Wednesday, November 17, 2021
A year ago, we launched our new site and announced that we were leaving our beloved name, Google Webmasters, behind for a new moniker: Google Search Central. At the beginning of 2020, we were full of hopes and dreams of reuniting all of our content into one easy to find location, which we quickly learned actually came with a ton of work to execute (we were absolutely shocked by this, I tell you).
What've we been up to since the launch?
This year, we've been working with our internal SEO team to improve our content, writing lots of new documentation, migrating 13 local language blogs, and developing a new checklist for our home page.
Working with our SEOs to improve content
To help improve Google Search Central's content, we reached out to our SEOs. They helped monitor our site migration of thousands of URLs, identify broken redirects, and ensure that traffic moved to the new site properly. We also worked with them to improve our title elements and descriptions across 200+ pages.
We started with the priority documents that were viewed most by our readers, or documents we thought should get more traffic. We also had a few cases where we wanted to deoptimize traffic (for example, we were getting user feedback from searchers wanting to remove pages, when our page was just about site owner removals only).
It's not everyday you get tapped on by John, Lizzi, and the Search Relations team for SEO help. It's a strange assignment to help SEO the authoritative SEO content based on Google's own SEO guidelines. It's even stranger to have John, Lizzi, and the Search Relations team on the other end of a Google Meet to consult on SEO. Nonetheless, we were very excited to take up the challenge and the opportunity.
Doing SEO at Google is a real thing—even when it means doing it for Search Central of all sites. We approached this project like any other we do across many of Google's other marketing, content, and product websites. This approach is generally the same as everyone else working in the industry—backed by guidelines, best practices, and experience. However, we are limited in the tools, data, and information we can use to keep strict separation between Google Search and the people doing SEO at Google. This helps ensure that we don't have an unfair advantage.
Helping with the Search Central migration went just like any other migrations we've assisted with. We completed keyword research and metadata optimizations for key pages, assisted with redirect mapping and QA-ing redirects, and set up a Google Data Studio dashboard to help monitor progress and complete post-migration analysis. You know, the typical SEO migration checklist.
It was also really fun to see reactions from the SEO community after the migration. We're active on Twitter and subscribe to all the SEO publications (we are just regular SEOs after all), so it was awesome to see the feedback, all the articles, and getting a shoutout on the Search Off The Record podcast.
Thanks to Lizzi, John, and the rest of the Search Relations teams for the opportunity. We're looking forward to continuing our partnership and helping grow Google Search Central (shameless internal link plug).
–Jason Stevens, Growth Lab SEO (Google's Internal SEO Team)
Adding more documentation
We restructured our indexing and crawling documentation, which included grouping things by topic, publishing new documentation, and revamping our guidance on the following topics:
- Simplified the introduction to the robots.txt page to make it clearer what is robots.txt and what is its intended use, and expanded the instructions about creating and updating robots.txt files.
- Added new guidance on How HTTP status codes, and network and DNS errors affect Google Search.
- Significantly expanded our redirects guide with the different kinds of redirects and their effects on Google Search.
- Wrote new documentation about Google Search operators.
- Published a new set of guides for ecommerce in Google Search.
Migrating our 13 local language blogs
A few weeks ago, we completed the migration and redirection of our 13 local language blogs, including content dating back to 2005. We matched thousands of posts to their English counterparts, making it easier to switch between languages for a given piece of content. Syncing up the content this way enables us to expand evergreen posts into more languages, preserve and retain the translation work done by others before us, and make it easier for people to discover the content we already had.
A new widget our home page
On the home page, we also recently published a new widget that recommends articles based on the role that users select. It's a more interactive way of exploring how you can improve your presence on Search.
To build the learning paths, we analyzed our audience and noticed that users who land on our home page are looking to get a head start or to generally learn more (as opposed to users who land on deep URLs with specific questions). With this interactive learning path, we hope that new users—ranging from SEOs, digital marketers, business owners—can now explore content on Google Search Central in a more streamlined and structured way.
We also hear many SEOs asking for resources for non-SEO audiences. You can share a specific
learning path or website owner's checklist with predefined
parameters in the URL. The simplified
graphics help introduce search features in a more visual way, making it easier to recognize the
feature. We're still iterating on the widget, so you may see more changes and improvements in
the coming months.
URLs migrated to Google Search Central saw a 240% increase in YoY clicks from Google Search when comparing the period between January 2021 to October 2021 to the previous year. The following graph shows clicks to our content three months before and after migration (when it was in separate places versus when it was united in one location):
Due to the migration and redesign, the Search Central blog also outperforms the Webmaster Central blog: three months post-migration, the Search Central blog improved 159% in clicks and 23% in impressions. This data only includes the English Webmaster Central blog, as we just completed the migration of the 13 local language blogs. We will continue monitoring the traffic to the Search Central blog to see how the local language blog migration affects our site traffic.
Articles that were migrated from the Search Console Help Center also increased in clicks. For example, performance improved for the following topics: sitemap (+99% clicks), robots.txt (+27% clicks), HTTPS (+66% clicks).
What worked, and what didn't
We noticed that people started using the new name, Google Search Central, within a month. Our SEOs worked in Keyword Planner to monitor search interest for the name change, and we saw that "Google Search Central" surpassed "Google Webmaster Central" in search interest (+250%) after launch and promotion of Google Search Central.
Another thing that's working well is that it's become much easier to publish things on our new site. There's been a growing number of contributors from our team, which automatically leads to more content being published in all our supported languages, seamlessly. While in the past it could take months to translate blog posts, on our new site, translated content can be available in just a few days.
As with any major launch, there were things that didn't work out as planned:
- Migrating the local language blogs. It took way more time than we predicted to map the URLs, and we encountered other hiccups along the way, like broken Python scripts.
- Not being able to finish everything we wanted for the launch day one year ago (for example, the checklist on the home page, migrating the blogs, and other wishlist items).
What we learned
The whole site move and rebrand project was an eye-opening experience for the team. These are the things that stood out most:
- RSS is still popular enough that we had to add it to the new blog.
- De-SEOing is as weird as it sounds, but you REALLY want to capture the good traffic.
- Working with SEOs on a site about SEO can hurt your brain: you're optimizing the thing that talks about optimizing the thing.
So, would we do it again?
Lizzi asked Gary, and you know what he said? "No."
What's next for us?
As this year comes to a close, we're starting to think about what's next for the Google Search Central site in 2022. Is there anything we should consider writing about or any functionality we should add to our site next year? Let us know on Twitter with the #SearchCentral2022 hashtag.