If you’re a business owner with a Google My Business (GMB) listing, there are a few steps to take when responding to a crisis. In fact, the search engine giant has listed a few key pieces of advice if your community has been affected by the novel coronavirus and COVID-19. To keep your SEO performance at its best, it’s important that you adopt these recommendations as soon as possible. And if you aren’t optimizing your local search engine optimization (SEO) with GMB, then now’s a good time to get on board.
As chief marketing officer of Regal Assets and the founder of Little Dragon Media, I’ve helped countless clients, from small business owners to heads of international enterprises, improve their local SEO with Google My Business. Over the years I’ve come to learn how rare it is for Google to issue advisories for business owners with GMB listings and have realized that when Google speaks, we have to listen.
Accurate and up-to-date information is the foundation of a successful crisis strategy. As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to provide your customers and employees with accurate information about your business’s day-to-day operations.
Below are a few of the most important changes business owners should make to their GMB listings. Although Google hasn’t introduced any new features, the company has advised its users to take advantage of certain existing features to support its customers during times of uncertainty.
Update Your Hours Of Operation
If a crisis has impacted when your business will be open to customers, immediately update your GMB profile to reflect these changes. When following stay-at-home orders and social distancing, as with the COVID-19 crisis, having your customers arrive at your store only to find it closed could put them in unnecessary harm.
Changing your hours of operation will likely be one of the first priorities of your business continuity plan. Rather than laying off employees, it may be more prudent to reduce your employees’ hours to remain in keeping with reduced consumer demand. Small businesses may be able to switch to home-delivery models as well.
In addition to updating your company’s GMB profile to reflect its changed hours of operations, be sure to also mention the change on your website and social media platforms, and record a message stating the change of hours on your store’s voicemail.
Publish A Crisis Response Statement
Google My Business allows users to take advantage of the Google Posts tool to update profiles with text and photos. The Google Posts tool can help business owners inform their customers with up-to-the-minute developments on the company, which can help ease any concerns they might have about visiting your store.
Business owners must communicate with empathy during times of crisis. In a fast-moving situation, it’s important that you recognize that your customers will have many questions, concerns and fears. To put your customers at ease as best you can, provide your contact information that they can use to reach out with questions.
Your customers may be frustrated by the policy changes you may make to your business. To quell their frustrations, use an empathetic tone and sensitive language to explain why the changes were necessary, that they were in accordance with public health guidelines or directives, and that you are committed to full transparency during this difficult time. Rather than directly replying to customers’ questions or comments on social media, direct any questions to a private email or phone line.
Develop A Plan To Respond To Inquiries
Expect a spike in emails and phone calls from your customers during a crisis. To ensure that your customers can easily contact you, make sure that your GMB profile lists an up-to-date phone number and email address connected to your business. If possible, it may be wise to include a secondary phone number in case customers have difficulty getting through.
Depending on the volume of inquiries your business receives, consider having a dedicated point person to answer all calls and emails related to your business’s crisis response. This person should be a senior-level employee or founder who’s knowledgeable on crisis-related matters and is familiar with all guidelines — for instance, COVID-19 local and national health guidelines. This person should also be able to speak to the specific actions your company is taking — e.g., regular floor and window washing, mandatory glove-wearing, physical distancing in lines.
As more inquiries pile in, have your point person train other senior employees on how to respond to customer concerns. This way, all external communications will be consistent.
Communicate Key Information In Your GMB Description
The description section of your profile is often the first body of text that your customers read when they search for your business through Google. You can use this to your advantage by updating the section with information regarding the precautions your business is taking in response to a crisis.
Google limits GMB listings to a maximum of 750 characters in the description field, so be succinct. With the limited space you have, list at least a few concrete policy changes that your company has made. For instance, in response to COVID-19, you could mention that there are new mandatory limits on the number of customers who can enter the store at a time, or that your floors are now being washed twice daily.
Crisis Response And SEO
It’s important that business owners keep their customers informed about the operating hours of their business and any changes that might arise during uncertain times. Providing accurate information can help your customers make informed purchasing decisions during an otherwise stressful and tense situation.
Google has made it clear that keeping your GMB information accurate and up to date will improve your business’s local SEO performance. Today, more than ever, it’s important that business owners take responsibility by providing honest and correct information to the public. In the process, your business will stay in Google’s good books, and your SEO will likely benefit as a result.
Written by Amine Rahal
Amine is a tech entrepreneur and writer. He is currently the CMO at Regal Assets and CEO at IronMonk Solutions. (Originally posted at Forbes.)