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Hi! I'm Sarah Moon!

🤖 Google is Weird

publishedabout 2 months ago
3 min read

Hello Reader,

I probably say this once a day: Google is weird!

It's true, Google is super-duper weird and full of quirks. (Which is why we tend toward using methods that are more "evergreen" Google search strategies.)

Unsurprisingly, I get a lot of questions from clients that can be attributed to all this weirdness (technical term). Here are some of the most common—my hope is that this will demystify a few common Google questions you may have.

Site links can be a challenge & frustration.

You know those previews of pages in your site structure in the search engine? They look something like this:

Screenshot of the SM&Co search preview
​

Those structural previews in Google are generated by bots. Oftentimes, I'll receive emails from potential clients wanting to fix odd site link results in the search engine. But the answer is more complicated than you'd guess.

Back in the day, you used to be able to demote (for lack of a better word) them in Google search console, but at some point that option disappeared. So, website owners have little direct control over what appears in site links.

However, you can do a few things to nudge Google in the right direction:

  • Have a multi level navigation
  • Link pages together that are related
  • Use your target keywords smartly so Google understand what your pages are about
  • No-index administrative pages like privacy policies and thank you pages to prevent them from appearing in site links (this is very common)

Fortunately, the solutions to this weirdness are all things that in general make your website more friendly to Google, and more importantly, people.

Page title/name/description rewrites can feel random.

This is the weird Google thing that drives me bananas.

Case in point: Google has decided that for some reason my homepage is named “Sarah Moon.” Which is fine, because that is my name, but my company is & co and that’s also not what the homepage is named. (Fortunately this is just annoying, and not really a marketing factor because that’s intentionally not the primary “door” people come in to discover us.)

Last I checked, Google is rewriting about 60% of pages titles across search results. So the page titles you wrote may be replaced by something else on your page or—and this is when it really stinks—something completely random. In the second case, it’s definitely something to dig into and address, in the case of the first, it’s usually something reasonable like the first header on your page. (The weirdest one I ever saw was Google replacing someone’s page title with some hashtags from their Instagram feed—this was because they had little written content on their page. The solution was more words and proper heading structure.)

I've also observed that general titles (ie "About" or "Services") get rewritten more than detailed ones such as "Website Design & Development Services." Basically, Google's quirks reward clarity.

Why doesn’t Google just use the titles you’ve written?

  1. Because more people than you’d think write page titles that aren’t related to the content. (I have seen some wild stuff!)
  2. Your header 1 is more clear than your title tag.
  3. Google is trying to match the searcher intent to the titles.
  4. Google thinks your titles are too long/too short.
  5. Repetitive titles or outdated titles.
  6. Google is weird. (Couldn't resist.)

The solution? Be specific in your use of title tags, use your keywords smartly, and make sure your titles and your content connect in a logical manner. (Think like a human!)

By the way, writing this newsletter made me notice that some of my site descriptions have been very recently rewritten in Google, so I'm going to address that in the coming weeks.

What works in Google today may not work next year.

I cannot tell you how many of my ask me anything-style strategy calls I’ve done with folks who were ranking highly in the search engine for ages and then suddenly... are not.

That’s because Google changes all the time. Sometimes small adjustments, sometimes massive ones. (Though none are as severe as instagram updates, for sure.)

In 2020, a very chaotic year already, Google make around 4,500 updates to the search engine. Another time, huge numbers of sites that referenced dietary supplements were caught in an update intended at whacking scam sites (which was a good thing, it just stinks that innocent sites were caught up in that update).

Now, lest you think I want you to play wack-a-mole with the search engine, this does not mean you need to keep up with every change that’s ever happened. Please don't try! That would be frustrating and fruitless. And not at all strategic. And we love strategic!

What it does mean is that you should be monitoring trends on your own website (check out Andrea’s article that digs into this in depth) and adjusting before you have to make massive corrections. Note what's rising in popularity, what's slowly dropping. Do you need to refresh content, clarify headers, improve your internal links? This is basic maintenance that will serve you in the long run.

We also encourage our clients to lean into an evergreen search strategy based around content that has a long lifespan, is update-able and repurpose-able. This is the approach we've used in Google for years and its the primary source of our business growth. It's not set it and forget it, but it is manageable.

So, the next time you think something is flat out wrong with your website, don't panic! Instead, understand that Google is most definitely weird, and that you don't have to know all the things related to the search engine. Plus, what's good for Google is good for humans looking for you, too.

Talk soon,

Sarah