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?

Leave a comment!

Want to Help a Local Business in Tough Times? Write That Review Already

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At some point, daily life will go from FUBAR back to good old TARFU.  When that happens, do you want to continue with the businesses you love and rely on, or will you find them on Boot Hill between Sears and Toys “R” Us?  Your review might make the difference.

Supporting businesses that do a good job is always a good thing.  Whatever form that takes during this disaster (COVID-19) or in future disasters is probably helpful and welcomed.

But do you know what most business owners like even more than your prepaying for services or ordering a gift card?  Customers.  Both the fish and the ability to fish more.  That’s where reviews come in.

Any revenue businesses get now will help them now, but then they have to fulfill later.  That’s the deal, of course.  But it can create a serious pinch later, especially if a lot of customers prepaid around the time you did.

Writing a detailed and useful review – maybe one you’ve meant to write for a while – helps in at least two ways that prepaying or gift-carding can’t:

1. It can help the business get a customer now who needs the business’s services or products now. The business can probably do the work or fulfill the order now more easily than it can later, when it may be under a pinch. You may not need the service or product now, but someone out there does.

2. You may expand their customer base a little. The only thing better than a happy and loyal customer is one who also brings in more customers like him or her. That is the ultimate.  On a couple of occasions I’ve been told, “By the way, thanks for your review a few months ago.  A few customers have mentioned it as a reason they ended up choosing us.”  That’s always nice to hear.

Writing a helpful and maybe influential review takes time, and maybe you don’t have the time to help all the local businesses you want to help.  In that case, at least help a couple of businesses.  If you don’t do it for them, at least do it for selfish reasons: If it’s a business you like or rely on, you probably want it to stay in business, or else you’ll need to shop around later and still maybe not find as good a provider.

How can you write a review that packs a wallop, and at just the right time?  A few basic SOPs:

  • Go into detail, or as much as you can. Explain why you picked the business, and how it stacks up against alternatives (e.g. other businesses you may have used in the past). If possible, explain why you still use the service or brought the product even now, when times are tough, or explain why customers’ money is well-spent if they do so.
  • Post your review on a 2nd review site, or at least offer to do so. Stick your Google Maps review (for example) on another review site, or vice versa. It won’t get filtered because of the cross-posting, in my experience.
  • Ask the business owner what he or she would find most helpful. One way to do that is to ask, “Hey, I’d like to write you a review. Any particular site you want, and any points you want me to touch on?”  Another way is to say, “I just wrote you a review. Let me know if you want me to tweak anything, expand on anything, add photos, etc.”

I guess it depends on the business and on the owner, but I’ve found often that I get extra-good service after I’ve reviewed a business.  On the one hand, maybe that’s because I do my research and only work with solid companies and people, so I avoid the deadbeats.  On the other hand, most business owners remember a good word and a good deed, and try to make it worth your while.

Writing a review of a business you like is free, but it can accomplish a lot:

  • Help keep them in business for their sake, in a time of need.
  • Help keep them in business for your sake.
  • Help other customers find and pick a keeper.
  • Possibly earn you “VIP” treatment sooner or later.

Reviewing good businesses is time well-spent.

Do your reviewing habits change at all during rough times?

To what extent do you have customers come out of the woodwork when it matters most?

Any unconventional suggestions on how business owners can encourage stressed-out people to put in a good word online?

Leave a comment!

Pro Bono Local SEO Help for Businesses Locked Down by Coronavirus

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If you or someone you know is a business owner whose business has been shut down or severely hobbled by Coronavirus regulation or the like, I’m glad to offer a bit of local SEO/search/visibility advice free of charge or obligation.  All you’d need to do is read the stuff below and email me your questions. […]

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Google My Business Category Not Showing for Service-Area Businesses with Hidden Addresses

If you’ve got a Google My Business page that specifies your service area but not your address, Google won’t show your category in the sidebar (the “knowledge panel”). You’ll still see it in Google Maps and in the 3-pack. You’ll also see it if you’ve specified your street address. But you won’t see it in […]

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How to Make a “Service Areas” Page That Hunts

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An “Areas Served” or “Service Areas” or “Cities” or “Locations” page doesn’t get much consideration in the local SEO world, and that’s a shame.  If you do it right, that kind of page can rank for some juicy terms, help other pages to rank, make your site structure simpler, help people navigate your site, and […]

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Good Ways and Bad Ways to Save Money on Local SEO

Some business owners say things like, “I don’t have enough budget for local SEO.”  You may not have money to waste on work that doesn’t work, and you may not have the budget for all the conveniences you want.  But the basic activities you can always afford, if you make the right decisions for the […]

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Is Your Local SEO Person Shell-Shocked, Gun-Shy, and TOO Afraid of Angering Google? How to Avoid the Phobias

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SEOs often have a hard time with moderation.  They tend to sit at extremes and take an all-or-nothing approach – to getting links, building citations, creating “content,” jamming keywords into pages, and so on.  If they were actors, they’d be William Shatner.   You can have too much of a good thing.  Most SEOs take […]

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Hit Blog Post but No Local Traffic or Rankings? 7 Ways to Make That Post Help Your Local SEO Effort

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You heard you were supposed to blog or pump out other “content.”  You heard Google likes it, or local customers like it, or you can earn some links from it.  At least one of those things didn’t turn out as planned.  Now it all seems like a big waste. But your toil in the sun […]

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Hermit Crab SEO: a Google Maps Ranking Tactic That Should Not Work

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“Hermit crab SEO” is my name for the local SEO tactic of moving to a new place of business, creating a Google My Business page at the new address, and leaving up your old Google My Business page (which still uses the old address) until Google removes it or your body assumes room temperature, whichever […]

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How to Move Google Reviews between Google My Business Pages Far Apart

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Believe it or not, Google’s pretty good about transferring Google Maps reviews from one GMB page to another.  It’s hard to tell that from Google’s guidelines, which have a dash of Justice Stewart: “If you’ve made changes to your business, your existing reviews may be kept, moved, or removed from your listing, depending on the […]

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