New features introduced by Google during COVID-19: which ones are likely to stay?3 min read

A lot has changed in the last few months. We’ve learned more than we ever wanted to about pandemics and most of us have discovered that perfect spot in our homes for taking video calls (saunas and bathrooms seem to top the list).

It’s evident that some businesses were more prepared than others to move their operations online overnight.

As the world moved online, Google introduced a number of new features from delivering reliable information on COVID-19 to helping small businesses connect with customers online.

Some of those updates have been all over the news while others haven’t. So, I’ve put together a list of all new features for businesses that Google introduced since this crisis began.

Rollback of SameSite cookies

Last year Google announced that its Chrome browser will stop supporting third-party cookies.

Their first milestone was removing support for SameSite cookies past February 2020. SameSite cookies help browsers share a user’s information from one site to another.

According to Google’s original plan, cookies without proper labelling would stop working past that deadline.

Google ultimately decided to postpone this move to avoid causing disruption for websites and businesses who wouldn’t be able to properly prepare for this due to staff restrictions. They are now aiming to complete this rollout during summer 2020.

Free listings on Google Shopping

Non-essential retail has been one of the hardest-hit sectors of the economy. In an effort to support retailers, Google decided to make Google Shopping available to all retailers ahead of schedule.

Google Shopping results show up as thumbnail images on top of the search results. Here’s a handy guide to get you up and running on Google Shopping.

Rising Retail Categories

To help businesses keep up with shifting consumer demand, Google launched the Rising Retail Categories, currently available in the US, UK and Australia. It functions the same way as Google Trends but the data is primarily focused on displaying products people are interested in based on what people are searching for.

Google mentioned that the site is updated daily and hope that business can use this information for creating better content, better advertising campaigns or use it for improving their product inventories.

It seems that in the UK, beyond the obvious motorboats, are having a breakout in consumer interest.

Curbside pickup badges

As the global lockdown started Google reported a 70% increase in searches with ‘in stock’. As governments imposed stricter rules for social distancing, Google introduced new features including in-store and curbside pickup in their local inventory ads.

Local inventory ads are currently available to brick-and-mortar stores in Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and the US.

Support links for local businesses

Perhaps besides tourism, the worst-hit sector has been local businesses.

With many having to shut down indefinitely and others permanently, many entrepreneurs have had to come up with creative ways to keep their businesses afloat. One such approach is asking for customers to buy gift cards that can be used once life returns to normal.

To support small business, Google launched Support links for My Business profiles.

Using this feature small businesses can direct their customers directly to their Google My Business profiles where they can collect donations or sell gift card (or both).

This feature is available in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

Which features are more likely to stay?

Google has a solid track record in introducing new features that get us to use their products more often.

In my opinion, while features such as information on COVID spread in organic search will eventually fade, I hope that the new features launched to support local businesses will remain available and be improved over time.