairs, including if they’re temporarily closed, have new operating hours, offer takeout or delivery, and safety precautions the business is taking to protect their customers’ health. Any posts published after the COVID-19 Update post will appear below it, ensuring that customers will see important information about the business first.
Users Can Now Add ‘Takeout’ and ‘Delivery’ Attributes
Users can now add “dine-in,” “takeout” and “delivery” attributes to their GMB listing, which will denote if the restaurant is still available for those options.
Normally, adding business attributes to your Google My Business listing name is against Google guidelines. Given the circumstances, Google has also recently allowed restaurant and grocery business owners to add “takeout” or “delivery” to their GMB name, in order to help users find this information more easily.
‘Temporarily Closed’ Notice No Longer Impacts Rankings
Since the Coronavirus crisis has come to a head, many GMB listing owners have reported that their businesses have been incorrectly marked “Temporarily Closed,” a feature that traditionally would decrease the business’ visibility in local search results.
On March 29th, Danny Sullivan confirmed on Twitter that marking your Google My Business listing as Temporarily Closed will not impact ranking or visibility.
As of March 31st, this update is officially reflected in Google My Business’ Help Center on their page Guidance on updating info and temporary closures. Google also clarified that they receive information from authoritative data sources, such as state/local governments, non-profit organizations, and educational institutions. which informs them which businesses they automatically marked as temporarily closed.
As for what categories of places they automatically marked, Google states, “Any categories of places that authoritative source say are temporarily closed” and lists schools, museums, gyms, and stores as examples.
Luckily, a business owner can remove or update their “Temporarily Closed” status on their GMB dashboard, and the change “will be effective immediately.”
New Structured Data Types
On March 16th, Schema.org fast-tracked the rollout of new structured data markup types designed to help websites manage their organic listings during the health crisis. The new properties mainly center around different attributes for Event schema, since many events & gatherings have recently been canceled due to the Coronavirus.
New Event Schema
eventStatus is a new schema type that will let users know the current state of their scheduled event. The following attributes are available for this property:
- EventCancelled: The event has been canceled
- EventMovedOnline: The event has moved to an online domain
- EventPostponed: The event has been postponed; new dates are TBA
- EventRescheduled: The event has been rescheduled to a new date
- EventScheduled: the event is still scheduled to proceed as planned
eventAttendanceMode will allow event organizers to specify how users can attend their event – whether it’s online, offline, or a mix.
New COVID-19 Schema Type
The new SpecialAnnouncement structured data type may be used by schools, healthcare providers, and government agencies. It lets users communicate date-stamped “urgent crisis-related information” about their business. Bing began supporting the SpecialAnnouncement data type on March 23rd, and on March 31st, Google announced that websites can begin using this structured data type, even though support for it is still in development.
It is commendable that Google has quickly taken action to help users learn more about COVID-19 and protect their online presence from the adverse effects of it. As of right now, it is expected that many of these changes will be temporary, but it’s clear that search behavior has already drastically changed as the result of the Coronavirus, and now the question remains if this change in how Google and the rest of the search marketing industry works will become permanent.
If you’re feeling lost in the constant updates, talk to our SEO experts who have been keeping up with the latest trends and guidelines.