Can Google’s Help Documents Be Trusted?
Google admits its help documents aren’t always up to date and says it’s worthwhile doing your own research on recommended best practices. The Search Engine Journal had published a significant posting on this, stating this topic is discussed during the latest episode of Google’s SEO & Devs web series on YouTube, which is all about whether official help documents can be trusted.
Martin Splitt of Google’s Developer Relations team, and Michael King, founder and managing director of iPullRank, get together to talk about how Google’s documentation can lead developers to not trust SEO professionals.
SEOs provide recommendations to developers based on the information in Google’s official documents.
Google aims to keep those documents accurate and trustworthy, but the information sometimes lags behind what’s actually working in SEO, and what’s no longer relevant.
Google Search changes quickly, so Splitt cautions against looking at the company’s documentation as the single source of truth.
A specific example they addressed is a situation that came up in 2019, when Google revealed it stopped supporting rel=”next” and rel=”prev” years before telling the search community. That meant SEOs were telling developers to use pieces of code that were no longer relevant to Google Search.
Rather than making an official announcement about it, Google simply removed the documentation related to rel=”next” and rel=”prev”.
It wasn’t until Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller received a question about it on Twitter that anyone from the company told the search community about this change.
Regarding the rel=”next” and rel=”prev” situation, Splitt says:
“The docs are not always in phase. We’re doing our best to work with the teams and help them to keep their documentation updated, but it does every now and then happen in this case like a bunch of engineers in search quality figured out — ‘hey, hold on, we actually don’t really need the rel-next and rel-prev links anymore to figure out that there’s like a pagination going on. We can figure that out from other things on the page by themselves.’”
When it was discovered the code was no longer needed, Google’s engineers removed support for it.
Splitt goes on to say the choice was either to remove the documentation and come clean about rel=”next” and rel=”prev” being obsolete, or keep the documents up knowing the code wasn’t necessary anymore.
“And the alternative would be to let it live there in the documentation, even though it’s wrong it doesn’t hurt.
So we went with the full-frontal way of going like — ‘Okay, here’s the thing. This has been removed a while ago and we’re sorry about that, but now our docs are updated.’
And I think none of the choices are easy or necessarily perfectly good, but it’s just what happens. So I think we’re trying to keep the docs updated as much as possible.”