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Google Helps Businesses with Its Search Changes for Covid-19 Crisis

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Updated onApril 14, 2020

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The world is going through a tough situation due to Covid-19. The start of 2020 has been challenging for businesses because of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak. It is not only affecting the humans around the world but also the global economy and locally it has also impacted the small businesses.

Being an entrepreneur, it is important to find a solution to overcome these challenges.

Google has announced some of the significant search changes to help the businesses during the COVID-19 crisis.

Let’s take a look at them one by one:

Highlight Covid-19 Announcements on Google Search

The COVID-19 outbreak has led many organizations and groups to publish important announcements related to coronavirus and this is affecting our everyday lives.

Therefore, Google has introduced a new way for highlighting these special announcements on Google Search. A SpecialAnnouncement structured data can be added by websites to their web pages or submit a COVID-19 announcement in Search Console.

Image credit: Google Webmaster Central Blog

This information is used by Google to highlight the announcements from health and government agency sites to cover important updates such as stay-at-home directives or school closures in Google Search.

Ways to Implement the COVID-19 Announcements

You can implement the COVID-19 announcements in two ways as below:

Adding Structured Data to Your Web Page (Recommended)

A standardized format that provides information about a page and classifies the content of the page is called as structured data. This method is recommended by the Google experts as they can track this information easily because this allows reporting via Search Console in future and also helps you to update your website.

Submitting Announcements in Search Console (Alternative)

In case you don’t have technical knowledge or support to implement structured data, you can submit a COVID-19 announcement in Search Console. Though this tool is still in beta testing, you may still see changes.

This method isn’t considered best and is applicable for a short-term. Structured data helps to update your announcement highlights automatically when your pages change. Using this tool, you will need to update the announcements manually. Additionally, announcements made using this method can’t be monitored via special reporting that is made available via Search Console in the future.

In case you need to submit your announcement in this way, you need to be first verified in Search Console. Then you will be able to submit a COVID-19 announcement:

Image credit: Google Webmaster Central Blog

Settings for Virtual, Postponed and Cancelled Events

Due to the current lockdown environment globally, several events have been cancelled, postponed, or moved to an online-only format. Since Google wants to help your users to get the latest and accurate information about your events in this fast-modifying environment, it has added some new and optional properties to its developer documentation. These properties are applicable to all regions as well as languages. It is a part of Google’s complete efforts related to schema updates for supporting the publishers as well as users. Check below the important tips to keep Google updated about your events:

Update the Status of the Event

You can use the schema.org eventStatus property to set the status of the event especially when the event is cancelled, rescheduled, or postponed. With this information, Google can display users the current status of your event rather than completely removing the event from the event search experience.

  • Set the eventStatus property to EventCancelled, if the event is cancelled and keep the original data in the startDate of the event.
  • In case you have postponed the event but haven’t decided the date yet, keep the original date in the startDate of the event until you decide on the new date the event will take place and just update the eventStatus to EventPostponed.
  • The startDate property helps in identifying the unique event and Google experts need the original startDate until you come up with a new date. Once you finalize the new date for the event, simply change the eventStatus to EventRescheduled and also update the startDate and endDate with the new date information.
  • If you reschedule the event to a later date just update the startDate and endDate with the appropriate new dates.
  • Another alternative is to mark the eventStatus field as EventRescheduled and mention the previousStartDate.
  • If you have moved the event from in-person to online-only, you can update the eventStatus field with EventMovedOnline.

Mark Events as Online Only

Businesses are shifting events to online only on a large scale and Google experts are working on it to show this information to people on Google Search. Ensure that you use the below properties, if your event is happening online only:

  • Change the location to the VirtualLocation type.
  • Change the eventAttendanceMode property to OnlineEventAttendanceMode.

Note: Though the VirtualLocation and eventAttendanceMode are in the development phase on Schema.org, you can still use them.

Update Google When Your Event Changes

Once you have made changes to your markup ensure to update Google. It is recommended to make your sitemap available automatically via your server. With this, you can ensure that your new and updated content is displayed to search engines in an instant manner.

Pausing Your Business Online in Google Search

The COVID-19 crisis is forcing businesses globally to search for ways to pause their online activities. Therefore, Google has recommended some ways to pause your business online and reduce the impacts with Google Search. Any business having an online presence can implement these recommendations but mainly applicable for those who have paused their sale of products and services online.

Limit Site Functionality (Recommended)

In case your situation is temporary and you are planning to reopen your online business, it is better to keep your site online and limit the functionality. For instance, mark items as out of stock or limit the cart and checkout process.

Google recommends this process as it reduces any negative effects on your site’s presence in Search. People will be able to find your products, add wishlists, or read reviews for purchasing later on even if you add these restrictions.

