From our analysis, there were no confirmed Google algorithm updates during March 2020, we saw a whole host of search industry updates across the board and new features that are particularly reactive to the current uncertain climate.
Although no Google algorithm update has been officially reported by Google, industry tools such as SEMrush Sensor reported sudden fluctuations in rankings and traffic around the 24th of March. This was apparent in the Art & Entertainment, Games, News and Sporting sectors.
It’s worth diving into your Google Analytics and Google Search Console during this period to review any impact this may have had during this period.
New Properties For Events
On March 17, Google released new properties for webmasters to provide more information on event cancellations and postponements due to COVID-19. In a post published on the Webmasters Central Blog, the company said that they wanted “to show users the latest, most accurate information about your events in this fast-changing environment”, which led to the release of a new ‘eventStatus’ property.
This property allows webmasters to show whether an event has been cancelled, postponed, or rescheduled. Google also highlighted the ‘VirtualLocation’ type, which is a schema markup currently in development on Schema.org. This allows people to set their ‘eventAttendanceMode’ property to ‘OnlineEventAttendanceMode’ if an event is now taking place as a webinar or other online event.
Latest Google Patents of Interest
David Harry, prominent SEO and a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, published the latest blog post on 11th March 2020 that outlines Google’s patent applications and the insights we can draw from them. In the article, he outlines three patents Google has applied for in recent years which will interest SEOs wanting to learn more about the algorithms behind Google search.
- Structured entity information page – a patent Google filed in October 2018, the contents of which include a mention of ‘past user activities and search history’ playing a part in the information shown in knowledge panels.
- Determining a set of steps responsive to a how-to query – a patent Google filed in March 2017, which gives some insight into how/when Google decides to outline a process to display in response to a “how-to” query.
- Entity-based searching with content selection – a patent Google filed in November 2016, which looks at how the search engine understands if information in a knowledge panel is consumable or actionable (transactional).
If you are interested in learning more about Google’s patents and how this might influence their algorithms, we highly recommend you read this article and future blogs in the series.
Google Disables Local Reviews and Q&As
Google has disabled reviews, review replies and Q&As for local businesses. This is a temporary measure during the current pandemic to protect local businesses that are especially vulnerable to malicious user-generated content being submitted on their sites.
Realistically, small businesses might have to furlough their sales & marketing employees who would be responsible for review management and replying to questions on GMB. If staff were unable to work due to illness or furlough, this would leave any small local business under threat of misinformed reviews due to the business being closed or claims that they contracted the virus from their establishment.
For any small local business affected by the review functionality being temporarily removed from GMB, we recommend:
- Ensure that your homepage addresses any changes to business
- Lead-generation sites should communicate if their staff are working remotely and that someone will still pick up their enquiry
- E-commerce sites should give updates to delivery, stock shortages or warehouse closures, and extended return slots
Google My Business COIVD-19 Instructions
Throughout early March, Google posted in the Google My Business (GMB) help area that businesses impacted by COVID-19 should update their profile, ensuring that the most up-to-date information is being communicated to their customers. Google recommended updating the following information:
- Business hours
- Business description
- Change in phone numbers (if relevant)
- Create a post to outline any changes in the business throughout this period
In early April, in reaction to prolonged changes to businesses across the globe, GMB created new types of posts directly relating to COVID-19 announcements. At current, these new posts will be published for 14 days. If the situation has not changed in the two-week period, this will need to be re-published and will be displayed across both desktop and mobile searches.
These updated posts are said to appear at the top of a business’s profile within the local SERPs. Some examples include;
- Temporary business closures
- Hours of operation
- Modifying your usual business service, e.g. take away service or delivery only
- In-stock, low stock or out of stock announcements for higher demanding products
- Updates on how the business is managed their health and safety efforts
To summarise, we would recommend that your website content and Google My Business profile is completely up to date with any changes that may occur with your business during this current period. Be sure to update your customers completely and frequently.