- A large number of businesses were seeing a GBP message notifying them their business "was not visible to customers."
- Google uses this in multiple contexts, but doesn't explain why. There are five main reasons why you might be seeing it.
- This article helps diagnose why the message is appearing and what to do about it.
Last week, a large number of businesses were seeing a message in the Google Business Profile interface notifying them their business "was not visible to customers."
It's a scary message for any business that depends on Google traffic to survive. And Google has used it widely over the course of the past year.
As David Mihm has noted, with Google you never know whether this sort of message is a bug or a feature. Is this more frequently seen message reflective of some new more aggressive vetting or in fact just a bug?
Fortunately for some businesses, seeing this disturbing message was a temporary bug and it didn't actually impact their visibility to customers. Google reported that they had fixed it within a day. However, it's a message that many businesses still see. Despite what Google says, it still seems to be affecting some businesses and has since at least last November.
Given that this message is seen frequently, how do you know if you have bitten by the bug or are just in some state where customers in fact can't see your business?
A message with many meanings
Google uses this message in multiple contexts related to verification and trust of a listing. Unfortunately, they don't ever explain why the business is actually seeing the message.
Here are some situations in which this message will appear:
- If listing was newly verified, in the past 2 weeks or so, you will see this message. It usually disappears after 10-14 days. The problem is that Google communicates that it will only be a few minutes for your business to be visible. After a few days of the message, many businesses are wondering WTF?
- Lately, Google wants to double verify a listing using multiple methods to reduce spam and increase trust. For example, a business will go through postcard verification successfully but Google will also want the business to video verify. This message will show and confusingly indicates that the business still needs to verify even though it just did.
- [Updated 03/22/23] Apprently there is the possibility that your business name is somehow offending the nanny bot. Google support is now sharing this message: "Your business may not show up on Google Search because it is considered to contain a sensitive search term". Exactly what this means is still unclear. (h/t Krystal Tang - if you are not following her, you should!)
- If a listing has been recently restored from a suspension, essentially the situation is the same as #1 above. After some time, the message will disappear – unless of course you are in the dreaded suspension loop.
- When a listing has received a suspension the message will show.
- There is also a new bug where that message is presented in error if you accessed your profile through a search.
Diagnosing the issue
How can you know if you have the bug? As Sherlock Holmes famously said, "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."
If you were either recently verified or reinstated the message will likely disappear in a short time. If you are getting the message and being asked to verify, even though you just did, believe it and go around the horn once again. After the second verification the message should go away.
When you are suspended you should receive an email notice of the suspension and you should file a reinstatement request. Who said this was easy?
If none of the above apply, if the listing is still visible to the public and you get the message in the Search editing environment but do not get the message within the Google Maps editing environment, you are experiencing the bug.
Google why oh why?
Shouldn't users of Google's products expect better experiences and informed answers about what's happening and what's next? Greg Sterling noted that if there were a competitive local landscape Google would be forced to provide better service.
That is true, but it is also true that these types of problems should be caught before a code rollout. Often they are not. Why? Google creates these problems because of how they run their business.
In Google's world there is no software staging, there is little if any private testing. Release early and iterate often means that Google uses real searchers and real businesses to test experimental code in real time. This philosophy creates a reality that moves faster and breaks more things in shorter times.
Google tests new ideas and new code against ever increasing slices of their user base. They discover what the utilization rates are and whether there are issues with the feature. When it goes wrong and affects too many businesses, Google might roll it back. This chaos makes sense to Google but is incompatible with how the real world functions. To Google it is business as usual, to the businesses on the other side of the veil it is a roiling rip tide.
While this process has been profitable for Google -- it keeps support costs low and they are able to release large numbers of money making products and features -- it leaves many businesses feeling like they've been abandoned. The level of frustration in the forums is palpable.
The "Google way" is a process that has left a great deal of discontent in its wake and that will contribute taking the shine off of Google as a model of innovative capitalism. Google is becoming not just another company amongst many but one that is, by virtue of its behavior, not deserving of respect.
I wonder what Sherlock Holmes would make of that?