Follow the best practices below:

  • Disable the cart functionality: It is very simple to disable the cart functionality as it doesn’t change anything for your site’s visibility in Search.
  • Inform your customers what’s going on: You can display a banner or popup div containing appropriate information for your users, so that they have updated information of the business’s status. Also, remember to display shipping times, any known and unusual delays, pick-up or delivery options, etc. upfront, so that users find the expected information.
  • Keep your structured data updated: In case structured data is used by your user (for example: Products, Books, Events), ensure that you adjust it appropriately (display the current product availability, or change events to cancelled). In case there is a physical storefront of your business, update Local Business structured data to reveal current opening hours.
  • Monitor your Merchant Center feed: If you use Merchant Center, make use of the best practices for the availability attribute.
  • Keep Google informed about your updates: Using Search Console, ask Google to recrawl a limited number of pages (for example, the homepage). In terms of multiple pages (for example, all of your product pages), make use of sitemaps.

Related: Surviving the Lockdown: Know What You Need To Do For Your Online Business

Disabling the Complete Website (Alternative but not recommended)

You might think about disabling the complete website. Remember it is an extremely dangerous method and so should only be taken for a very short period of time (a few days at most). The reason is, it will have significant effects on the website in Search, even when implemented properly. Therefore, it is highly recommended to restrict your site’s functionality instead. Remember that your customers might also want to search information about your products, your services, and your company, even if you have stopped selling anything right now.

In case you again decide to do it (even if it isn’t recommended), check the below options:

  • In case you urgently want to disable the site for 1-2 days then create an informational error page with a 503 HTTP result code rather than entire content. Ensure that you follow the best practices for disabling your website.
  • If you have decided to disable your site for a longer time, it is better to provide an indexable homepage as a placeholder for users to find in Search with the use of the 200 HTTP status code.
  • In case you instantly need to hide your site in Search, you can remove your website from the Search for a temporary period.
Be alert: Google doesn’t recommend disabling the whole website due to the below effects:

  • Your customers won’t know the status of your business, if they don’t find your business online at all.
  • It would be impossible for your customers to find or read the first-hand information about your business, products and services. For example, specs, past orders, reviews, repair guides, or manual won’t be searchable. This might affect the future purchase decisions.
  • Also, the information such as contact phone number and your site’s logo won’t be available in the Knowledge Panels.
  • The verification of Search Console will fail, and you won’t have any access to information about your business in Search. All the data in the aggregate reports in Search Console will be lost as pages will get dropped from the index.
  • Also, going back online after a longer period of time will be harder in case you need to reindex it first. Moreover, the time required for reindexing would be uncertain as well as the possibility of your site to appear the same as original in Search would be less.

Apart from your website’s operation, there are other actions you might want to take to pause your online business in Google Search:

  • In case you hold events, check for the new properties for marking them virtual, postponed or cancelled.
  • Check the guidance from Google My Business on changing your business hours or indicating temporary closures.
  • Also, analyze the resources from Google for Small Business on communicating with customers and employees, remote working and enhancing advertising campaigns.
  • Learn the ways to recommend changes to your Google knowledge panel (or ways to claim it, if you haven’t already).
  • Ensure to be updated with the latest by following updates on Twitter from Google Webmasters at @GoogleWMC and Google My Business at @GoogleMyBiz.

How to Fix an Overloaded Server?

You can fix the overloaded server with the below steps:

Assess

When there is heavy traffic on the server and it gets overloaded, one or more of these components can become a bottleneck: CPU, network, memory, or disk I/O. If you can identify which of these is the bottleneck, you can take efforts on the most impactful mitigations.

CPU and network are the most relevant bottlenecks during a traffic spike for most of the sites.

If you run top on the affected server, it would be good to start your investigation for bottlenecks. You can also enhance this with the historical data from your web host or a monitoring tool.

Stabilize

There will be instant cascading failures elsewhere in the system due to the overloaded server. Therefore, it is essential to stabilize the server prior to trying to make more important changes.

The server can be stabilized in the below ways:

  • Rate Limiting: It limits the number of incoming requests.
  • HTTP Caching: In case a resource is served from an HTTP cache, it doesn’t needs to be requested from the origin server and this decreases the server load.
    HTTP headers such as Cache-Control, Expires, and ETag indicate the way a resource should be cached by an HTTP cache. If you audit and fix these headers, it will improve caching.
  • Diagnose: Run Lighthouse and check for the Serve static assets with an efficient cache policy audit for checking the list of resources with a short to medium time to live (TTL). Then for each listed resource, consider if TTL needs to be increased.
  • Graceful Degradation: In this, the functionality is temporarily reduced for removing the excess load from a system.

Improve

  • Use a CDN: You can server the static assets from a CDN instead of your server to reduce the load.
  • Scale Compute Resources: This should be done carefully as if done prematurely it can lead to architectural complexity and financial loss.
  • Enable Compression: You can use GZIP or Brotli to compress the text-based resources. It can reduce the transfer size of these resources by approximately 70%.
  • Optimize Images and Media: Images contribute to a majority of file size of several websites and so optimizing them can reduce the website’s size.
  • Minify JS and CSS: Unnecessary characters get removed from JS and CSS with minification.

