Google My Business, Small Businesses, and the COVID-19 Local Economy with Jason Brown

jason brown agency ahead podcast episode 2
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There’s a whole lot of Google My Business spam out there, and Jason Brown is a guy who has been fighting it for a long time. He’s now a local search analyst and spam fighter for Local SEO agency Sterling Sky, as well as a Gold Google Product Expert.

Garrett got him on the podcast on Tuesday, March 24th to talk about how businesses are responding to the shifts in the economy as well as the shut-downs. The situation has been fluid so we’ve added notes where references in the podcast have been updated to reflect current situations on Google. Jason also talked a lot about how agencies can respond. You can listen to the whole podcast here.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • (1:55) What does Jason’s Google spam hunting services look like?
  • (3:25) What was the transition like to a remote working setup with kids locked down at hime?
  • (5:30) Google’s functionality problems since Friday, March 20th. How Sterling Sky communicated those Google My Business problems with clients. 
  • (10:54) How businesses are handling COVID-19 updates, as well as how they should handle them.
  • (11:38) Advice for business owners about navigating Google My Business right now. 
  • (14:57) Places where Jason feels marketing agencies should be placing their time and attention.
  • (17:55) Why digital marketing agencies ought to be making some pivots of their own. 
  • (20:12) How you can spend time on your Google My Business while you have additional time on your hands.
  • (22:35) What does the post Coronavirus small business digital presence look like after we get out of this pandemic? 
  • (25:34) Predictions about mom and pop local businesses working with digital marketing agencies in the future and the importance of customer service.

Don’t have time to listen to the whole thing? Here are the highlights and action items.

What's been going on with Google My Business over the past few weeks?

The short answer is: a lot of insanity.

“So last Friday (March 20th), Google decided, in their infinite wisdom, to block any reviews. Well, instead of removing the ‘write a review’ feature, which I would have thought would have made wonderful good sense, people still think they can post reviews, and so people are coming to the forums saying hey, I’ve posted this review and it’s not publishing.”

Jason spoke of one business owner who had sent out over 60 email requests for reviews without realizing GMB is broken. 

“This is poor planning on Google’s part.”

Jason also talked about how people still can’t respond to reviews. Q&As are stripped out. “I don’t understand that.” (This is still currently the case.)

It’s also hard to update hours because of delays with Google’s approval.

“So there’s going to be a lot of flack coming in. Hey, are you guys open? Hey, can I still visit you? Consumers need to get their questions answered someway, but business owners can’t even put out that communication.”

Even Google Posts are broken right now. These have since been fixed for the most part. Google had also rolled out the ability for major national chains to use Google Posts (which had been disabled in the past). They have also rolled out COVID-19 Post types for local businesses.

How should marketing agencies handle GMB's 'bugginess'?

Jason discussed how Joy Hawkins of Sterling Sky was on top of the GMB problems to the point where she was able to grab announcements from Google the moment they came out, and then share those with clients. 

“We had to tell clients look, you can’t do [Google] reviews, we can’t respond to Google reviews that just came in.”

The takeaway here is that your agency should also try to stay on top of the ever-shifting landscape so you can tell your clients right away what you will and will not be able to do for them during this time. 

How should businesses handle COVID-19 updates?

Jason suggests putting up a landing page or posting updates to your websites.

“People are getting creative. They’re definitely throwing COVID-19 messaging on top of their websites above the header. That way it’s readily accessible for people to see. I think that’s going to be the biggest thing for people to do. Make sure you have that COVID-19 message on your website.” 

He also suggests ending COVID-19 based email marketing.

“Everybody’s had so many COVID-19 emails now. We’re not reading them.” 

Jason suggests that if someone really wants to know what’s going on with your business they’ll head to your website. 

How else should businesses be interacting with their GMB pages?

Initially, Jason discussed what your business shouldn’t do — like changing the name of your business.

“I saw an example of a business in Toronto today [that named its business] 

Due to COVID-19/Coronavirus Our Restaurant is Closed to All Our Lovely Patrons and Customers, However We Still Have Pick Up and Delivery and Curbside.

We were like…okay, you just went overboard.”

