Why putting all your data in Google's basket is not a good idea

@gnufcl@fosstodon.org Saturday, 14th August 2021

Anybody running a business knows the golden rule: “Never put all your eggs in one basket”. In the case of Google, this rule becomes even more important as the following post shows. It all began last weekend while I was updating the business profile on Google MyBusiness. I uploaded some new files and reported a picture before switching to the title section in order to update some data. And then, it suddenly happened: Bam! Account suspended.

On the right side of my screen, I had a warning that reads as follows:

Suspended: Your listing has been suspended due to quality issues. Learn more

Lost in Google's Universe...

How the disaster occurred

I already knew that a Google account can be suspended either manually by a Google employee or automatically by the Google algorithm. What I didn't know, however, was the fact that there were two types of account suspension: a soft and a hard one. To make things worse, it turned out that I got hit by the latter. Unlike a soft suspension, where Google still displays your listing with all the corresponding data, a hard suspension means that your listing completely disappears from the Google results. This was exactly what happened in my case, everything just evaporated like smoke: the map listing, the opening hours, the customer reviews, simply everything! Since the incident happened immediately after introducing the changes, I deduced that the suspension must have been triggered by a Google Bot.

Resolving the issue

A “Google My Business” account can be suspended for multiple reasons. According to its policy, Google is entitled to suspend your account without prior warning if it suspects that you're using a mere P.O. Box, a virtual office or a coworking space, among other things. Adding keywords to your business name, also known as “keyword stuffing”, may also lead to a review of your listing or even suspension of your account. This happens when the algorithm identifies a policy infringement or inconsistencies upon checking your website information.

What is perplexing, though, is the fact that Google is not forced to give you any explanation or whatsoever for its decision to suspend your account. It's up to you to find out the reason that may have caused the suspension. As a matter of fact, all you can do to resolve the issue is to submit a reinstatement request after making sure that your profile respects all the Google My Business guidelines. Afterwards, Google may ask you to provide additional information to prove that your business exists in the physical, real world. You may, for example, be asked to provide pictures showing the storefront of your business. Many users reported that the reinstatement procedure can take several weeks. I was lucky enough, since my account was reinstated within less than 24 hours. A google employee sent me an e-mail telling me that my account was now available after checking my recent updates.

Implications of Google's power

There are shops and businesses out there that rely heavily on their Google local listings to sell their products. Some even use “black hat” tactics such as buying fake customer reviews from agencies to boost their ranking which, by the way, may also lead to a hard suspension without prior notification. I've noticed shops in my area that racked up more than 500 reviews in a matter of months. Anybody engaging in an organic SEO strategy knows how much time and dedication it takes to get such an amount of reviews in a natural way.

If you're primarily depending on Google to sell your products and services, you should rethink your strategy before it's too late. Basically, if Google decides to shut down your account permanently, there's not really much you can do about it. As a general rule, you should always diversify your communication channels. If a single channel fails, you can always rely on the remaining ones to maintain balance. More often than not, a diversification strategy will bring you more reach and customer views.

About the author:

Fayçal Alami-Hassani is a technical communicator and owner of GlobalTech Translations, a digital company offering multilingual solutions and technical documentation services. He enjoys tinkering with Linux systems and writing about FOSS projects in his spare time.

GlobalTech Translations © August 2021