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Google Announces GMB Functionality Limitations Due to COVID-19 Virus

We will update this post as new information becomes availanle. Update 2020-03-27 (Posts for Chains). Update 2020-03-25 (Temporary Closed status). Update 2020-03-24 (#10 & #11 below)

Google Takes Decisive Action to Limit User Generated Content

Google is Limiting GMB functionality due to the COVID-19 virus. Here is the introduction from their official announcement.

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.

Our current focus is on the quality and reliability of information on Google Search and Maps. We want to ensure users and business owners have access to essential features like whether the business is open or has special hours. Learn about best practices for affected businesses, and what you can do to keep your customers informed.

https://support.google.com/business/answer/9792336

Announced Changes

Business information Edits
Google will prioritize reviews for edits critical to health-related businesses. At this time, they will also prioritize reviews for open and closed states, special hours, temporary closures, business descriptions, and business attributes edits for other verified businesses.

Newly Created Listings, Claims, and Verifications
Their support team will manually review new listings, claims, and verifications for critical health-related businesses. While they prioritize these critical services, users should expect a delay for publication of new listings, claims, and verifications for other types of businesses to Google Search and Maps.

Reviews and Q&A
New reviews, review replies, and new Q&A will be unavailable during this time.

Actual Changes We’re Seeing

A list of things that we are seeing directly or shared by reliable sources that are different than normal currently.

1) Naming Flexibility
Google is allowing businesses like restaurants to add “delivery available” or “takeout available” to the business name.  This is normally not allowed per the GMB guidelines. Brands that can take advantage of this flexibility should consider doing so given the emphasis the business name has on map/local search rankings.

2) Description Update Challenges
There are many reports on the GMB forum about businesses not able to add descriptions. However, LocalClarity is not currently recording these challenges.

3) Some Posts Rejected
There are many reports on the GMB forum about businesses having Posts rejected that don’t have violations in them. This seems, at least initially, to be isolated.

4) Mark As Temporarily Closed
Google has updated the GMB Portal to allow businesses to mark locations as “temporarily closed”. This is what the option looks like in the portal and how it presents in desktop knowledge panel (it has been active in Italy for the last two weeks). We have requested that this choice be made available as an API control, but in the meantime, the only way to set the designation is individually in the GMB portal.

5) Reviews No Longer Received
Google has shut off the ability for businesses to receive new reviews. This includes reviews left via Local Services ad listings. If a user goes to leave a review, it appears to work as normal but the review doesn’t show up anywhere.  Based on the flow of data (see dashboard chart below), it looks like the reviews stopped flowing midday on March 20th. We don’t yet know if these “held reviews” will eventually be released or delete.

6) Review Responses Not Publishing
Review responses posted by the business owner are not publishing.

7) Questions No Longer Received
Google has shut off the ability for businesses to receive new reviews. This includes reviews left via Local Services ad listings. If a user goes to leave a review, it appears to work as normal but the review doesn’t show up anywhere. 

8) Q&A Section Removed
The Questions and Answers section on Google has been completely removed from listings.

9) New Photos are Not Posting
Photos that are added by users to a business listing are not showing live.

10) Google Prioritizing Edits
Many edits made in the GMB dashboard and via API are pending. Updates for hours, attributes, and business descriptions are not being prioritized.

11) GMB Support Options Reduced
GMB phone support and chat support no longer work. The only way to contact GMB is to send an email form.

11) Google Post Chain Restriction Removed
Google has removed the API restriction that prevented bulk creation and management for Google Posts. All businesses should take advantage of this new flexibility to share updates.

Recommendations

We are strongly encouraging all customers to focus on the core searcher experience to make absolutely certain that every location’s knowledge panel is a strong representation of the brand.

A) Update Descriptions
Brands and agencies should be looking to update each location’s descriptions share critical updates Here are a few examples of businesses demonstrating best-in-class information management in a crisis by strategically leveraging the Description field.

B) Leverage Google Posts
Posts are now populating the UPDATES navigation in the Google Knowledge Panel mobile presence. Now, more than ever, Posts are an exceptional vehicle for timely customer engagement. Here are a few great examples:

C) Affirm all Days of Operation, Hours, and Contact Details
Make certain that all core availability information is accurate across all listings. We are seeing an incredible increase in calls and clicks for locations. Make certain that customers have a path towards resolution.

D) Expand Categories & Attributes
Now’s the time to review all possible categories and attributes for improved search discovery. Virtually all brands and agencies have an opportunity to secure more local and map impressions for long-tail searches.

Please let us know if you have questions about how best to set your location details or create Google Posts.

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