In this week’s update, Brandify’s study reveals pandemic search trends; Google offers guidelines for hotels affected by COVID-19, and adds insurance information to healthcare profiles; Google Maps makes it easier to find wheelchair accessible places; Google review attributes expand to more categories; and a new site lets you check for algorithm updates.
New Brandify study reveals COVID-19 search trends
Brandify is releasing a research report today on Street Fight that highlights major changes in consumer behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic. Brandify’s research is based on the hundreds of thousands of store locations the company manages on behalf of multi-location brands in the Google My Business platform.
GMB Insights track consumer searches, views of business listings, and actions such as requesting driving directions, clicking to call, and visiting the company website from a store’s Google profile. Analyzing GMB Insights data, we found:
Overall search volume for local businesses was up 45% in March-April 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
Map views began a precipitous decline in overall volume in late February, suggesting far fewer users were searching for local businesses using Google Maps on their smartphones.
Requests for driving directions were down 26% in March and April 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
Phone calls were up 16%, and website clicks were up 22% in the same period.
Trends differed significantly by vertical, as outlined in the full report. One of the more striking charts depicting pandemic search trends is the following, which shows the decline in driving directions requests starting in March, contrasted with spikes in phone calls and website clicks.
Google My Business offers guidance to hotels affected by COVID-19
GMB has published a new help page for hotels affected by COVID-19, as well as updating its general guidelines for managing hotel profiles. On the COVID-19 page, Google recommends that hotels keep their attributes up to date; use the temporary closure flag if appropriate; review best practices for Hotel Ads; and modify business hours as needed. Google also offers more tactical advice by suggesting hotels with on-site restaurants consider offering food delivery, and recommending that hotel ads contain messaging about flexible booking options or any other pandemic-related features.
On its general help page for hotels, Google points out that managers of hotel profiles can now indicate whether special accommodations are available for COVID-19 responders, such as relocated healthcare workers. Such offers can now be managed in the GMB dashboard and will display in search with a heart icon, as illustrated in this local pack example.
GMB adds insurance information to healthcare guidelines
Google has added a section to the GMB help page for healthcare-related businesses, indicating how to manage insurance information that may appear in business profiles. Insurance information, according to the help page, is available only in the US and only where such information has been supplied to Google by an unnamed third party provider.
In cases where insurance info is available, a link will appear in the business profile reading “Check insurance info”; clicking the link brings up a list of insurance providers accepted by the business. If the insurance information attached to your profile is incorrect, you can request its removal using the “Send feedback” form.
Google Maps makes it easier to find wheelchair accessible places
The Google Maps app has a new feature that helps users identify places that offer wheelchair accessibility. Users can enable the new feature in the Maps app on iOS or Android by going to Settings > Accessibility > Accessible Places. When enabled, a wheelchair icon appears in business profiles that have been identified as wheelchair accessible. The icon means the place has at least some of the following amenities: wheelchair accessible entries, seating, restrooms, and parking.
Image courtesy Search Engine Journal
Google Maps has information on about 15 million wheelchair accessible places worldwide, a number that has doubled since 2017, largely due to the contributions of Google users as well as business owners. Business owners can indicate accessibility options in the attributes section of their Google My Business profiles.
Google review attributes expanding to new categories
Local SEO observers have begun to notice a fairly new feature called review attributes showing up for more Google business categories. Starting around August of last years, users began seeing a “What do you like about this place?” prompt when leaving a review for home service businesses. Words like “Professionalism” and “Responsiveness,” selected by the reviewer, are then showcased at the top of the published review. More recently, the “What do you like about this place?” prompt has been appearing for listings in the insurance category. It’s unknown how many categories are seeing this feature, which may only be visible for some users.
Image courtesy klharris08 / Local Search Forum
By far the most extensive set of Google review prompts for any type of business is shown in hotel reviews, where users are shown colorful illustrations and asked to indicate the type of travel and to provide separate ratings for rooms, service, and location -- perhaps an indication of where reviews in other categories could be headed.
New site lets you check for historical Google updates
Barry Schwartz has created WasThereAGoogleUpdate.com, a new website that lets users search the Search Engine Roundtable archives for news of previous Google algorithm updates. Because Schwartz’s site offers what he calls “the most comprehensive and largest database of tracking both confirmed and unconfirmed Google search updates,” it can provide lengthy and detailed historical record for SEOs who want to track the ranking impact of algorithm changes on their sites over time.
When I searched at random for the date May 8, 2014, the result showed two articles from a few days before on Search Engine Roundtable, suggesting that indeed, an algorithm update may have occurred around this time. I would imagine that the tool will be especially useful, though, for more recent updates, providing a means for SEOs to dig deeply into the last two or three years of algorithm changes and see if they can spot patterns that will help them strategically.