Google admits that its help documents aren’t always up-to-date and says it’s helpful to do your own research on recommended best practices.
This topic was discussed during the latest episode of the Google SEO & Devs web series on YouTube, which is about the reliability of the official help docs.
Martin Splitt of the Google Developer Relations team and Michael King, founder and managing director of iPullRank, meet to talk about how Google documentation can lead developers to distrust SEO pros.
SEO makes recommendations to developers based on information in the official Google docs.
Google aims to keep these documents accurate and trustworthy, but information sometimes lags on what actually works in SEO, and what is no longer relevant.
One specific example they addressed was a situation that arose in 2019, when Google revealed that it was discontinuing support rel = “next” And the rel = “prev” years before telling the research community.
This means that SEO was telling developers to use parts of code that were no longer relevant to Google Search.
Instead of making an official announcement about it, Google simply removed the documentation for rel=”next” and rel=”prev”.
It wasn’t until John Mueller, Google’s search attorney, got a question about it on Twitter that someone from the company told the search community about the change.
Some SEO professionals and developers may have come to this conclusion themselves after noticing that Google understood pagination just fine without using rel = “next” and rel = “prev”.
This is one example where doing your own research can help you see how Google search works, rather than just relying on the official documentation.
- See: Google Stopped Supporting Rel=prev/next in search for years to index
Splitt shares background information about this situation, and the tough choices Google had to make when it came to communicating the changes to the search community.
Why isn’t the Google help docs always updated?
Google search changes quickly, so Splitt cautions against looking at the company’s documentation as the only source of truth.
Regarding the situation rel=”next” and rel=”prev”, Split says:
The docs aren’t always on point. We do our best to work with the teams and help them keep their docs up to date, but it happens every now and then in this case like a bunch of engineers are in search quality – “hey, wait, we actually don’t really need rel links -next and rel-prev anymore to see that there is pagination going on. We can find out by the other stuff on the page themselves. “
When it was discovered that the code was no longer required, Google engineers removed support for it.
Splitt explains the decision-making process behind communicating this change to SEOs and developers.
“…what do you do? Do you either update the documents to quietly remove that part because it is no longer relevant?”
Or do you say “Hey, by the way, that’s not necessary anymore. And honestly, it wasn’t necessary in the last six months.”
Knowing full well that people read the documents, make recommendations based on it to other people, and then those people invest work, time and money to make it happen.”
Splitt goes on to say that the choice was to either remove the documentation and clarify that rel=”next” and rel=”prev” are obsolete, or keep the documentation knowing the code isn’t necessary anymore.
The alternative would be to let her live there on the documents, although that’s a mistake that doesn’t hurt.
So we went the whole frontal way of going like — “Okay, here’s the thing.” This was removed a while ago and we’re sorry about that, but our docs have now been updated.
And I think none of the options are easy or necessarily entirely good, but it just so happens. So I think we’re trying to update the documents as much as possible.”
So there is a story behind rel=”next” and rel=”prev” and why Google handled the situation the way it did.
The main takeaway from this story is to always test and do your own research.
Finding out what works on your own might be more reliable than the Google help docs.
If you think something isn’t essential, even though Google recommends it, your instincts may be right.
Watch the full video below:
Featured image: Screenshot from YouTube.com/GoogleSearchCentral