As someone who’s been doing SEO and PPC day in and day out for nearly 5 years, I’m no stranger to Google’s Help sections. While there’s a lot of great search engine marketing advice out there on other people’s blogs, sometimes it’s helpful to see what Google themselves suggest and recommend about Google-y things, especially if it’s a brand new feature or a confusing topic.
Of course, the info isn’t just intended for SEO and AdWords folk: it’s for your everyday webmaster (hence why one of their main Help blogs is called Webmaster Central). Your everyday webmaster (definition: the person responsible for maintaining a website) might be an individual working in marketing, web development or IT, however it might even be the business owner his/herself, especially if it’s a small business. Therefore Google should endeavour that all of its information is sorted in the best way possible for convenience and accessibility and that the sections in general are as easy-to-use as possible in order to reduce frustration.
…But that’s simply not the case.
What Google Help needs is:
- UX (user experience) improvements,
- A content audit, and
- A better attitude…
Why UX improvements?
I had an incident recently that just screamed ‘frustrating user experience’ when I tried to contact the Google AdWords Help team, who – in their own words – are “here” and “love to help.”
I wasn’t able to call at the time (long story) and so I was reliant on the email/chat options. The chat option has been inactive every time I’ve visited the page (claiming that the “chat specialists are currently offline”), even during typical office hours on weekdays, making it completely pointless.
Regarding the email options… UX fail #1 is the fact that there’s no ‘Other’ option:
My issue with this is that my problem didn’t fit into any of those categories – basically I’d accidentally created a second, separate Individual Qualification account for myself and I wanted to delete it. That’s more of a general account/settings issue more than anything.
UX fail #2: if you click on ‘Provide feedback’ (the closest you can get to ‘Other’, I guess…), you see this:
Where does that ‘contact page’ link take you? The contact page… as in the page that you’re already on.
At this point, I was ready to provide feedback, i.e. tell them how badly their contact page sucked. Behold UX fail #3… After going to the effort of filling out their feedback form…
…I hit the ‘Submit’ button and… nothing happened. The button lit up (as if to suggest that I’d clicked it), but then nothing else – no “thank you” message, no new page load. I assume that my message didn’t get through. That’s partly the reason why I’m writing this blog post, because I’m unable to tell them directly…!
Frustrated beyond belief, I did what I do best and ranted on Twitter. This tweet sums up my feelings the most…
Sheesh, for a company that supposedly hires the smartest minds in the world, they don't half make embarrassing Mickey Mouse UX mistakes…
— Steve Morgan (@steviephil) August 19, 2013
Why a content audit?
Bad UX can be really frustrating, but that’s all it is – a frustration.
Having content jumbled around and in a not-readily-accessible structure and format can be so much worse, as it may mean that you’re unable to find the info you need.
About a year ago, I did a ton of research into rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x” (or just “hreflang” for short) for a client while working at a previous role. That link above and its sub-pages give some info into the minefield that is hreflang, but I still had a few questions, which those pages didn’t answer.
Other sites and blogs also provided info on hreflang, one of which linked to this Internationalisation FAQ, which contains even more info about hreflang. To my frustration, it contained the unanswered questions that I was looking for.
…So why wasn’t the first (main) resource linking to this second (supplementary) resource? Why couldn’t there have been a ‘for more information, click here’ type link? Daft.
I’m sure there have been other times where there’s been a Google Webmaster FAQ that’s sat entirely separately to the main section of info, containing useful information that’s not covered by the main section. Why they’re not linked to as a rule of thumb is anybody’s guess (although probably simply a case of oversight)…
I recommend that Google sits down and properly assesses all of its Help content. Is it easily accessible? Does it include all the info required? Do the relevant sections all link to each other properly?
Why a better attitude?
Help sections usually fit within the realm of customer service. For this reason, it’s important that Help sections (on any site – not just Google) are careful about their tone, their level of friendliness and their overall attitude. Even if a product/service fails in some areas (e.g. in this case UX and content accessibility), then the very least they can have is a cheery, can-do spirit.
My advice? Don’t bother them on Twitter…
I recently set up a Google+ Local profile for Morgan Online Marketing and found that every single Help link included during each step of the process was broken. They worked, but each one took you to the main Google+ Local Help section when they claimed to take you to each individual section (e.g. for info on how to upload an image, you’d be taken to the main section and would then have to navigate to the image upload info from there).
When I was done, I tweeted @GooglePlaces to let them know. It looked like they never replied to @mentions (all tweets were broadcasts/RTs), so I didn’t hold out much hope on getting a reply…
…Except that I did!
@steviephil Screenshot? Which links?
— Google Places (@GooglePlaces) July 15, 2013
And what a reply! A rude, blunt reply.
I’m not being funny, but if that’s their attitude, why would anyone want to help them?! I wasn’t doing it to have a dig or to show them up – I was genuinely trying to help them to fix a problem, to improve their Help sections and to make it easier for other people setting up Google+ Local profiles in the future.
But that was their reply? No “thanks for letting us know” or anything nice like that… Well thanks guys, screw you then. 🙁
But seriously… For @GooglePlaces, if that’s the response, is anyone going to want to help them? No. Probably not.
Why it’s a big deal
Ok, so many of Google’s products are free, and I always feel bad complaining about something that I don’t have to pay for (it’s like when people moan about Facebook or Twitter not working). But that said, they’re a big, profitable company. Why can’t they invest the time and resources to give their Help sections a good once-over and to improve them? I bet it’d reduce their call centre fees (for the phone support) for a start…
However in my opinion, the issue goes much deeper than that…
Their content is aimed at the everyday webmaster, but it provides a frustrating user experience, it’s all in a jumble and they have a bit of a bad attitude – they act like they just don’t care. If a webmaster struggles with Google AdWords or Google Places/Google+ Local, they may have to seek professional help, where they risk getting ripped off by the sharks and snake oil merchants of our industry. While Google now (supposedly) suggests that people should seek help from a “professional SEO expert” if they need it (source), I’m sure they’d much prefer – and it’d be much easier for everyone involved – if people could simply sort out the issue(s) themselves via the Help section.
C’mon, Google. Do it… You know it makes sense!
[Image credits – Help Wanted sign: Brenda Gottsabend; magnifying glass/fingerprint: Dennis van Zuijlekom; angry lil’ Bowser: Jenn & Tony Bot; self-fixing robot: Yo Mostro; everything else: screenshots from various Google Help sections]