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Why can’t Google documentation be up to date?

3 min read

In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, making tough decisions is integral to life. This holds especially true for SEO professionals who understand that relying solely on Google’s help documentation is only sometimes a dependable strategy in 2023. Google’s documentation, while valuable, has demonstrated sporadic updates and inherent limitations, as highlighted in a recent episode of Google’s SEO & Devs web series on YouTube.
During this insightful discussion, Martin Splitt from Google’s Developer Relations team converses with Michael King, the founder and managing director of iPullRank. Their dialogue centers on the potential pitfalls of Google’s documentation, which can inadvertently foster skepticism among developers when collaborating with SEO professionals.
Historically, SEO professionals have often based their recommendations to developers on the information provided in Google’s official documentation. However, Google openly admits that these resources may only sometimes reflect the most current practices. Therefore, conducting independent research to validate suggested guidelines is prudent and worthwhile.
Google remains committed to maintaining the accuracy and relevance of its help documents. Still, there have been instances where the provided information needs to catch up to the ever-evolving SEO landscape. This discrepancy between Google’s guidance and real-world SEO practices can lead to challenges for both SEOs and developers.
One notable example discussed in the episode dates back to 2019 when Google quietly ceased its support for the rel=”next” and rel=”prev” attributes without prior notice to the search community. Consequently, SEOs inadvertently advised developers to implement code that had become obsolete in the context of Google Search.
Rather than issuing a formal announcement, Google removed the documentation related to rel=”next” and rel=”prev.” The broader SEO community was aware of this change when John Mueller, a Search Advocate at Google, responded to an inquiry on Twitter.
Some SEO specialists and developers had independently deduced the shift in Google’s approach to pagination, opting to discontinue using rel=”next” and rel=”prev” tags based on their observations of Google’s behavior.
In summary, the landscape of SEO and the reliance on Google’s documentation will continue to evolve in 2023. SEO professionals and developers must exercise vigilance, adaptability, and the ability to validate information through independent research to navigate these dynamic waters successfully.

Why doesn’t google keep up with the documentation?

Because Google Search is always changing, Splitt advises against relying just on the company’s documentation.

Regarding the rel=” next” and rel=” prev” situation, Splitt says:

 

“The docs are not always in phase. We’re doing our best to work with the teams and help them to keep their documentation updated, but it does every now and then happen in this case like a bunch of engineers in search quality figured out — ‘hey, hold on, we actually don’t really need the rel-next and rel-prev links anymore to figure out that there’s like pagination going on. We can figure that out from other things on the page by themselves.’”

 

Google engineers disabled support for the code when it was discovered that it was no longer needed.

Splitt explains the decision-making process behind communicating this change to SEOs and developers.

 

“… What do you do? Do you either update the docs to just quietly remove that part because it no longer is relevant?

Or do you go like ‘Hey, by the way, this is no longer necessary? And truthfully speaking it hasn’t been necessary in the last six months.’

Knowing very well that people are reading the documentation, making recommendations based on it to other people, and then these people then invest work and time and money into making that happen.”

 

Splitt continues, “Either delete the documentation and speak clean about rel=”next” and rel=”prev” being outdated, or keep the documentation up knowing the code was no longer needed.”

“And the alternative would be to let it live there in the documentation, even though it’s wrong it doesn’t hurt.

So we went with the full-frontal way of going like — ‘Okay, here’s the thing. This has been removed a while ago and we’re sorry about that, but now our docs are updated.’

And I think none of the choices are easy or necessarily perfectly good, but it’s just what happens. So I think we’re trying to keep the docs updated as much as possible.”

 

This is how Google managed these situations, and understandably, it has raised significant trust issues among developers and SEOs regarding Google’s documentation. Therefore, relying on something other than Google’s help documentation is consistently recommended. Instead, prioritize conducting your research and exercising discernment when making critical decisions.