Local businesses are truly the backbone of any community. They are the neighbors who are there to serve, sustain, and inspire the people and culture of their town, making it a place to call home.
The COVID-19 pandemic has local small business owners with many unanswered questions.
- When can our small business reopen?
- How long will we have to work from home?
- What impact will the shut down have on our business?
As we explore this topic of what local businesses can do during the COVID-19 pandemic, we want to say thank you for what you provide to your community as a small business owner:
In this article, we will show you local SEO tips that can make a big difference for your business in the coming weeks or, God forbid, months.
We will include some advice from us and other SEO professionals and some lofty thoughts about how, together, we can start building a better local future.
Be sure to check out our related articles:
Local Business COVID-19 Tips
Communicate (a Lot)
One of the most important things that any local business can do during this crisis, whether deemed an essential or non-essential service, is to provide timely and accurate information to both its customer base and the community.
Here are three places you can do this:
Google My Business
For quite some time, SEO professionals have stressed the importance of a Google My Business (GMB) page.
Google plays a huge role as an intermediary between brands and the public.
This remains true during this difficult time; however, In a post published on Friday, March 20, Google announced that it was temporarily disabling and limiting the number of features in Google My Business, saying:
During the unprecedented COVID-19 situation, we are taking steps to protect the health of our team members and reduce the need for people to come into our offices. As a result, there may be some temporary limitations and delays in support as we prioritize critical services.
On Wednesday 25, a ‘temporarily closed’ option was also added into Google My Business for businesses that are closed as a result of coronavirus.
It’s an evolving scenario, with local SEOs reporting different outcomes each day.
For example, some businesses have been able to get some, but not all, Google posts to publish.
Currently, there are four fields you can use to communicate current information to customers via GMB, although they make take several days to take effect.
Google is allowing local businesses to edit their business name field to reflect that they are offering curbside service, takeout, and delivery.
For example, if your current name is “Larry’s Grill”, you are allowed to temporarily change your name to “Larry’s Grill — Delivery Available”.
If regulations are forcing you to stay home, but you still want your customers to be able to contact you on your home or cell phone for information, you should update your work answering machine to reflect the changes and edit your GMB phone number to the correct new number.
Hours of Operation
Although SEO experts debate whether you should show your business as having no hours or limited hours is ongoing, we believe that the best choice for this present time is to use Google’s method of setting special hours.
This is especially useful for multi-location enterprises that can set special hours via the API.
Be warned that there are some instances of agencies setting special hours for clients and then clients receiving emails from Google asking if the business has closed.
This can cause alarm with those clients. However, at this time, it appears that when Google receives responses to this prompt that the business is closed, they simply put a message about this on the listing rather than removing the listing entirely.
To help avoid confusion, on March 25, Google implemented a “temporarily closed” button inside the “Info” tab of the GMB dashboard.
Although utilizing this button may temporarily decrease your rankings, you will be able to remove the label in the future and we strongly hope (but cannot guarantee) that this will remove any effects of suppression.
We highly recommend using this button if it applies to your business because safety trumps rankings, right?
COVID-19 Update Posts
Google has a newly created posts type that you’ll see in your GMB dashboard.
While other post types have been published sporadically, We’re seeing examples of the COVID-19 Update posts going live.
Try to fit as much information as you can about and status changes with your business into one of these posts.
In addition to any edits you make to your GMB listing, update your most visible local business listings on other platforms such as:
- Bing: A “Temporarily closed” business status is now available in the Bing Places dashboard. This is currently not available in the API.
- Yelp: Yelp has introduced a new field called “temporarily closed”, intended to be used by businesses that are (or will be closed on a temporary basis) due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Businesses will need to indicate the “end date” for when this business status will end. Because of the uncertainty surrounding timelines, Yelp is allowing business owners to simply provide an “estimate” for the end date which they can always update later. Special opening hours can be added to Yelp itself, too. Neither field is available in the API.
Although Google My Business may be experiencing issues right now, you still have full control of your website.
