Google Help Documents: Can They Be Trusted?
Many SEO experts rely on Google’s help documentation to build their SEO strategy. Still, Google admits that its help documents aren’t always updated and recommends SEOs to research the best practices.
This topic was addressed in a recent episode of Google’s SEO & Devs web series on YouTube, which discussed if Google’s help documentation is trustworthy. Martin Splitt talked about how Google documentation can cause developers to avoid trusting SEO professionals in the episode.
SEO experts offer advice to developers based on Google’s official help documents. Google strives to keep those documents up-to-date and accurate, but the information can sometimes fall behind. Some help documents do not cover what’s actually effective and relevant in SEO.
One specific example is a situation that occurred in 2019 when Google announced it would no longer support rel=“prev” and rel=“next” years before alerting the SEO industry.
It means that SEOs advised developers to utilise outdated code that was no longer relevant to Google Search. Instead of making an official statement on the subject, Google removed all relevant documentation on rel=“prev“ and rel=“next”.
SEOs and developers continued to use this method until John Mueller, Google’s Search Advocate, was asked about it on Twitter. Afterwards, the company informed the SEO community about the update.
Some SEO experts and developers might have discovered that there is no need for this technique anymore after discovering that Google understands pagination well without rel=“prev” and rel=“next”. That’s one instance where SEOs should research on their own to learn about how Google Search works rather than depending on help documentation.
A Short Background on the rel=prev/next Markup
When Google’s John Mueller revealed on Twitter that they no longer employ rel=“next” and rel=“prev”, many in the SEO community were shocked. Mueller said they just noticed they were not using rel=“next” and rel=” previous” links in indexing for several years, so they had to remove it from the documentation.
After Mueller confirmed this on Twitter, Google Search Central’s Twitter account made an official statement, saying they have retired the rel= “next” and rel=“prev” links. They also shared that based on their research, users love single-page content, which SEOs should aim for if possible. However, multi-page content is also acceptable. Overall, SEOs should know and do what’s best for their users.
In the past, Google advised using the rel=prev/next markup when posting a paginated series of web pages. The markup would signal to Google that the individual pages make up the entire series. This markup also communicated to Google which page in the series is the first, second, third, etc.
However, Google has confirmed that they do not support this markup, even when merging pages in the same set.
As a result, those in the SEO community wonder what Google has been doing if they haven’t been using the rel=prev/next markup. Mueller says they have been indexing content as they crawl web pages, indexed in the same way as other single-page content.
Google does not use the rel=prev/next markup anymore because publishers are good at sending the appropriate signals to Google.
Why Some Google’s Help Documents are Outdated
Splitt shared background information on this situation and talked about the difficult decisions Google had to make regarding their public announcements whenever there was a change in the search.
Google Search changes rapidly, so Splitt tells SEOs not to rely on the search engine company’s documentation as the only source of truth.
Regarding rel=“prev” and rel=“next”, Splitt says that the documents are not always in phase. He said that the team is doing their best to update the documentation. However, Google can be late to figure out that they do not need a certain signal in SEO.
For instance, their search quality engineers were late to find out that they do not need the rel=“prev” and rel=“next” links to know about pagination. So, when they discovered that the code was no longer necessary, Google’s engineers had to remove it from their support.
Splitt also explained how Google decided to communicate this change to SEO experts and developers.
When Google finds out that they need to make changes in search, they must also update the documentation as well, and it is their decision if they should quietly remove that specific part of their guide or announce it to the public. Google knows very well that people depend on their help guides and invest time and money in implementing them.
Splitt explained that at the time, they had the decision to either remove that part of the documentation and come clean about the rel=“prev” and rel=“next” or retain the documents even though they knew that it was an unnecessary code.
In the end, they decided just to come clean and tell the SEO community that they were sorry to have removed that specific part about rel=“prev” and rel=“next” links. They also told the public that their documents are now up-to-date.
Splitt admits that none of these choices was easy or perfect; it just happens. He also said that their team tries to keep the documentation as updated as possible.
The important takeaway here is that it’s important to test SEO tactics and conduct research continually; doing so may be more helpful than relying too much on Google’s help documentation. If something isn’t required, even though Google says it is, one’s instincts might be correct.
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