COVID-19: Google disables all local reviews

COVID-19: Google disables all local reviews

Monday, March 23, 2020
Kyle Harris

Local platforms are proving to be a vital communication tool during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing businesses to quickly connect with their local audiences regarding store closures, special opening hours, additional health and safety measures, and more.

Google is focusing its efforts on local—prioritising certain features, disabling others—Yelp is supporting pandemic-affected businesses, and we have some very good reasons you shouldn’t mark your business temporarily closed. Here’s what you need to know.

  1. Google pauses local reviews, responses, and Q&A

    It appears that Google has taken an extraordinary step for these extraordinary times: disabling all local review functionality as well as customer Q&A. Why? Because it wants to stem the tide of potentially ill-informed or malicious reviews and questions motivated by COVID-related disruption or closures.

    With the pandemic affecting Google itself, it simply doesn’t have the resources to monitor “new reviews, review replies, and new Q&A”, which have been temporarily mothballed. Instead:

    Our current focus is on the quality and reliability of information on Google Search and Maps. We want to ensure users and business owners have access to essential features like whether the business is open or has special hours. Learn about best practices for affected businesses, and what you can do to keep your customers informed.

    Users can still click to “Write a review”, but the process pauses after that: nothing is published and businesses aren’t notified. Google hasn’t said when it expects to turn reviews, responses, and Q&A back on, but our Local Presence Management clients (and blog readers) will be the first to know.

  2. Yelp unveils $25m relief package—and clamps down on COVID reviews

    Consumer engagement on Yelp has plummeted for certain categories, most notably restaurants (down 54%) and nightlife (down 69%). For that reason, Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman announced $25 million in credits, waived fees, and support for local businesses. The package includes:

    • Waived advertising fees
    • Free advertising
    • Free access to Yelp page upgrades
    • 90 days of free access to Yelp Reservations and Waitlist
    • $100 in free search advertising to restaurants with delivery/takeout
    • Support for local advertisers “in other categories that are struggling to pay their bills”

    Yelp has also updated its review guidelines to “protect local businesses from reputational harm related to these extraordinary circumstances”. Claims that coronavirus has transmitted from a business or its employees will not be allowed, and neither will negative reviews about businesses being closed during what would otherwise be their regular open hours. Flagged reviews will be removed and not count toward a business’s star rating.

  3. Don’t mark your business temporarily closed!

    We’re strongly recommending against using the “temporarily closed” designation on Google My Business. This essentially freezes the listing, causing it to be removed from local searches and preventing the use of Google Posts. Additionally, Google is so overwhelmed that it may take some time to reactivate the listing when normal life resumes.

    Managing special hours in Google My Business

    To avoid all these unwanted side-effects, use “special hours” to mark locations as closed. Also take the opportunity to update categories (e.g. if you’re takeout-only during the pandemic), business descriptions, and Posts to keep your local audiences in the loop.

These are certainly usual and unpredictable times, but our local search experts are always available to help you better connect with your audiences—wherever they are—in their time of need.

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