Google Disables Reviews and Q&A, Yelp Announces New Features Amid Outbreak

(Damian Rollison is VP of product strategy at Brandify, Street Fight’s parent company. Street Fight maintains editorial independence.)

Important announcements were posted Friday by Google and Yelp as part of the effort to contend with coronavirus and its impact on businesses.

Google has published a new help page titled “Limited Google My Business functionality due to COVID-19.” Before diving into the details in the announcement, I’ll mention the most important headline. Due to a rapid reorganization of priorities, Google has determined that at this time, they will disable the ability to leave new reviews, reply to reviews, and post new Question and Answer content.

As of Friday, all of the Google My Business accounts Brandify manages were displaying, in the Reviews tab of the GMB dashboard, the following message:

Screen Shot 2020-03-20 at 2.11.28 PM

The normal buttons for replying to reviews are hidden from view. We have also tested the Google My Business API, and replies cannot be posted through that channel either. If you try to update a reply you posted previously, the entire reply will also disappear.

The rollout appears to be staged, so you may not see all changes at once.

As to why Google would choose to disable reviews, replies, and Q&A, this is part of a plan to, as the announcement puts it, “prioritize critical services.” Google goes on to explain: “We are currently focusing on the quality and reliability of information on Google Search and Maps, ensuring that users and business owners have access to essential features like whether the business is open and/or has special hours.”

We have noticed strains on the system when trying to update items like special hours for a large number of businesses, so it makes sense for Google to focus all of its bandwidth — both in terms of machines and in terms of support staff — on the most important services.

As to what else is being prioritized, Google says: “We will prioritize reviewing all edits for critical health-related businesses. At this time, we will also prioritize reviewing open and closed states, special hours, temporary closures, business descriptions, and business attributes edits for other verified businesses.”

They also note that new listings as well as new claims for existing listings in the healthcare space will be subject to manual review at this time. Other new listings and verifications may be delayed as health-related listings are prioritized.

As for Yelp, CEO Jeremy Stoppelman published a blog post Friday that outlines several measures Yelp will take to help with the crisis response. Here is a brief summary:

  • Suspension of ad fees for small businesses, with a focus on restaurants and nightlife.
  • Highlighting of “contact-free” delivery options in the Yelp app, via partnership with GrubHub, rolling out next week.
  • A new feature, coming soon, allowing restaurants to specify they are open but only for pick-up and delivery.
  • A new banner alert that can be placed at the top of your Yelp profile to announce any special circumstances.
  • Ability to showcase virtual service offerings like consultations, classes, tours, shows, and performances.
  • A new set of special review content guidelines, including “zero tolerance for any claims in reviews of contracting COVID-19 from a business or its employees, or negative reviews about a business being closed during what would be their regular open hours in normal circumstances.”

Yelp has also released tools to make it easier for businesses to mark themselves as temporarily closed.

While the timing of some of these items is not yet entirely clear, we’ve been assured by Yelp that they are working at maximum speed to make critical tools available.

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Damian Rollison writes the Streets Ahead column for Street Fight. He is VP of product strategy at Brandify, and can be reached via Twitter at @damianrollison. Brandify is the publisher of Street Fight.