Is automotive a bellwether for Google My Business trends during COVID-19?

Compared automotive results with all others to find customers are actively interested in supporting businesses that share updates and respond to reviews.

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Over the past few months, COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on the performance of Google My Business (GMB) listings across every industry. Businesses have scrambled to keep their GMB listings up to date and relevant with Google suspending customer reviews and scaling back support. Meanwhile, how has GMB performance been affected?

To find out, I worked with my company to examine GMB performance across all verticals. One trend that seemed to come out of this analysis was that automotive appears to be not only a bellwether for the U.S. economy, but also as an industry to look at to see what is likely going to happen on GMB for other industries. So how have people interacted with automotive GMBs during COVID-19 so far? This is an important question. A GMB listing acts as a business’ digital front door. And importantly, performance metrics on GMB listings provide a useful predictor of consumer purchase behavior. To answer the question, we examined GMB performance from the perspective of GMB views, clicks, and customer reviews across 100,000 GMB listings and compared the automotive results with all other results. 

Here is what we found out:

GMB views and clicks are rebounding

We looked at both GMB views and clicks throughout March and April, which gives us a measure of how much COVID-19 affected automotive especially after a national emergency was declared on March 13. Both views and clicks showed a steep drop in March. Throughout April, automotive showed the strongest rebound of any industry. But as April progressed, we saw a steady increase in people viewing dealerships’ GMB listings and then taking action by clicking to get more information such as driving directions and phone numbers as these charts show: 

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A few factors may explain the turnaround. Across the United States, depending on how states enforced their shelter-in-place mandates, a number of auto dealerships remained open, many for service exclusively, but others for both sales and service. Unfortunately, interest did not translate to purchase enough to forestall a decline in auto sales for the first quarter of 2020. Other factors counteracted consumer interest, namely the recessionary environment that quickly took hold as the pandemic spread.  Automotive, like many other industries, felt the effects of COVID-19 on the bottom line. 

It’s also interesting to note that other industries followed automotive with similar patterns a week later.  The orange trendline in the two preceding charts showed that automotive was a reasonable barometer of what would happen to other industries when it came to GMB performance.  

Customer reviews 

It was widely reported that Google suspended customer reviews from March 20 to April 9, but on April 10, Google announced its reinstatement. Here we took a close look at review volume and sentiment for automotive and compared that data to other industries. We found that:

Customer reviews are returning to automotive GMB listings – and review sentiment is positive. 

In April, customer reviews began to return measurably in automotive to the point where, by the second week in May, volumes were 60% of where they were on March 1. By contrast, for most other industries, Google reviews were being published at a much slower rate. In many industries, review volume barely registered a return at all. 

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Note that on May 13th Google began to more aggressively release reviews in other industries; so, a recovery in more industries should be expected.

The data tells us:

  • If automotive GMB performance is any indication, customers are actively interested in supporting businesses, and we can expect GMB usage across all industries to increase as more states relax shelter-in-place mandates and people start going out to shop.
  • Customers continue to give feedback to businesses, and they’ll respond positively to those that demonstrate responsiveness and attention to managing customer service with proper social distancing in place.

The turnaround for automotive is another reminder of how important it is for businesses to monitor and revise your GMB listings frequently, including sharing updates about your service availability (are you open? If so, what’s the new shopping protocol?) and, of course, responding to reviews.

GMBs are as important as ever. 

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About the author

Adam Dorfman
Adam Dorfman is a technology and digital marketing professional with more than 20 years of experience. His expertise spans all aspects of product development as well as scaling product and engineering teams. He has been in the SEO and Local SEO space since 1999. In 2006, Adam co-founded SIM Partners and helped create a business that made it possible for companies to automate the process of attracting and growing customer relationships across multiple locations. Adam is currently director of product at Reputation where he and his teams are integrating location-based marketing with reputation management and customer experience. Adam contributes regularly to publications such as Search Engine Land, participates in Moz’s Local Search Ranking Factors survey, and regularly speaks at search marketing events such as Search Marketing Expo (SMX) West and State of Search as well as industry-specific events such as HIMSS. Follow him on Twitter @phixed.

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