How Google is Responding to COVID-19 with Ben Fisher

Ben Fisher Google covid-19 agency ahead podcast

On today’s episode of Agency Ahead, Garrett sat down with Ben Fisher of Steady Demand. Ben is a Google My Business Product Expert and offered plenty of insight as to what has been going on with the Google My Business platform during this troubling time.

His interview provides an interesting perspective, he believes Google deserves some praise and has some positive things to say about what the company is doing and what’s going on behind the scenes. Check it out

Just want the highlights? Here’s what you’ll find inside.

  • (4:35) Where is Google allocating its resources?
  • (8:11) We know all about what Google’s doing wrong — what are they doing right?
  • (12:17) What are some other ways that Google is responding?
  • (21:05) What might Google be rolling out in the near future?
  • (24:14) What are some of Google’s challenges vis a vis providing accurate information to users?
  • (29:23) Why did Google lock down reviews and Q&As? 
  • (36:32) What should small business owners be focused on in terms of managing their GMB profiles?
  • (40:38) Ben’s cause-of-choice.

Don’t have time to listen? Here are the top insights.

Where is Google allocating its resources?

Google is in significant fluctuation right now in terms of what functionality they’re adding and what’s breaking. Ben notes that anything other than edits to hours or descriptions go to moderation. 

 “It’s because they don’t have the human capacity to support any kind of issues or problems.”

And yet there’s one thing that’s going much more smoothly than one might expect.

“Reinstatements,” Ben says. “Turnaround times are about the same. I do, on average, probably sixty reinstatements a month or something like that, maybe more. I have this constant kind of tracker and the number isn’t changing. It’s still between three to seven days.”

He’d expected them to start taking six to nine weeks. He’d communicated his concerns with Google, but doesn’t know if that action had a direct impact or if this was just something Google decided to make into a priority. 

“Right now, businesses are hurting. They’re going out of business. I said the last thing they need is to be suspended. Especially if it’s a false positive. So all I can say is kudos to Google at this point, because the reinstatements are happening. The communications are there.”

He’s even seen improvements in the communication process.

“While the support is completely re-routed to dealing with the Coronavirus and support time is down, and they can only do email support right now, that is true. They are being responsive and they are taking things especially seriously.“

We know all about what Google's doing wrong — what are they doing right?

“They’re deploying things that are very rapid,” says Ben. “It’s expected there are going to be bumped.”

He brings up the example of the Temporarily Closed functionality.

“In the past, you had to contact support to get yourself marked as Temporarily Closed. And then there would be a ranking issue. But kudos to them. They rolled it out to the dashboard in less than what, a week? For them, it’s not an easy thing to migrate something into the dashboard by the way.”

Garrett points out that Google is almost a utility at this point. Clients who get suspended lose 70% to 90% of their revenue almost immediately, and many people rely on Google for vital information. 

Plus, Google is listening.

“They want to know what you want. We [Product Experts] had a meeting and they asked us what we wanted and what people wanted.”

Ben says this is a fantastic time to give them suggestions.

What are some other ways that Google is responding?

Google has released the chain restrictions on Google posts. There was huge, pent up demand for that.

“There’s a reason for that,” says Ben. “The reason is that CVS, Walmart, etc., they need to be able to put out information in a very timely manner. Information such as elderly hours, special hours, hey, we’ve got toilet paper in stock, come buy your gold — whatever.”

Google has communicated this functionality won’t be around forever.

“They have their own internal reasons as to why they’ve held back posts from chains.” 

In the meantime, chains are diving right into using posts for as long as they can.

“Most people right now are using posts to communicate what they’re doing during the crisis. Which they should. That’s exactly what it should be.”

Can you still promote what you’re doing? Absolutely.

“Right now this is still a pretty fresh wound that we have with coronavirus. So it’s top of mind. You need to have that messaging and communicate what you’re doing these days.”

