Google has over the last two years started a real effort to constantly improve and expand the help documentation for their products, and in that effort there have been several times where their documentation has resulted in broken links, not just for Google, but for thousands of webmasters as well.
Good news: Google is always updating their help pages
Bad news: Google doesn’t 301 the old pages to new pages.
The latest version of this is their Google gadget documentation, specifically the Google gadget editor, which now only appears in their help page on a “legacy” version of a page.The Google gadget editor is a tool to create Google gadgets and is the main way many people first interact with that Google product.
Lets search for “Google gadget editor” in Google… The first few hundred or so results (including Google pages) are now all wrong.
The Google gadget editor can not be found via Google
What happened is that Google updated their help pages, including some major updates to the Google gadget API. Unfortunately they removed the gadget editor from the page it was on and moved it without 301ing that page.
For me, that sucks. It means I have to update dozens and dozens of links, including ones in my blog sidebar. But it aint just me. IBM has an incredible tutorial about gadgets that highlights the Google gadget editor, but they will will likely never update their links.
Which brings us to the SEO 101 that Google might want to consider when changing their help documentation.
The Google search results for “Google gadget editor” will for a long time, if not always, point to the wrong page because it is highly doubtful that people will update their links. This is not helpful for Google or users.
This sort a thing happens alot, and not only in Google help documentation. It is a huge challenge any webmaster faces when updating their sites.
A good practice for this is to ensure that any updates made are backwards compatible.
The Google gadget editor move highlights the importance of this well. Not only does it mess up the search results and cause confusion, it also makes Google’s own official blogs less effective as they link to the Google gadget editor (which is no longer there). It also wipes out the usefulness of the hundreds of other blogs and websites that link to it as well.
For example, the Google gadgets official blog, just like my blog, links to the Google gadget editor in their sidebar and it currently points to the wrong page. As does the other places that Google has mentioned and linked to the editor within their own documentation. (results via my “ask Google” tool)
I was looking at the links on Feedthebot, which links heavily to Google help pages, and I was surprised to see how many links were made less useful to my users because of changing and updates to the documentation. Some of the pages aren’t even there anymore.
That is my fault for not updating my own website, but it would be helpful if Google could establish a method for their updates that will somehow work with existing links. I think they could pull it off.
On a funny note, one of my links to Google documentation from feedthebot that has the anchor text of “Pages not in the index” gets a 404. It would be sad to lose some of the more obscure and cool resources that feedthebot links to, like Matt Cutts article for librarians on how Google search works.
But again, this isn’t just Google’s problem, it is a universal problem for webmasters.
In fact the amount of work that Google or any other large corporation has to do to update things and keep them current is often prohibitive and keeps them from taking on the task. I am really impressed with all the great documentation Google has and I salute them for keeping up with it. To lose a few help pages here and there isn’t really that big of a deal, but in the case of the Google gadgets editor (an actual tool/resource) they probably could have done better.
In the case of the editor it is really doubtful that it’s new location will ever be represented in their search results. I will do my part…
I will go update my links