Monitor

You get the information on data collection, dashboards, and alerting regarding server performance with the server monitoring tool. You can prevent and diminish future server performance issues with them.

Related: 5 Useful Ways To Reduce Server Response Time For A WordPress Website

Mark up Your FAQs with Structured Data

The Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) page comprises of a list of questions and answers related to a particular topic. If the FAQ pages are properly marked up, they may be eligible to rank high on Search and an Action on the Google Assistant. This can further help your site reach the right users. Check below the example of an FAQ rich result:

Image credit: Google Webmaster Central Blog

As mentioned above structured data is a standardized format that offers information about a page and classifies the page content.

Here’s an overview of build, test, and release structured data.

Add the required properties as below:

  • mainEntity: A list of Question elements comprising of list of answered questions that the FAQPage is about.
  • acceptedAnswer: The answer to the question, just one answer per question.
  • name: It is the full text of question. For example, “What is a CDN?”
  • text: The full answer to the question which may contain HTML content such as links and lists

Follow the guidelines which include:

General Structured Guidelines

If you want your FAQs page to rank in the search results, mark up your site’s pages with one of the below supported formats:

  • JSON-LD (recommended)
  • Microdata
  • RDFa

Some of the quality guidelines you need to follow are:

  • Offer an updated information.
  • Offer original content generated by you or your users.
  • Avoid the marking up of content that isn’t viewable to the readers on the page.
  • Avoid the marking up of irrelevant or misleading content such as fake reviews.
  • Avoid using structured data for misleading users.

Webmaster Guidelines

The general guidelines include:

  • Helping Google to find your pages
  • Helping Google to understand your pages
  • Helping visitors to use your pages

Avoid the below things:

  • Automated content
  • Participation in link schemes
  • Creation of pages with little or absence of original content
  • Cloaking
  • Tricky redirects
  • Hidden text or links
  • Doorway pages
  • Scraped content
  • Participation in affiliate programs that add sufficient value
  • Loading pages with irrelevant keywords
  • Creation of pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware
  • Abuse of structured data markup
  • Sending automated queries to Google

Content Guidelines

1. Use FAQPage only if your page has a list of questions with answers. In case there is a single question to which users can answer alternatively, use QAPage. Check the below examples:

Valid use cases:

  • An FAQ page where users can’t submit alternative answers and is created by the website itself.
  • A product page containing a list of FAQs where users can’t submit alternative answers.

Invalid use cases:

  • A forum page on which users can answer a single question.
  • A product support page on which users can answer a single question
  • A product page where users can post multiple questions and answers on a single page

2. Avoid using FAQPage for advertising purposes.

3. Ensure that each Question comprises of the entire text of the question and each Answer comprises of the entire text of the answer. The entire question as well as answer text may be displayed.

4. In case the question and answer content includes content such as profane, obscene, graphically violent, sexually explicit, hateful or harassing language, or promotion of dangerous or illegal activities.

5. The user on the source page must be able to see all FAQ content.

6. If the FAQ content on your site is repetitive (meaning, the same question and answer are displayed on multiple pages on your site), mark up only one instance of that FAQ for your complete site.

7. Verify your code using the Rich Results Test. You can also check the preview of the way your structured data will appear on Google Search.

8. Deploy a few pages including your structured data and use the URL Inspection tool for testing the way Google sees the page. Make sure your page is accessible to Google and not blocked by the noindex tag, a robots.txt file, or login requirements. If the page looks fine, you can request Google to recrawl your URLs.

Help Health Organizations to Make COVID-19 Information More Accessible

By default, Google tries to display the most relevant and authoritative information when a user searches for something. This is followed effectively when the content owners help Google to understand their content in a better way.

For guiding the health-organizations in this process Google has recommended some best practices that cover the below pointers:

  • Helping users to access your content instantly
  • Why are good page content and titles important?
  • Ways to check the appearance of your website for coronavirus-related queries
  • Ways to analyze the top coronavirus related user queries
  • Adding structured data for FAQ content

Google has also created a new support group for health organizations where they can take part in Google’s new technical support group which focuses on assisting health organizations that publish COVID-19 information with Search related questions.

Conclusion

COVID-19 needs to end faster or else it will not only destroy humans but also end the businesses. But I am sure that the suggestions offered by Google for businesses will help your business to get through this crisis and keep it stable for your customers.

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Pallavi is a Digital Marketing Executive at MilesWeb and has an experience of over 4 years in content development. She is interested in writing engaging content on business, technology, web hosting and other topics related to information technology.

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The world is going through a tough situation due to Covid-19. The start of 2020 has been challenging for businesses because of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak. It is not only affecting the humans around the world but also the global economy and locally it......