About seven years ago, I got my first job at a local, family-owned restaurant as a busboy. It was the same restaurant where I had grown up eating for almost my entire life.
Over the next four years, I cleared tables and worked my way up from a fill-in busser on weekends to a server and manager working four to five days a week, serving food fit for a king.
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Some of my earliest personal and professional friendships came from working in that restaurant.
With coronavirus (COVID-19) now in play, this restaurant — along with thousands of other small businesses — is struggling to stay afloat. The owners are scared they’ll lose their business, the employees fear losing their jobs, and the customers may lose what was once a staple in their hometown.
This is the new reality for so many businesses.
However, not all hope is lost.
In an effort to protect these local businesses, search engines such as Google and Yelp are taking action.
Shutting down reviews
Today, shoppers consider online reviews an essential part of a purchasing decision. According to BrightLocal, “78% of consumers trust online reviews as much as a recommendation made to them by a friend, colleague, family member or acquaintance.”
Imagine searching for local restaurants and seeing a two-star review on Google. Even if the food looks great, those two-stars are going to weigh heavily on your decision.
As COVID-19 has forced many local businesses to limit their hours or close their doors entirely, review ratings have seen an unexpected plunge as customers are unhappy they cannot get access to whatever they may be looking for.
These harsh reviews can drag down average ratings that could be slow to rebound.
To counteract this, Yelp, the crowd-sourced review forum, has updated its review guidelines to make sure no harm can be done to local businesses through reviews during the pandemic.
Stoppelman and Yelp want to “protect local businesses from reputational harm related to these extraordinary circumstances,” by implementing a zero-tolerance policy for any claims made in reviews against businesses regarding COVID-19.
Any reviews that are flagged by community members will be reviewed by a Yelp content moderator to ensure they comply with these guidelines or they will be removed from the site, thereby not impacting that business’s rating.
Google has taken similar steps in disabling reviews and review responses on Google My Business accounts.
However, consumers don’t go on Google and Yelp just to find reviews. They also go to find business hours, menus, locations, and other services, all of which need to be updated and accessible.
For businesses who are having to change their hours or even temporarily close, it simply isn’t enough to put up a sign or change your website.
More than ever, consumers are going online to find out if your business is open or not, what your business hours are, and what you are able to offer.
Increasingly, that traffic goes to sites such as Google My Business and Yelp.
Both Google and Yelp have taken steps to ensure that business users have the functional capabilities to reflect updated business information because of COVID-19.
Google created a guide with tutorials for how Google My Business users can update important information regarding changes to hours of operations and current offerings.
There are also further recommendations for using all the tools available to Google My Business users, such as creating posts on your GMB page that share more detailed and up-to-date information directly with customers.