Monday Memo: Coronavirus and the Role of Digital Search, Trust in Google on the Rise

Damian Rollison | Mar 9, 2020 7:52:54 AM

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In this week’s Monday Memo, learn about the role of search during the coronavirus outbreak; signs of growing trust in Google search results; Pinterest’s reach among female users; J.C. Penney’s curbside pickup service; the cost of inaccurate reviews; and GMB changes for car dealerships and uploaded media.

Coronavirus and the role of digital search

Roger Montti recently speculated in Search Engine Journal about the possibility that the global coronavirus outbreak will impact several aspects of search marketing. Montti is quick to point out that health and safety are the crucial priorities at this time. Even so, search marketers may need to prepare for changes ranging from the cancellation of conferences, to restrictions on travel, to shortages in products that are typically shipped from China and other affected parts of the globe. 


To these I would add that the spike in concern has created a marketplace for news and advice that can and should be met conscientiously by marketers, who can help the public to access the resources they need to stay informed. As the situation develops, search will be a critical tool for accessing timely updates about the impact of the outbreak on business operations and availability of products, especially those in high demand like hand sanitizer. Even now, with much of northern Italy under quarantine, it’s not hard to imagine that digital tools are providing a crucial resource to people who need information and access to services.


A report in Chain Store Age shows that consumers are subject to new challenges, from false product claims to price gouging, as a result of coronavirus. Shopping behavior is also changing, with 21% of consumers buying more products online and 49% concerned about products shipped from affected countries. Sales for specific items have seen substantial increases; in the week of February 23-29, hand sanitizer sales were up 420%, canned food was up 183%, and bottled water rose 78%. Amazon has been removing thousands of products priced unreasonably high due to the demand, and has penalized sellers who make false claims about the effectiveness of products against coronavirus.


Google has also announced several initiatives in response to the outbreak, noting that searches for “coronavirus cleaning advice” spiked 1,700% in the first week of March. The company is working to provide relevant information in search and on YouTube, combating false claims in videos and ads, and contributing AI resources to help with research. 


[Update 3/9/20: Google has just published some new guidelines for businesses affected by coronavirus, suggesting ways to keep their GMB listings current.]


Trust in Google results on the rise, especially among younger users

A new search survey from Path Interactive asks the opinions of Google users in the U.S., India, and Europe about the trustworthiness of Google results in sensitive categories including medicine, politics, and finance. Overall, the survey finds a majority of users agreeing that Google has improved in displaying accurate results. For example, 72% of respondents either agree or strongly agree that Google’s results for medical searches have improved. Users also generally feel that rich results, found for example in Knowledge Cards and Featured Snippets, are trustworthy.


Source: Path Interactive


Opinions differ significantly by age group, however; for instance, users aged 18-25 are 94% more likely to strongly agree about improvement in medical results than users older than 65. When it comes to political content, older searchers are much less likely to trust what they see in Google results than younger searchers, are more likely to say they have encountered misinformation, and are less likely to say that Google results influence their political opinions. 


Pinterest now reaches 60% of women in U.S.

Pinterest has released a new report, timed to coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8, claiming not only that 60% of all U.S. women are active on the site, but that the numbers go up to an impressive 80% for moms and 75% for millenial women. The report notes that women wield a lot of purchasing power and are expected to control 75% of all discretionary spending by 2028. Searches trending among women on Pinterest include solo living as well as motivation and self improvement. 


J.C. Penney to expand curbside pickup

Taking a cue from Walmart and Target, J.C. Penney recently launched a curbside pickup service called Style on the Go. After a successful pilot in Dallas, Penney will expand the pickup service to 50 stores. Customers can choose curbside pickup for items purchased on the J.C. Penney website when they select ship to store or free same-day pickup. When they arrive at the store, customers send a text notification and a Penney employee brings the purchased items to the car. J.C. Penney currently operates 850 stores in the U.S.


Customers may be wasting $25 billion due to inaccurate reviews

A new study, commissioned by TrustPilot and conducted by research firm Canvas8, finds that consumers in the U.S., U.K., and France believe they wasted an average of $125 last year by trusting information in reviews that turned out to be inaccurate. In a writeup on the study, Greg Sterling speculates that, extrapolated across the U.S. population, the finding means that as much as $25 billion is wasted in the U.S. each year due to misleading reviews. Though at first this might seem contradictory, the study also finds that consumers use and trust reviews more than ever, with 48% of consumers in the U.S. saying they trust reviews more now than they did two years ago. 


Source: TrustPilot/Canvas8


Overall, 89% of consumers consult reviews online before making a purchase, but they do so with a high degree of skepticism. In fact, 49% of respondents believe that many companies create fake reviews. Moreover, 55% said they prefer companies with lots of reviews and a lower rating over few reviews and a high rating, and 16% even said they tend to believe 5-star reviews are fake. 


Google allows car dealerships to have multiple GMB listings

Google has updated its rules to allow car dealers to create separate GMB listings for the overall dealership and for each brand they sell, as well as separate listings for service and parts departments. In order to make sure separate departments are properly linked to the main listing, dealers must make a special request by contacting GMB support. The local SEO community is divided over the benefits and drawbacks of this change, with many SEOs commenting that the creation of multiple listings will tend to dilute the effectiveness of review building campaigns. 


Google will now review all photos and videos before publication in GMB

Google My Business has posted an update to its media policies, stating that all photos and videos will now be reviewed before publication in a GMB listing. The rule seems to apply both to media uploaded by ordinary users and by listing owners and managers. In a post on Twitter, Mike Blumenthal suggested that the policy has actually been in place for some time, and said that Google has confirmed the moderation process is mostly driven by machines rather than humans. 

Topics: Monday Memo

Damian Rollison

Damian Rollison

VP of Market Development and Strategic Partnerships

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