He suggests maybe just adding “Delivery or Curbside Pickup Only” at most, again due to the edits lag time in GMB edits. Since then, Google has begun to roll our delivery and take-out attributes that appear higher on your Google My Business listing.

“Updating your hours could take weeks. Use a GMB post [if you can] saying ‘Hey, we’re going to be closed for an extended period of time.'” 

He also had some advice about Yelp.

GMB pickup delivery attributes local seo

Mark yourself closed Monday through Saturday. Sunday, set your hours from 10:30 PM to 10:45 PM because Yelp doesn’t have an option for you to close yourself, and they make you contact support.

There’s going to be more issues with making yourself temporarily closed through Yelp because they add that to your meta-title and description, and it’s a pain in the butt to get them to revert that out. Then you have to get Google to re-crawl it and update your listing.”

Where should marketing agencies be placing most of their time and attention?

Jason says he believes email marketing is the great untapped resource right now.

“Social media is just going to be a mess. I wouldn’t recommend pushing a whole slew of communications through Facebook and Twitter. It’s just going to be a whole lot of noise that’s not really going to be relevant.”

Not COVID-19 emails, which he’s already suggested steering clear of, but emails telling customers about their options, such as Zoom consultations or video tutorials. 

He says agencies themselves have to get creative.

“The whole thing I love most about SEO is it’s always about adapting. So you can’t get used to one thing, because if you do, you’re going to pigeonhole yourself. But if you start looking at other ways you can open up the doors and avenues to new technology being brought in, then your business is going to continue to survive.

Just get super creative.”

Great advice for business owners too. 

What kinds of pivots should digital marketing agencies be making right now?

Jason says his agency is offering a lot of consulting services, and this seems to be a smart avenue for any agency to take.

“We set up a lot of consultations where we talk with people and walk them through their options of what they can do. Right now we’re focused, 100%, on education.”

This is also a good time to run tests or original research projects you haven’t had time to do, or to run virtual events. You can currently purchase a replay of LocalU’s virtual Master Class (organized and produced by the team at Sterling Sky)

He also suggests digital marketing agencies can help their clients come up with great content, or work with reporters in their area about COVID-19. Reporters want to know how COVID-19 is impacting different industries. This is also a good time to clean up client’s GMB listings, adding new photos or 360 tours

What will be different after this crisis is over and done?

Jason had some clear visions for how things will look different when this is all said and done.

“I think a lot of people are going to be preparing for another Doomsday style event.

They are definitely going to make sure their business is able to weather a storm. They’re going to come up with different ways and strategies they can keep their businesses moving forward. And they’re going to come up with new resources they can offer their clients.

They’re going to start seeing there’s ways they can get creative as long as they’re testing and adapting.” 

He also says he thinks we’re going to see a lot  more brand loyalty with small businesses.

“I think a lot of the big companies are shooting themselves in the foot, and I think a lot of the smaller businesses are starting to excel in their customer service.

So I think we might actually see people going back to the small businesses.”

He says he thinks big tech is sort of shooting themselves in the foot, and that he’s seeing a lot more crowdsourcing when it comes to businesses directories: people sharing information about which businesses are offering different items or what businesses are open or doing take out.

“We know we can’t rely on Google for information right now, and forget about Facebook.”

He also says he sees Mom and Pop shops going the extra mile while he sees big businesses treating their customers poorly.

Marketers, of course, can do the same.

“My thing is always going to be helping out as many business owners as possible. If you have a way you can do that, then do that. If you have elderly neighbors in your neighborhood, ask them what they need from the grocery store if they don’t feel inclined to go.

They need help, they’re afraid, that’s basically it. One of the things I like about working from home is I’ll take a 20 minute walk and people are out there.

We’re all still talking to people and I think we’re building a better community — even though we’re social distancing.”

What's your right now cause?

Right Now Cause:

Helping out business owners. If you can, jump on the Google Forums to help our local business owners.

Help elderly neighbors in your neighborhood. If you can to go the grocery store for them, offer that assistance.

Pay attention to your neighbors and reintroduce yourself. If you can take a 20 min walk and just check out what’s going on in your neighborhood and help out where you can.

Connect with Jason Brown

Want more of Jason’s advice?

Websites: 

Find Jason 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.

jason brown agency ahead podcast episode 2

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