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
came with a ton of work
to execute (we were absolutely shocked by this, I tell you).

Googlebot and Crawley celebrating one year of Google Search Central

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:

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 homepage, 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.

Interactive checklist on the Google Search Central landing page

To build the learning paths, we analyzed our audience and noticed that users who land on our
homepage 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 ?card=owner
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.

What improved

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:

  • Languages are hard. One site move for a single language is difficult enough, but add 13 other
    localized sites with their own URL patterns that require separate JavaScript redirects, and you
    end up with a headache.
  • We should really eat our own dogfood: turns out JavaScript redirects
    are just as good as meta redirects.
  • 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.

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By Ryan Bullet

I am interested in SEO and IT, launching new projects and administering a webmasters forum.

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