You should as a home base for conveying important information to the public. Here’s a quick checklist of suggested items to update on your site as soon as possible:
- Put a site-wide banner on all pages of the website with key information such as “temporarily closed”, “drive-up service available 9-5 Monday – Friday” or “storefront closed but we can still ship to you.”
- Provide detailed information about how your business has been affected by COVID-19, and list any services that remain available to customers.
- Edit your location landing pages in bulk or individually to reflect closures, new hours, and new offers.
- Be sure your hours of operation are accurate everywhere they are mentioned on the website, including the homepage, contact page, about page, and landing pages.
- If your main contact phone number has changed due to the situation, update that number everywhere it exists on the website. Don’t overlook headers, footers, or sidebars.
- If you have a blog, be sure to use it to keep the public updated about the availability of products and services.
- Ensure your website contains highly visible links to any social media platforms you are using to provide updated information. (This is an SEO best practice we do on all of our website development projects.)
- Help your community by creating new content about local resources in your community for all kinds of basic needs.
Social Media and Email Blasts
“Make it clear what you’re doing, such as things like home delivery or curbside pickup. And mention it EVERYWHERE. The companies that are being successful with this are telling people non-stop how they can still support them. Additionally, don’t be afraid to reach out to people who have supported you via social media in the past and ask them to mention what you’re doing.” —Dana DiTomaso, Kick Point
Whether your customers’ use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or another platform, there has never been a more vital time to leverage the instant communication that these sites provide.
Utilize social media to highlight not just your own services, but any services you discover are being provided by other businesses in your city.
This simple act will help strengthen your community.
Ask your followers and customers to share any information that can make your city safer or better during this event.
It goes without saying that email is one of the best tools that you can use to message your customer base about any changes and special offers.
Let us suggest that you only communicating what is truly necessary.
We already seeing some Baton Rouge digital marketers exploiting COVID-19 for senseless self-promotion instead of putting their customers’ concerns and needs first.
Don’t be an opportunist. Be a helper!
If you’re too busy to do it yourself, we can assist you in your social media management.
Don’t just use your local business listing, websites, social media platforms, and email to make helpful informational contributions.
Use offline media as well.
For example, you can call into local radio shows and reach out to local newspapers if you have facts or offers that can help the public.
Operate The Best That You Can
“Find out what support is being made available for you at [the] government level, tap into this as soon as you can — it’s likely there will be a lot of paperwork and many hoops through which you’ll need to jump.” —Claire Carlile, Claire Carlile Marketing
Research any offers of support being made to your business by agencies such as the small business administration and use them to remain as operational as possible for the duration of this crisis.
Here are six adjustments your business should carefully consider to determine whether the implementation is possible:
1. Fulfill Essentials
If your business meets local, state or federal regulations, and is deemed “essential”, here are some ways that different types of businesses are adapting to their situations:
- Healthcare providers are now handling appointments via phone or virtual meetings, and some medical facilities are offering drive-up testing.
- Drive through, delivery, and curbside pickup are enabling some businesses to offer takeout meals, prescriptions, groceries, and other necessary goods to customers.
- Supermarkets and grocery stores are now partnering with third parties such as Instacart to deliver groceries to your doorstep.
- Companies that serve vulnerable populations, banking, laundry, and fuel are implementing and communicating extra steps they are taking to adhere to sanitation guidelines for the safety of customers and staff.
- Brands and organizations that donate goods and services to fulfill essential needs are taking an active role in community support, too. (One of our clients The Afya Foundation raised over $100k this past weekend with their $6 for 2 campaign to deliver much-needed masks to healthcare workers in New York City.)
2. Audit your Ecommerce
If your local business already uses an e-commerce component on its website, you’re ahead of the game in being well set up to keep selling via delivery.
If you’ve not yet implemented any form of online selling, and your supply chain is still viable, consider the following options:
- If you have a credit card processing machine, one basic solution is to take orders over the phone and then ship them, allow curbside pickup, or deliver them.
- If you don’t currently have a credit card processing service, PayPal invoicing is easy to set up and use.
