In this week’s update, learn about GMB’s new health and safety attributes; Verified Calls for Android; a new website that is crowdsourcing business safety information; a GMB bug affecting service-area businesses; how to choose GMB categories; and new tech experiments in the grocery sector.
Google My Business adds health and safety attributes
Google My Business has added a new “Health & safety” section to the attributes available to businesses. The new attributes are designed to help businesses communicate to consumers the safety practices they’ve put in place in response to the pandemic. Options provided by Google are roughly similar to the health and safety attributes added by Yelp and TripAdvisor in June.
Health and safety attribute selections differ by GMB category. Restaurants, for instance, can enable the following attributes: “Mask required,” “Reservations required,” “Staff get temperature checks,” “Staff wear masks,” and “Temperature check required.” Retail stores have the same options with the exception of “Reservations required.” Optometrists have similar options as well, with the addition of “Appointment required.”
As noted by Colan Nielsen on Twitter, the new health and safety attributes are already displaying prominently in mobile listings, with green checks indicating the attribute is supported.
Health and safety attributes prominently displayed for a dermatology listing, courtesy Colan Nielsen
Google launches Verified Calls on Android phones
Google has launched a potentially helpful new feature for Android phones that will help users understand the nature of calls from businesses. The feature is designed to identify, before the Android user answers a call, not only the name of the business but also the reason for the call. Inbound calls verified by Google will display the company name and logo, the reason for calling, and a badge indicating that the call has been verified.
With U.S. consumers receiving 61 billion spam calls in 2019, this feature may help consumers distinguish legitimate business phone calls from spam. Businesses who want to participate in the Verified Calls program must sign up with one of Google’s partners, a list that includes Neustar, JustCall, Telecall, Zenvia, Prestus, Aspect, Five9, Vonage, Bandwidth, IMImobile, Kaleyra, Quiubas Mobile, and Datora.
Verified Calls is launching initially in the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, Spain, and India. Google already offers a feature whereby Google Assistant can answer a call on the user’s behalf and ask the reason for calling, after which the user can decide whether to answer; the new Verified Calls feature, however, simplifies the process by allowing business to specify the reason before the call is initiated.
Image courtesy Google
A new startup is crowdsourcing business safety information
Surendra Goel, a former AOL executive who co-founded the roadside assistance app Urgent.ly, and entrepreneur Ranjit Kohli have launched a new site called KickCOVID.us that is intended to crowdsource safety information about businesses across the U.S. The mobile website lets consumers view and rate businesses according to the safety practices they’ve put in place and the extent to which those practices are being enforced.
Consumers can search for businesses by name or by category and location. Businesses can add their safety information as well, but consumers are still able to rate each business and indicate what they’ve observed at the business location. After getting its start in Washington, D.C., the site now has data on businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and New York. The site may answer a need for consumers to be able to share their own observations about business safety practices, rather than relying on what businesses claim to be doing.
Profile of a restaurant in Washington, D.C. on KickCOVID.us
GMB bug erasing the addresses of service-area businesses
A Google My Business bug first reported by Ben Fisher is causing the addresses of service-area businesses to be removed when the business tries to update its address. Even when an address is hidden, Google uses address information to determine where a business should be ranked, so the impact of address removal has been that businesses are disappearing entirely from local rankings in their vicinity and showing up in Kansas, the geographic center of the U.S. -- a phenomenon pointed out by Mike Blumenthal. In light of this, Joy Hawkins suggests in her Local Search Forum writeup that service-area businesses refrain from updating their addresses until Google fixes the problem.
How to choose GMB categories
Miriam Ellis has a new post on the Moz blog offering guidance to businesses about how to select the right GMB categories. Ellis points out that, in its latest State of the Local SEO Industry report, Google My Business elements, including categories, were rated as having the greatest impact on local rankings.
Ranking factors from recent Moz report
Ellis points out that category selection drives which features GMB makes available to a business. Hotels, for instance, are unable to use Google Posts, and educational institutions do not have reviews. Some categories are eligible for appointment URLs while others are not. Attributes are very category specific and differ significantly from one category to the next.
Ellis suggests choosing categories in GMB that have the highest traffic as well as the greatest relevance to your business. She recommends that businesses use tools such as GMBspy, which reveals the full category set of competitor locations, and PlePer, which offers a full list of current GMB categories as well as a GMB Category Helper tool that analyzes your existing categories and those of nearby competitors, helping businesses identify opportunities for category enhancement.
New tech experiments in the grocery sector driven by COVID-19
A new report from CNBC notes that consumers are increasingly turning to online grocery ordering. Partly in response to this trend, grocery retailers are working to introduce methods to make grocery shopping safer and easier, such as checkout-free and contactless technologies designed to assuage consumer fears about contracting coronavirus while shopping.
Regional grocery chains like Price Chopper and Wegmans are introducing apps that allow shoppers to scan items and complete payment, skipping the checkout line. The same functionality is part of Walmart’s new Walmart+ membership program.
Much of the innovation in shopping technology has been pioneered by Amazon, whose Go stores were among the first to offer contactless checkout. Amazon has introduced several innovations in its Whole Foods and Amazon retail locations over the past few months, most recently a smart shopping cart that can track items as shoppers add them.
A recent Ipsos poll found that 62% of consumers would stop shopping at a grocery store that did not take safety seriously.