Monday Memo: Google Disables Features and Ramps Up Closures, Yelp Tracks Consumer Trends in Crisis

Damian Rollison | Mar 23, 2020 6:00:00 AM

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In this week’s post, learn about big changes to Google’s local features; new data from Yelp showing the impact of coronavirus on consumer behavior; Google’s advice for marketers during the crisis; new specifications; and Nextdoor’s new Groups and Help Map.


Google disables features and ramps up temporary closures

As I covered in more detail in my blog post on Friday, Google has announced that reviews, review responses, and questions and answers will be disabled in Google My Business listings in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The idea, as they explain in a new help page, is to focus available resources on critical data such as whether businesses are open or their hours have been reduced. Healthcare-related businesses will be prioritized over all others.

In actuality, due to these changes and the deliberate reduction in Google support staff that is also part of the crisis response, all edits to listings appear to have slowed down. A listing whose description I edited on Saturday did not see the update go live until Sunday. Every listing, on the Home tab in the GMB dashboard, now shows the following message.

Screen Shot 2020-03-21 at 2.24.42 PM

Google has also begun proactively marking businesses as temporarily closed using information from what it calls “authoritative sources.” A new section on temporary closures has been added to the COVID-19 help page launched several days ago (also discussed in this blog). Unfortunately, some businesses have been marked closed in error, but Google staff are working hard to fix these issues when they arise. If you need to contact Google for help due to an incorrect closure, there are several ways to do so. 


Yelp releases coronavirus impact report, multiple new features

Also on Friday, I outlined several updates to Yelp that were announced by CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, including a banner in Yelp profiles to alert consumers of special circumstances affecting business operations, new features to highlight offerings like contact-free delivery and virtual services, and zero tolerance for reviews that contain inflammatory content related to COVID-19. 

Yelp has also issued a report that quantifies huge changes in consumer behavior in recent days, reflecting the needs, fears, and shifting priorities of consumers as they react to the pandemic. Based on signals such as page views and review postings on Yelp, the company finds that between March 8 and March 18, consumer interest in restaurants fell 54%, with the notable exception of pizza, up 44%, and fast food, up 64%. Pickup and delivery, often the only options available for restaurant ordering due to governmental restrictions, have doubled in popularity. (According to OpenTable, in-restaurant dining was down 91% year-over-year as of March 18 -- a massive change from March 8 when dining had declined only 2%.) 

Yelp estimates that interest has declined at a rate of 69% for nightlife businesses, 61% for breweries, 38% for yoga studios, and 43% for bowling alleys. However, interest in other businesses has surged. Food delivery services are up 59% and grocery stores 160%. Increases are biggest for guns and ammunition at 360% and home fitness equipment at 344%.


Google offers advice for marketers about communication during crisis

Joshua Spanier, VP of Global Media at Google, has published some guidelines to help marketers think through their communication strategies during the coronavirus pandemic. Spanier offers five principles:

  1. Pay attention to local context. Because conditions differ greatly from region to region or country to country, it’s important to adapt your messaging to the situation on the ground wherever it will be delivered. 
  2. Reassess your plans constantly. In a time of rapid change, marketing plans created last week might not be appropriate anymore. Spanier cites an Android campaign that talks about being “out and about,” something that made sense a few weeks ago but now needs to be reconsidered.
  3. Rethink your creative content. Some common elements of marketing campaigns are simply not appropriate at this time. Spanier mentions slapstick humor and images of people high-fiving, hugging, or shaking hands, which might be seen as striking the wrong tone or failing to promote social distancing.
  4. Prioritize what is most relevant. For Google, this means an increased emphasis on tools like Search, Hangouts, and Classroom -- tools that assist in the critical need for information, communication, and virtual instruction.
  5. Be helpful. Now’s the time to lend your company’s resources, talent, unique offerings, and marketing efforts to the cause in whatever way you can. 


New Schema specifications for announcements, testing facilities, and event updates

On March 16, announced the release of version 7.0, which includes new specifications designed to help with coronavirus response. The release defines a new content type called SpecialAnnouncement that will allow web developers to highlight textual information related to any special circumstance, such as news related to school closures or public transportation changes. will also now recognize CovidTestingFacility as a new location type, and will make it easier to indicate that events are moving online. Google’s Webmaster blog has further information specifically about event updates. 


Nextdoor launches Groups and Help Map to aid with coronavirus

Many people are turning to Nextdoor as a source of local information about the coronavirus pandemic. Now the company has announced two new features that are designed to help users get more out of the Nextdoor platform during the crisis. Groups allows users to create special-interest discussion forums within Nextdoor; the feature was launched in beta recently and has seen a spike in popularity, with the company claiming the number of Groups created by users has been doubling on a daily basis. Groups may be organized around any theme or topic; some are being used to coordinate volunteers. That’s also the point of Nextdoor’s new Help Map, which allows users to mark their locations and indicate that they need help or are willing to help others.

Topics: Monday Memo

Damian Rollison

Damian Rollison

VP of Market Development and Strategic Partnerships

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