Inform your users: Google recommendations for businesses in crisis

Covid-19 has a grip on companies worldwide. In view of closed stores and missing conversions, website operators ask themselves increasingly, how they should proceed with their on-line appearance further. Google now responds with comprehensive recommendations and new options for businesses suffering from lack of sales of their products and services.

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John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, provides advice in his blog post for businesses and site owners who need to counter the effects of currently limited business activity.

The message is clear: do not shut down your website completely. Companies that currently have to restrict or pause their activities would be taking an incalculable risk by deactivating their website and not only risking their visibility in Google Search in the long term, but above all disappointing their users.

Best Practice: Limit your site functionality

If your company needs to pause certain business areas for a short time, John Mueller advises limiting page activity. With this strategy you will not only avoid negative effects on your website ranking, but you will also be present online for your users.

"If your situation is temporary and you plan to reopen your online business, we recommend keeping your site online and limiting the functionality." – John Mueller, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst

If your company sells products and services that are currently unavailable, you should be upfront about it and clearly communicate the situation to your users. Even with limited ordering options, users can still learn about your company's services and view product information, reviews, wish lists, and company updates. If they feel well and comprehensively advised in advance, this can have a positive effect on their later purchase decision.

Google recommends a number of measures for limiting your page that will protect you from a ranking loss and ensure your discoverability in the search results:

  • Disable your shopping cart function: this simple option has no negative impact on your visibility, according to Google.
  • Use banners and pop-ups with company updates: Place banners and pop-ups on your website that always inform users about updates to your company. For example, share the latest status of product availability, current company information, or delivery and pickup times.
  • Update structured data: Update structured data, e.g.B. for products, books and events. Even as a brick-and-mortar business, be sure to include structured data, z.B. With new opening hours, to provide. We also show you how to handle structured data correctly in the article tips + takeaways for more success with structured data.
  • Check Merchant Center feeds: Merchant Center tells you how to properly use the availability attribute to show your users if products are available for delivery. Follow Google's recommendations here as well.
  • Inform Google: Google wants to know when you update your site. If you have only a few pages, use the Search Console. In the case of many sites, use sitemaps to prompt the search engine to crawl.

Searchmetrics Expert Tip

Strengthen your position on Google and stay one step ahead of competitors. Bjorn Darko, Director Digital Strategies Group EMEA at Searchmetrics, also recommends taking this opportunity to focus on optimizing your SEO strategy:

  • Pagespeed measures
  • Crawlability improvements,
  • Usability changes or
  • Produce, refurbish, and improve content

Other options for companies

In addition to detailed recommendations on how to move forward with your website, Google also emphasizes the importance of the Knowledge Panel and shares a number of other tips for small businesses. In addition, new options in Event Properties and Google My Business allow you to customize your company's online presence to the current situation.

New event properties: how to use them correctly

To avoid large crowds during the Covis 19 pandemic, many events have to be cancelled, postponed or held online as a substitute. With new property options you now get additional possibilities to mark affected events.

To show Google the status of your event you use the property eventStatus . To adjust this you proceed like this:

  • If your event had to be canceled, set the property to EventCancelled – keep the original start date StartDate here
  • If the event has been postponed and no new date has been set yet, set the property to EventPostponed – the startDate will remain until the new date has been set.
  • For events with a fixed new date, set a new startDate and endDate OR update the property to EventRescheduled and add the previousStartDate

If your event now takes place online, change the eventStatus to EventMovedOnline , furthermore you should consider the following information:

  • If you plan a new online event from the beginning, set the venue to VirtualLocation and the property eventAttendanceMode to OnlineEventattendanceMode

Google My Business with new options

If your business has a Google My Business listing, you now have new options for informing users and alerting them to alternative listings.

In addition to updating your opening hours or adding company updates, you will now have the option to temporarily mark your store or individual locations as closed. Should you use this option, you don't have to worry about any negative effects for your ranking or the visibility of your website in Google Search, according to Danny Sullivan from Google:


Disable website: Google warns against this step

After shutting down your website, users will not be able to find you online and will not have access to your company updates, products or services. They may turn to your competitors or ask for information from third parties that may be inadequate or incorrect. This lack of correct information can have a lasting impact on your business success.

In addition, the Knowledge Panel can no longer retrieve certain company information, such as phone number or logo. Search Console verification fails and information that was previously displayed in Google search about your company is missing. Additionally, reports in Search Console will lose data, as the relevant pages are no longer in the index.

John Mueller points out that deactivating your website in the Google index is a significant intervention. Your website has to be indexed again after a longer break, which means a long-term and considerable effort for you. It is also uncertain to what extent your original ranking and the visibility of your website can be restored.

Pause website: This is what you should consider

"As a last resort, you may decide to disable the whole website. This is an extreme measure that should only be taken for a very short period of time (a few days at most), as it will otherwise have significant effects on the website in Search, even when implemented properly. " – John Mueller, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst

However, if you see no other solution, Google recommends the following procedure:

  1. If your website should be deactivated for 2-3 days only, use an informative error page with 503 HTTP result code. Do not disable all content. Follow the Google Best Practices.
  2. If you need to deactivate your website for a longer period of time, use an indexable page as a placeholder that can be found using the 200 HTTP status code.
  3. If you need to remove your site from search, follow these instructions.

The Google information for online businesses of the crisis will help you to keep an eye on the search performance of your website. In summary, pay attention to these TOP 5 tips to ensure your presence in the search engine:

  • Communicates transparently with your users
  • Take the opportunity to optimize your SEO strategy
  • Updated crisis-related changes
  • Think long-term and sustainable
  • Informs Google

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