- If your site is built on WordPress, you (or a web developer) can easily set up the WooCommerce plugin for getting online shopping set up using PayPal as a built-in payment option. You can set up flat rate, free shipping, or even local pickup options with ease. Additionally, WooCommerce automatically sends order confirmation emails to both owner and customer and even lets you create discount coupons.
- If you’ve determined that e-commerce is a wise move for the present and future, and would like to learn more about how we can help you implement it into your business website, contact us for a free consultation.
3. Connect With your Customers Virtually
In Denham Springs, Louisiana alone, we’ve seen a client transition her yoga studio to online classes, another client is offering secure online pain management appointments, and another is teaching guitar lessons on the web.
Although South Louisiana people are social by nature, and nothing can replace in-person relationships, virtual meetings are the next best thing and could keep many businesses operating in some capacity, in spite of the pandemic.
Check out these resources:
- One of our favorite teleconferencing platforms, Zoom, has video tutorials on their site to help set up and use their product with ease. People from healthcare professionals to teachers have used Zoom to transition to working from home.
- If you’re a healthcare professional, we’ve just recently discovered Doxy, a “simple, free, and secure telemedicine solution.” It allows for creating multiple waiting rooms, is free, and accessible from computers, tablets, and smartphones.
4. Use Downtime to Learn
If COVID-19 has somewhat or completely paused your business, we pray that there will be better days ahead.
Should you find yourself with much more time on your hands than usual, consider using it to gain some new business knowledge.
Please make use of this list of resources, and use them to further your digital marketing efforts.
- Moz is now offering free access to Moz Academy. Sign up for free courses to increase your SEO and local SEO education.
- Yoast has made its All-round SEO training course available for free. It’ll be free until June 1st. They also have free training on WordPress block editor for those who need it.
- LinkedIn is offering its Work Remotely Learning Path (16 Courses) for free. This is an excellent guide for those who’re transitioning to remote work.
- You already know – Youtube has anything you want to learn.
Follow All Regulations and Laws
Start your day by reviewing both local and national news to be sure you are complying with the changing regulations for your city, county, and country.
Policies designed to lessen the harm of COVID-19 vary widely from region to region, and your business must stay informed of which services you are allowed to offer in this dynamic scenario.
Don’t be that Pastor in Central, Louisiana (a suburb of Baton Rouge).
Pastor Tony Spell defied suggestions (and ultimately orders) from the local, state, and national levels and continued to have services at his church.
The public backlash from his shipping people from a 5 parish radius (that’s what we call counties here in Louisiana) has vilified him and his entire organization on a national stage. He was even grilled by Dr. Phil in a recent episode.
Avoid Fake News
While social media can be a great connector within your community at any time, beware of misinformation and, unfortunately, scams in the days ahead.
Get your news from sources you trust, and if you have any doubts or questions about a specific guideline, directly contact local authorities.
This article does not take the place of laws and regulations specific to your community.
Begin working towards a stronger local future
“I would say generally it’s critical for business owners to connect with one another. To the extent they can join or form groups for support or to share ideas, they should. This is a terrible and scary time but there are also potential opportunities that may emerge with creative thinking. The ‘silver lining’, if there is one here, is the opportunity to reexamine business processes, try new things, and think — out of necessity — very creatively about how to move forward. Employees are also a great source of ideas and inspiration.” —Greg Sterling, Search Engine Land
We would like to close with some positive thinking. Local SEO isn’t just a service we provide at BlakSheep Creative — it’s a culture that we share that believes in well-resourced communities.
It’s a scientific fact that all of us all have the same basic common needs:
The above chart is the framework of a functional, prepared, and healthy society.
It covers basic human needs, the cooperation required to run a stable community, roles everyone can take to support life and culture, and relief from inevitable disasters.
There’s also land and water stewardship, a need for skilled educators, medical professionals, artisans, and a peaceful platform for full human expression.
COVID-19 marks the third major disaster Louisiana has lived through in recent years.
Hurricane Katrina, The Great Flood in August 2016, and now the Coronavirus Epidemic have demonstrated how Louisiana is self-sustaining, and how our communities come together to care for one another in times of need.
We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again.