Here at Perfect Search, we’ve been taking notes on how the current global pandemic has affected SEO and what you can do to combat problems that have arisen as a result of the current crisis. We’ve compiled solutions and information on just about everything you need to know about how COVID-19 is affecting your SEO efforts.
SpecialAnnouncements Schema Markup
With government, school, and city websites needing to keep users up to date on how COVID-19 is impacting communities and students, Schema.org has created SpecialAnnouncements structured data markup that allows for urgent messages to appear directly in search results.
This feature is currently being configured to be supported on Google and is already appearing on Bing.
Google also provided an example of what this markup will look like in the results:
This markup allows for information to be as visible for searchers as quickly as possible, eliminating the need to dig for vital coronavirus updates.
There are currently nine different types of SpecialAnnouncement schema that will be supported, including:
- Announcement of a shelter-in-place directive
- Closure notice (for example, closing a school or public transportation)
- Announcement of government benefits (for example, unemployment support, paid leave, or one-time payments)
- Quarantine guidelines
- Travel restrictions
- Notification of a new drive-through testing center
- Announcement of an event transitioning from offline to online, or cancellation
- Announcement of revised hours and shopping restrictions
- Disease spread statistics and maps
Google has also mentioned that they will likely be supporting additional categories in the near future, as COVID-19 continues to develop.
How can I add SpecialAnnouncements schema markup to my site?
You can add this feature to your website by either adding the structured data directly to your webpages (which is what Google recommends) or by submitting the announcements in Google Search Console through their new tool. The main caveat here is that there are less customization options available through GSC, meaning your announcement may not be as tailored to your site as you might need.
If your website is providing consistent, new updates in relation to COVID-19, we strongly recommend adding this markup to your site to provide a helpful user experience to your audience. To find more information on how to add this markup to your site, Google and Bing provide a handy set of instructions. And more information on schema markup in general, check out our Schema 101 blog post.
Using Tools to Dig Deeper
In these precarious times for SEO and digital marketing, it’s even more important to track traffic and keyword rankings. An argument could also be made for weekly reports to catch odd data as soon as it comes up on your radar.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the usual reliable seasonal trends to fall back on to explain upticks or downturns in traffic. It’ll take a deeper dive into your client’s numbers, the industry, and the latest headlines to determine the cause for unexpected changes.
When trying to explain discrepancies, every bit of data can be important--- whether the change is coming in mobile vs. desktop traffic, which pages are seeing the biggest drops/increases, and how goal-tracking numbers have varied. Consider breaking down your data further by date, taking a look at figures before and after stay-at-home orders have been enacted.
Keyword rankings, using whatever tool you prefer, can also help give insight into whether it’s your website that’s experiencing the change, or the industry as a whole. Of course, Google’s algorithms can be patient when changing rankings in response to clicks, but any large-scale increases or decreases can offer clues as to whether your site’s pages are dropping because of fewer searches or click-throughs.
Looking at keyword rankings and landing pages can also give great insights into the changing motivations of your audience as they adapt to life at home and prepare for what could likely turn into a recession or depression. Audiences are less likely to be searching for products to buy online as wallets become tighter, but free time is also allowing audiences to explore their curiosities, which has been very clear based on data Pinterest has seen since the pandemic started.
Updating Google My Business Profiles
Google has provided guidelines on how to update Google My Business information in the wake of Coronavirus. As many brick-and-mortar stores have had to close or reduce business operations, having that information reflect in the GMB profile is important. Ideally, your GMB profile should communicate your operations without your user having to do further research.
Google has listed a few ways you can update your GMB profile during COVID-19 shutdowns:
1. Update your business hours
If your hours of operation have changed, this should be reflected in your Google My Business profile. This will help people know exactly when they can visit your store or location.
There is an option for special hours, which can be used for instances when hours are changed temporarily. This can help you avoid putting “Temporarily Closed” and illustrate to users that the information shown is reliable.
2. Create a COVID-19 update to include in your business profile
GMB has created a new post type in response to coronavirus, called a “COVID-19 Post.” In this kind of post, you can detail your hours of operation or temporary closures, update information such as delivery or takeout only, include information on how your store is managing safety and hygiene, as well as any requests for support. This should include all up-to-date information about your operation for users.
3. Update your business description
Use your business description to share relevant information such as if your business is only available for takeout or delivery, if there are extra services you are providing, or if any of your business services are being delayed as a result of COVID-19.
4. Remove hours and services disclaimer
GMB has added a disclaimer to all businesses to let customers know that business info may not be up-to-date with important COVID-19 information. If your business is verified, you will be able to remove this disclaimer.
This disclaimer will not display if you have marked your business as “Temporarily Closed” or if you did not have hours of operation listed.
5. Use attributes to highlight dining and shopping options
Restaurants and stores can update attributes, such as “curbside pickup,” “delivery only,” etc. This will help clarify how your business is operating and how customers can make purchases.
6. Add special recommendations for healthcare providers
If you are a healthcare provider, you are able to add “telemedicine” as a listed service as well as including links to book appointments online.
Updating your information on Google My Business ensures that your customers are able to find important information when they need it. Providing this information is also key to maintaining safety for you and your customers. The last thing you want is for your customers to visit your location only to find that it has been closed or the hours have been adjusted.
COVID-19 and Website Security
The impact of COVID-19 has had a significant effect on information security, with hackers worldwide seeking to exploit this crisis to target people spending significantly more time online, leaving them and their personal computers vulnerable to attack.
According to Cynet, there are two main trends in hacks seen as a result of COVID-19 – attacks that aim to steal remote user credentials and weaponized email attacks:
Remote user credential theft – With a nearly global quarantine policy, many organizations have shifted to a nearly completely remote workforce. With more remote connections being established between employees and devices than ever before, it’s now become easier than ever for a suspicious login attempt to be missed by an organization’s IT team.
Weaponized email attacks – If employees are using their personal computers rather than one given to them by their employer, they are more vulnerable to malware attacks. These malware attacks, passed via email, range from malicious links that victims download to more advanced macros and exploits or redirection to malicious websites.
Many security teams themselves have been affected as a result of quarantine, with some IT employees unable to work remotely, leaving organizations at risk due to a decreased workforce.
Here are 3 ways to increase your cybersecurity and protect your website against threats from COVID-19 hackers:
1. Use HTTPS protocol
The problem with the regular HTTP protocol is that the information that flows from server to browser is not encrypted, which means it can be easily stolen. HTTPS protocols remedy this by using an SSL (secure sockets layer) certificate. creates an encrypted link between your server and website visitors, to prevent a hacker or third party from intercepting your traffic and serving other information to their browsers.
2. Update your password
According to Sophos, 25 percent of passwords can be hacked in 3 seconds or less. If you are the website administrator and your email gets hacked, hackers then have access to login to your administrative settings. Make sure you use long passwords with special characters that are nearly impossible to solve.
3. Set up two-factor authentication
Two-step authentication allows you to create an added layer of security by tying your web admin account to a specific device that can be used to corroborate your identity.
For example, even if a hacker manages to guess your username and password, two-factor authentication would require a code sent only to your cell phone or email before it would be possible to log on to your account.As always, we hope you’re staying well and finding ways to feel good during this challenging time. If you need more help and solutions with your SEO, contact us. We love to help.