Last week, Google announced it was releasing a whole host of new or updated features in an effort to support local businesses’ recovery after Covid-19.
This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, given how reactive Google My Business has been throughout the entire Covid-19 pandemic — including the temporary restriction of features such as reviews and Q&A, providing new attributes like ‘curbside delivery’, and incorporating integrations with sites like GoFundMe.
Arguably though, this is Google’s biggest response to the real-world consequences on local brick-and-mortar stores presented by Covid-19 yet.
On Wednesday, June 17, Google released its ‘Helping businesses and nonprofits recover’ resources. So, what were the main headlines?
International Small Business Week
First and foremost it looks like we ought to wish you a very happy Small Business Week!
Along with the introduction of new features, Google also announced it was declaring the week of June 22nd to June 27th as International Small Business Week:
Helping businesses and organizations recover is the first topic we’ll explore. Today we’re sharing updates for small businesses ahead of a Google-wide initiative, International Small Business Week, taking place June 22-27. This is a week dedicated to celebrating small businesses when we’ll share tips, trainings and products to help them get back on their feet.
Google didn’t go into a huge amount of detail about what this week might entail, but it looks like you ought to keep your eyes peeled for unique tips and tricks from the search engine giants.
This may not be the most exciting news for our US-based readers, as National Small Business Week already exists in the States.
Nonetheless, this week provides an opportunity to celebrate the small, local businesses that are cornerstones of communities and economies across the world.
After a pretty turbulent past few months, let’s take this moment to say a big old “thank you” to the businesses that have persevered, adapted, and pivoted to continue to serve us and those most in need.
It may be some time before all local businesses are able to return to (relative) normality and for those unable to adapt to the recent restrictions, this will have been an even tougher time.
It wasn’t easy, but we’re grateful, and we’re ready to support you while you get back on your feet.
New features and tools
The long and short of Google’s announcement is that it’s helping local businesses largely in regards to ads.
These newly announced features are designed to support local businesses as they begin to reopen and return to “business as usual” — whatever that may look like.
Book directly in the SERPs -> Google is now making it easier to book local services directly in Google Search on mobile in the U.S.
— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) June 17, 2020
Although Google has packaged these features up into one handy “for local businesses” announcement, it looks like some of the capabilities have been in play for a few weeks, if not longer.
Regardless, below we’ve compiled the list of “new” features that local businesses will be able to make use of from now on:
Changes to Google’s Shopping tab
The shopping tab will feature local store information from Google My Business, such as product availability, locations, and other options like dine-in or curbside pickup.
New processes and capabilities for Local Service Ads
Google also took a look back at its recent change to Local Service Ads on mobile.
As of May, users can also now book appointments directly from clicking on a Local Service Ad — this expands on the previous functionality of sending messages to hot leads.
To enable direct bookings, businesses will need to liaise with one of Google’s many booking partners. Businesses will also need to have been approved by Google’s guarantee consumer protection program.
Smart campaigns reach more countries
Google’s Smart campaigns have long been a way for less technically savvy or under-resourced businesses to set up ad campaigns with a clear goal in mind, such as wanting more phone calls, website clicks, or bookings.
Now, Google is expanding its ‘Smart campaigns’ to 150 countries.
It will also be more accessible than ever, as Google allows users to quickly set up campaigns through its Ads app.
Free promoted pins
In addition to expanding Smart campaigns to more countries, businesses that use Smart campaigns will now benefit from promoted pins on Google Maps for free.
Promoted pins provide businesses with more visibility. Usually, advertisers would be charged for each click on a promoted pin (just like your classic PPC campaigns), but if a business has a Smart campaign running, there will be no cost per click.
With this in mind, Smart campaigns may sound like the ideal fit for local businesses, but some experts have been critical of their appearance:
I think the square does the business more harm than good, visually. To me the square makes it feel like it’s representing something that is not a business, because it’s different from all the other businesses. pic.twitter.com/2ToJX1UX8c
— Colan Nielsen (@ColanNielsen) June 19, 2020
Increased functionality from ‘Grow My Store’
Google’s ‘Grow My Store’ website has been updated to help businesses boost their success rates online and in-store, depending on the business’s specific industry.
Once you’ve entered all your relevant business information and signed up for a profile, Google will provide you with a full report complete with industry benchmarks, such as how many users have used a Google Product and more.
The report can take up to a few hours to run, but I was pleasantly surprised that mine took around thirty minutes or so.
In this next section, we’ll take a look at exactly what the ‘Grow My Store’ report gives you.
What’s in the ‘Grow My Store’ report?
While most of the features listed above are fairly self-explanatory, one thing you may want to know more about is the ‘Grow My Store’ report. ‘Grow My Store’ has been available to users in most of Europe since last year but is brand-new to US users.
Here, we’ll take a look at what’s included, using an example of a local Brighton (UK) restaurant.
The first thing you’ll see in your report is a website score, pictured below.
Next, Google provides a breakdown of the results across six main categories: product information, store details, personalization, customer service, security, and mobile.
The product information section unpacks product details, product reviews/ratings, product search, and product prices.
Unfortunately, while you do get a more detailed score at the top of the report, these sections simply show a tick or a cross.
So if you have product ratings/reviews, even if they’re not well optimized or executed well, you will receive a tick. If you don’t have any, for whatever reason, you will receive a cross. It’s no indication of how successfully you’re performing the task.
Next, the store details section shows how clearly you’ve presented information about your store, including opening hours, directions, and geolocation.
Looking at the personalization section shows if your site enables users to create personalized accounts and wishlists or favorites.
Customer service is also factored in, showing the success of elements like contact phone, live chat, returns policy, and social media.
The security section is fairly basic, and simply gives a tick or cross depending on whether or not your site is HTTPS secure.
Then finally, the report reflects mobile support, including mobile speed and mobile-friendliness.
Though this report is certainly helpful and provides local businesses with some simple steps to improve their online presence, it could be argued that it limits the initial role of agencies in pitching to SMB clients.
Even though it’s a fairly basic report and very Google-focussed, the ‘Grow My Store’ tool does replace a very basic site audit, meaning agencies wouldn’t need to provide this service at a cost.
That said, in times like these, providing under-resourced local businesses with free tools to increase their visibility can hardly be a bad thing.
What does the industry think?
Whenever some big news update occurs in the world of local SEO, we like to take a look at how the industry has reacted. So, what do local SEOs think of Google’s new features?
Well, interestingly, the local SEO community has been very quiet on the matter, and conversation across social media and local SEO forums seemed to be lacking.
Most likely, this could be attributed to the fact that local SEOs have been aware of these feature updates coming out in dribs and drabs, and simply reacted at the time — so Google’s “announcement”, as it were, wouldn’t have caused quite such a stir.
What do these updates mean for local businesses?
For local businesses, it’s certainly worth bearing these new features and updates in mind. But if you’re not planning to invest in Google Ads any time soon, then these may not be of much consequence.
That said, I would recommend running a ‘Grow My Store’ report — it’s always worth checking out whether or not you could be taking simple steps to improve your online presence, especially when the tool is free.
What do you think of Google’s latest changes? Will they help local businesses recover in a post-Covid-19 world? Does ‘Grow My Store’ pose a threat to agencies? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
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