Ben suggests perhaps allowing every other post to be about COVID-19 response efforts and staying mindful. Garrett stresses it’s really important to avoid being insensitive and tone-deaf. 

What might Google be rolling out in the near future?

Right now GMB displays a checkmark or an X for restaurants to indicate whether they’re doing takeout, delivery, or both. Ben thinks a curbside functionality is also coming. 

Ben also predicts we’re going to start seeing things like telemedicine. 

Then there’s changes which could impact hotels being converted into hospitals.

“How do we deal with that? You can’t go down to your Marriott, because it’s a quarantine zone or whatever? Right now that’s actively being discussed. How do we even deal with this kind of issue?”

Yet they can’t just roll things out as fast as they might like.

“Let’s just take a look at how events were handled previously,” says Ben. “They were grabbing event data and it was false data. It was bad. I think during this time right now they’re probably exploring things and they’re exploring ways to make the data the most accurate. There’s going to be problems of course, absolutely. But right now my hope and my belief is they’re taking as much care as possible to get the right information out at the right time.”

Individuals who are using Google can help.

“If you do see errors, head to the community or give the Product Experts a heads up. Me, Joy, Mike, Jason, it doesn’t matter. DMs are open. Send me a message. If you see a problem, a mismatch of data? Let us know, send an example, send us the map listing. We can take this information right to Google in real time and say this is a problem.”

Why did Google lock down Google reviews and Q&As?

This was a huge question since these lockdowns have been such a source of frustration for business owners and local SEOs. Ben says it started as a band-aid. Google has recently begun to reinstate previously submitted reviews and now allows review responses again.

“There is a decent amount of human moderation that goes behind both of those features. They had to make the decision to do things for the greater good.

Would you rather see a bunch of people, which was happening, leaving a review saying oh, I went down there and they were closed because they weren’t able to update their hours? Or complaining because they were temporarily closed?

Would you rather see that or nothing?”

Ben does hope they bring back the Q&A feature, even if only to restrict it to answers left by the owner while killing user-generated answers for now. Or that they make an FAQ feature for the owner. 

What should small business owners be focused on in terms of managing their GMB profiles?

Ben didn’t have to hesitate long before saying, “Make sure your hours are accurate. That’s going to be useful to users.”

He also said to keep your posts updated regularly.

“You know what your customers need to hear. Educate them with that.”

Beyond that, he says, there’s not much you can do other than updating your description.

“Really just communicate more than anything else. Don’t pull back on your marketing. Finally, keep an eye on the COVID-19 page on Google Support.

He mentioned this is useful because there seems to be a new era of transparency in their communication. For example, recently they put up a post which read: 

Business posts were temporarily disabled for some businesses, and have since resumed. We’re working to reprocess previously rejected posts. Please check with us in a few days to see if a post is live or if you’re creating a new one. In addition, if you’re creating a post about business updates related to Covid-19, you can now create a Covid-19 update which will be featured more prominently.

He mentions in the past one would never have seen something like that from GMB, that they don’t usually come out and say “oops.”

Just like Google, business owners should be doing everything they can to use GMB features to reduce anxiety in their clients and customers.

What's your right now cause?

“One of the things I’ve been doing on is I’m saying, ‘hey, look, if you’re elderly and you can’t get out to go get something and do something I’m happy to deliver something to your doorstep.’ Something small like that can have an impact on someone’s life.”

Ben would also like to see people really supporting their local businesses.

“Restaurants and bars that are still open, you can support them by doing takeout and delivery. Right now your favorite restaurant has a high chance of going out of business. Do anything that can be done to support them, even if it’s something you don’t normally do.”

Want more of Ben’s advice?

Websites: Steady Demand

Find Ben on Twitter

Garrett Sussman

Garrett Sussman

Garrett is the head of content at Traject , a suite of digital marketing tools, and host of the Agency Ahead podcast. When he's not crafting content, he's scouting the perfect ice coffee, devouring the newest graphic novels, and concocting a new recipe in the kitchen.

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