Google is constantly updating, revising, and expanding local search functionality. Even so, the flurry of activity in 2020 has been rather surprising. According to the company, their search engineers have made more than 250 changes to Google Maps and local search queries, simply since the start of the pandemic… and most of these changes have involved the rollout of new features.
In this post, we’d like to highlight some of the updates that are most noteworthy to businesses with brick-and-mortar locations. With specific questions about utilizing any of these features, we welcome you to contact us directly.
Significant Local Search Updates from 2020
1) Temporary Closures
One of the many sad occurrences of 2020 was seeing so many businesses close their doors… either permanently or temporarily. For those that have closed for now but hope they might one day reopen, Google has provided a way to note their temporary closure on the local search results page. This is a simple but effective way for companies to communicate with their customers, letting them know that they’re laying low for now but not forever.
2) Special Hours
Some businesses have responded to the pandemic by incorporating “special” or secondary hours of operation. For example, you may remember how a number of grocery stores opened their doors for an hour each morning, allowing seniors to come in and shop before the broader population is welcomed inside. This is a great way for companies to accommodate vulnerable and at-risk populations, and these secondary hours can actually be posted on a local search listing. In the future, this feature could be useful for VIP sales events, early bird specials, etc.
3) Special Messaging
For some companies, it’s basically been business as usual throughout the pandemic. For others, changes to their normal operation have been pretty straightforward… for example, they may be temporarily closed, or open only during abbreviated hours.
But what about companies that have more complicated situations, like being open by appointment only? Google now accommodates these conditions with flexible messaging options.
4) Virtual Services
Chances are, if there is any way for your business to offer its services in a remote or virtual environment, you’ve figured it out by now. For example, yoga studios or martial arts gyms may now offer classes online. And if that’s the case, you can make it clear to your customers and clients, thanks to new local search features that have been rolled out by Google.
5) Prominent Attributes
You’ve probably noticed this one, especially with regard to restaurants. A lot of eating establishments have either red X’s or green checkmarks on their local search entries, denoting whether they do or do not offer dine-in, takeout, and delivery options.
6) New Guidelines and Resources
Not only has Google unveiled a lot of new features to help businesses navigate local search during the COVID pandemic… but they have also put together some useful documents to explain how some of the new features work.
For example, you can find Google documents highlighting how healthcare organizations can make the most of Google My Business.
7) Free Google Shopping Features
This one isn’t directly related to the pandemic, but nevertheless has been a boon to retailers throughout a tough year.
Essentially, Google has made its Shopping features available to all retailers, allowing them to upload their store inventory feeds completely free of charge. By uploading inventory feeds, both online and brick-and-mortar stores can display their wares in the Google Shopping display.
This comes in conjunction with updates to distinguish between free and promoted listings within Google Shopping, a move that has brought greater clarity to the consumer experience.
8) Health and Safety Attributes
As of September, Google now lets businesses advertise a range of health and safety protocols. For example, local search listings may now specify any of the following:
- Masks required
- Staff wears masks
- Temperature checks required
- Safety dividers at checkout
9) Travel Safety
Google has incorporated COVID-19 information into local search results, making it easy for search engine users to see if they might be traveling into a state or a county where case severity is especially high.
Finally, Google has made some meaningful efforts to show support for small businesses that might be struggling in the midst of the pandemic. In particular, Google has thrown some support behind small business fundraising efforts such as gift card sales, prominent links to crowdsource fundraising campaigns, etc.
The Changing World of Local Search
We’ve all encountered our share of disruptions due to the pandemic… but one small silver lining is that Google has kept pace, helping small businesses adapt their local search presence accordingly.
Many of these features will continue to be pertinent in the weeks and months to come, so if you have any questions about how they work, we welcome you to contact the team at enCOMPASS Agency directly.
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