When Google gets it wrong

Everyone makes mistakes, it happens. But when Google gets it wrong, Digital Marketers who are beholden to their every whim and wish will jump on the opportunity to rub their hands together with a bit of glee. Schadenfreude, my friends, schadenfreude. It’s refreshing when they’re the ones scratching their heads or scrabbling to fix things.

Last week, it was announced that all of the data in Google Search Console, for pretty much the entirety of April, was wrong. It turns out there was an indexing bug which caused a data outage for most of the month. Although the situation was rectified on April 26, the data for that period is totally gone, never to be retrieved, never to be seen again.

Needless to say, this is going to make for some tricky reporting for SEOs, and is sure to have messed with some campaigns running through the month of April. If you are one of those people currently dealing with the backlash from Google’s mistake, we feel for you and send you good vibes and beer tokens*.

While we don’t have an answer to this particular f*ck up, it got us thinking about all the other times Google have made themselves look a little foolish this year (so far). So let’s indulge in some of that schadenfreude-like catharsis, shall we? It’s Friday and we deserve to let off some steam.

*Beer tokens aren’t actually real but we think you definitely deserve a beer, so that counts right?

March 2019 update or rollback?

In March 2019, Google supposedly rolled out another update. It was the usual scenario: SEOs started noticing some fluctuations, Google announced the update and the expected mild panic and avid analytics-watching ensued. But was this actually an update or was it something slightly different?

Barry Schwartz and Search Engine Land put out a call to SEOs to find out their experiences of this update. Barry and SEL are the first to admit that their data may be somewhat biased, but that doesn’t change the fact that the results are resoundingly inconclusive. There’s no trend, no average, nothing concrete that can be taken from their findings. Even in the murky world of digital marketing, that’s unusual for the wake of a Google update.

Others out there have come to the conclusion that we didn’t see an update in March, so much as a rollback. Brett Tabke thinks Google were simply undoing some of the work they’ve done in the past. What makes him think that? The people who seemed to have done the best out of this release from Google, are the very same people who suffered the worst at the hands of previous updates. Not everyone is convinced either way on this one, but it does seem odd that there’s no clear result from this update.

Whether Google released a crappy update, or undid the work of previous updates, this has got to be a booboo in everyone’s book.

Local SEO survey

Towards the end of April, Google compounded their ‘Oops no data in Search Console’ fandango, by missing the mark with Local SEO specialists and SMBs alike. They put out a 40-question survey, trying to ascertain whether SMBs would be willing to pay a monthly fee of $30 for certain Google My Business features.

While it’s a good sign that Google are actually asking their audience what they want before they introduce a new service, the GMB survey hasn’t quite hit the right spot. Specialists in the field seem to be wondering who the hell wrote this survey (because they certainly don’t understand Local SEO and SMBs), and who it’s trying to please.

Sure, Google have got to do something to cash in on subscription fever, but they also need to get the fundamentals right first. If they can’t provide decent GMB support, how do they hope to provide all the other newfangled features the survey hints at?

We admire the ambition that this survey shows, but the execution has left something to be desired. Just another hiccup for Google to chalk up to experience this year.

OR are these all excuses to sell SEO?

What about a view from the other side, before we finish this all off?

There are those who believe that the furore that often surrounds Google updates are actually just opportunities for SEOs to push their services a little harder. If Google changes the game, then clients will need more SEO advice, and in-house SEOs will need more training and information. So is it really that much of a stretch to believe Barry Schwartz’s theory that kicking up a fuss about Google updates is all part of an SEOs agenda?

Patrick Reinhart is of a similar mindset. He believes that SEOs shouldn’t be panicking every time Google makes an update, because these algorithm changes are always intended to improve the quality of the search results delivered to users. If you’ve been knocked by an update, Patrick argues it’s because your website quality wasn’t good enough. He even goes as far as saying that naming Google updates makes us fear them more. So by his logic, Google haven’t messed anything up or even got anything right because it doesn’t matter as long as your website is sound.

While some SEOs might be opportunistically making the most of Google updates to get more clients, it’s a little bit too simplistic to claim that quality trumps all else. Google is a business at the end of the day, and they are out to line their own pockets as well as improving search results. So their updates might be about quality, but they are most certainly about profit, and the two can’t always line up perfectly.

TL;DR? Google has had a rough start to 2019

What with the imperceptible impact of the March update, the loss of Search Console data in April, and the misguided and poorly executed GMB survey, it’s fair to say 2019 hasn’t been the easiest year for Google so far.

For us in the industry, it’s pretty reassuring to see that even the great behemoth Google can mess up sometimes. But even more importantly than that, this is a reminder that nothing in our line of work is a given. We’ve got to be constantly vigilant, constantly out-thinking Google, and constantly keeping our eyes on the horizon. That’s the fun part, right?

By Lizzie McCauley, UnGagged

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