Is COVID-19 the End of “Google As Your New Homepage”?

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Over the years, we’ve seen Google add so much stuff to the search results that we’ve concluded Google doesn’t even want searchers to click through to your website, because (Google assumes) everything people want to know is right there in the search results.  Some smart people in the local-search space have called that slow transformation “Google as your new homepage.”  Who needs to see your homepage when Google can save people a click or tap?

As with so many other things, COVID-19 will probably change that.  At least in the crazy world of search, it seems the big lesson is: we still need to click.

Google’s local search results are affected by the disruption and (to a lesser extent) contribute to it.  In the long haul, that may us a little less reliant on them and more reliant on what’s on businesses’ sites.

The main problem (as usual) is in the combination of Google Maps/My Business and the knowledge panel.  That’s where Google has really made a dog’s breakfast of things.  The rest of the search results (organic, PPC, and YouTube) are just SNAFU.

What problems do I think have ended, delayed, or complicated Google’s ability to function as the “homepage” for businesses?  What’s likely to have forced or compelled more searchers to click through to businesses’ sites?

1. The info in the local search results has been even less trustworthy since the COVID-19 outbreak started. Businesses are labeled as “temporarily closed” that may be open, and vice versa. Edits made in the Google My Business dashboard have been “pending” for longer than usual, so updates to hours (for instance) may be late to appear.  One result is people need to click through to the site to see what a business’s status really is.

2. The info is even less fresh. Google hasn’t allowed new reviews, new responses to reviews, or new Q&A. In recent days, posts have not worked properly.  (I put up some GMB posts for some clients early on in the outbreak, but since then it seems the wheels have popped off the wagon.)

3. Google My Business “support” has been on life support. In an understandable and wise effort to limit Coronavirus spread between employees, Google has used only a skeleton crew to provide support, and presumably has had some staff working remotely. The unintended consequence is there is less help for more problems.

4. Google My Business never has made accommodations for telemedicine or other virtual offerings. The list of business categories, “attributes,” or other fields in the GMB dashboard do not allow you to specify whether you offer non-in-person versions of your service.  (The Google Helpouts feature sorta-kinda used to  do that, but that feature has been gone for much longer than it was around.)  So all you and customers are left with is the Google My Business description, which you may or may not be able to update, and which you may or may not want to change.  So everyone needs to click through to your site to determine whether and how you offer a virtual option.

5. In the Google My Business description and in “posts” (when they function) there isn’t enough space to say much. Another reason people need to click through to your site.

6. Google doesn’t introduce relevant new Google My Business categories or filters quickly enough. Search for something like “Coronavirus testing near me” and you’ll see what I mean: no local map 3-pack results for that, partly because there isn’t a Google My Business category for that.  Similar deal with filters.  You can type in “urgent care clinic” and filter by rating or by hours, but you can’t filter by “offers virtual appointments” (for instance).

Google’s mission has always been to rob people blindorganize the world’s information.”  It’s somewhere in the middle of that process, or perhaps it’s the end of the beginning.  But Google doesn’t have all the world’s information, partly because some of it is in business owners’ noggins, and partly because that information changes by the hour.  That should be where business owners come in, because only they can fill in the gaps, if only Google will not get in the way.

So that’s where one’s website must come in.  The local search results have become more complete and helpful over the years, but the local results fall apart when people want to find a very specific service or product, delivered in a certain way, perhaps under unusual circumstances.  That’s why your site needs a page on every offering, many and visible internal links to those pages, and a powerhouse homepage, and you need the ability to make quick and imperfect changes fast.  Google can’t do all that for you, or for the people who want or need to find exactly what you offer.

Google’s years-long push toward showing everything in the local search results assumes that everyone has a short attention span.  Many people do, of course, but people who want to find one particular thing often will dig until they find it.

Think of when you’ve tried to buy toilet paper.  Walmart could throw a brick of 24 on the roof and someone would find it.  The supermarket could hide a roll between the frozen lima beans and the frozen Brussels sprouts, and the rolls would be on the conveyor belt 5 minutes later.  That’s because all the shoppers are basically in the right place, and not on the road or in the parking lot.  Only your website can show people where the toilet paper is.

What’s your take?

How else might the COVID-19 outbreak change the “Google as your homepage” mission?

To what extent have you found it helpful to make website changes on the fly?

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Comments

  1. avatar Eduard de Boer says

    Good points, Phil! At least Google made it possible to temporarily close a business as an owner within GMB as of yesterday.

    FYI: I’ve made a brief video for novice GMB users on how to do this, at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhFob_LroFg

  2. avatar Mike Blumenthal says

    According to Google marking a business temporarilty closed no longer hides the listing

    • That’s good news, Mike. Thanks. Turning off “temporarily closed” does seem to make one whole again. I have one client who found that out the hard way. We remedied it before Google’s fix, though.

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