The Week in Search is a weekly column produced by the Studio team to keep marketing professionals and ecommerce merchants up to date on changes in the search industry, and provide valuable context on what it all means. If you have questions or think we missed something, email us directly.

Gasp! Google Tells Website Owners the Best Way to Pause Business Online

This week, the Google Webmaster blog published a guide on how to pause or restrict your business’ presence online. Given the current economic climate, some businesses might have limited capacity to take and ship orders. Here’s what they’re recommending as options to limit your online business presence during COVID-19:

  • Disable the cart functionality: Disabling the cart functionality is the simplest approach, and doesn’t change anything for your site’s visibility in Search.
  • Tell your customers what’s going on: Display a banner or popup div with appropriate information for your users, so that they’re aware of the business’s status. Mention any known and unusual delays, shipping times, pick-up or delivery options, etc. upfront, so that users continue with the right expectations. Make sure to follow our guidelines on popups and banners.
  • Update your structured data: If your site uses structured data (such as ProductsBooksEvents), make sure to adjust it appropriately (reflecting the current product availability, or changing events to cancelled). If your business has a physical storefront, update Local Business structured data to reflect current opening hours.
  • Check your Merchant Center feed: If you use Merchant Center, follow the best practices for the availability attribute.
  • Tell Google about your updates: To ask Google to recrawl a limited number of pages (for example, the homepage), use Search Console. For a larger number of pages (for example, all of your product pages), use sitemaps.
example of a 503 service unavailable page

They also give website owners information on how to temporarily remove your site from being shown in Google Search. They recommend utilizing a 503 HTTP code, temporary placeholder homepage, or temporarily removing your site from search using the “Removal” tool in Google Search Console.

In a Reddit post, Gary Illyes posted that Google is working on more thorough guidelines for ecommerce businesses that are impacted during COVID-19. He specifically recommends against temporary removals:

We’re going to put up some more thorough do’s and don’t’s, but in the meantime, closing the cart and putting up a message that explains to the user what’s happening should be the way to go if you’re planning the closure will last a long time. Anything else, redirects, 503s, etc, will have unwanted effects on the site from SEO perspective if lasts for more than just a couple days.

He then linked to the webmaster blog post, stating that there is more to come and they “rushed this one out.”

Studio Takeaway: Even though many businesses are operating under a limited capacity, there is no reason to ever completely remove your website from search. In the long term, it can greatly damage your site. We recommend being up front with customers and communicating what impact this will have on your products/services.

Google My Business Features & Functionality Impacted by COVID-19

google my business limited functionality during COVID-19

Google has made some changes to their Google My Business platform reducing some features during the coronavirus outbreak. Notably, they’ve restricted the submission of local business Q&A reviews, which were often contained in the right side knowledge panel.

Google will also be prioritizing business information updates for critical health and medical-related businesses. Additionally, they’ve reduced the hours for Google My Business support so that employees aren’t in the office.

Other folks have been reporting consistent issues with Google My Business, including unwanted edits to store names, tracking URLs, Google My Business posts lagging, businesses being marked temporarily closed, and more. You can see an entire list of current issues over here.

Studio Takeaway: Are these types of issues always present? Or are we just extra sensitive to them now that local businesses are relying on GMB to help communicate the current status of their business to customers?

In many ways, Google My Business is on the front lines of local business changes so people are increasingly relying on the platform to help them communicate to customers and keep everyone safe.

SEO Poll Shows Most SEOs are Seeing Declines in Organic Traffic During this Time

Marie Haynes, head of Marie Haynes Consulting, has been running a weekly poll on her Twitter account asking SEOs how their clients are faring amid the COVID-19 turmoil.

This week, 60% of SEOs reported declines in organic ranking for their clients. The week before, nearly 50% of SEOs reported declines.

Studio Takeaway: Given the fact that many businesses aren’t able to conduct business-as-usual because of supply chain issues or shelter in place orders, user search trends have begun changing. Internally, we’re seeing a shift from business who typically dominate in traffic and revenue (apparel, industrial suppliers) to more niche-oriented industries (gym equipment, food delivery, home goods). For us, it’s been a lot of give and take. Losses realized in one industry are gains in another.

Bottom line is there are likely more people casually searching the web now than there were two weeks ago, they’re just not searching for the same things.

Safari Launches 3rd Party Cookie Blocking

This week, the Safari web browser announced that they have removed 3rd party cookies by default on their browser, “pav[ing] the way for privacy on the web.”

In the announcement, they announced they – along with TOR – are the only browsers that block 3rd party cookies by default. They note that the BRAVE browser blocks many 3rd party cookies with a few exceptions. They also point out that Chrome plans to ship this update by 2022

Studio Takeaway: 3rd party advertising and cross-site tracking is going to take a hit as more browsers block cross site cookies. Remarketing stands to take the brunt of the blow. What does this mean for user privacy? Essentially companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft wont have access to nearly as much data, and they won’t be able to share it as easily with partners. Is this a good thing? Well, if privacy is your main concern, then this announcement probably makes you happy. For marketing professionals, who utilize tools to help businesses succeed, cross site cookies was a great way to help improve businesses, so not such a great thing for them.

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