In late March 2020, Google limited the functionality of Google My Business (GMB) and temporarily disabled Google reviews and review responses. About a month later, Google restored the ability for businesses to respond to reviews through the Google My Business dashboard, app, and API.
During the time, people could write reviews, but they did not immediately appear on the listing. In May 2020, Google restored review replies, user photos, and Q&A functionality to all countries.
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However, online reviews, photos, and Q&A features were still unavailable for some medical categories (doctors’ offices and hospitals). Video uploads, API-based Q&A, and claiming new short names were also unavailable during this time.
In a Google My Business help article, the company cited operating with a limited team due to COVID-19 as the reason for pausing Google reviews and a few other GMB features.
Users logging into their GMB dashboards saw a related notification on the Home tab.
What Disabled Google Reviews Mean for Businesses
According to Google, “new reviews, review replies, and new Q&A will be unavailable during this time.”
For businesses, this meant:
Customers were not able to post new reviews on Google. Even though the option to write a review would still appear, any new review was not published. Users that were able to submit a new review saw a pop-up that said, “Your contribution may be delayed at this time.”
Businesses weren’t able to respond to reviews. On Google My Business, the option to respond to reviews was temporarily removed. “Flag as inappropriate” was the only action GMB users could take while handling Google reviews.
Existing reviews and review responses were still being displayed. Previously published reviews and review responses still appeared on businesses’ Google listings on Maps and Search.
What Should Businesses Do?
Many businesses rely on Google reviews to boost their online presence and improve their search performance.
While news of these GMB product changes and disabled Google reviews can be jarring, especially at a time when customers are likely more inclined to help businesses out with their testimonials, there are a few steps you can take to help sustain your review-related efforts.
Keep the Feedback Flowing
As your business operations adapt to the new normal, it’s beneficial to continue reaching out to customers, asking them for feedback, and taking appropriate measures to meet their needs.
The most popular way to send requests is through email or a tool like the Ask Tool. Another option is to send customers a message via text/SMS.
You can use your customers’ comments to understand their experiences better. You can also display first-party feedback on your website, which improves the content density of your website pages and helps boost your search engine performance.
Direct Customers to Industry-specific Review Websites
Keep in mind that some sites — Yelp, for example — frown upon businesses asking customers for feedback. Other sites (Tripadvisor, for example) are the opposite, even providing free tools for companies to reach out proactively for online reviews.
As you direct customers to non-Google review websites, ensure that your efforts are in compliance with each individual review site’s guidelines. You want to be rewarded, not penalized, for asking for online reviews.
Here are some industry-specific review websites:
- Financial Services
Stay Engaged with Your Customers
In situations where you aren’t able to respond to Google reviews, you can continue to communicate with customers on your business’s other web properties, including your website, email, and social media channels. Keeping customers up-to-date about business changes is the best way to develop trust in today’s climate.
What Other GMB Features Were Disabled?
During the start of the pandemic, Google also disabled GMB’s Q&A feature.
Customers and businesses alike were unable able to post new questions or answers. Previously published questions and answers were temporarily taken out of Google business listings on Maps and Search.
Google prioritized the review of business information edits, particularly for health-related businesses.
This meant that the company’s focus was on reviewing “open and closed states, special hours, temporary closures, business descriptions, and business attributes edits for other verified businesses.” Google was also prioritizing the creation, claiming, and verification of listings of health-related businesses.
Read our five-step guide for more advice on how to manage your business’s online presence in the face of change. If your business has 10 or more locations, you can also manage business information edits using GMB’s bulk management tools.