Search Console Help Center

Last updated: Jun 26, 2023

This video is about the Search Console Help Center and features a discussion with Josh Cohen, a Tech writer from the Search Console team, who talks about his experience and role in documenting the Google Search Console product.

This video by Google Search Central was published on Jan 12, 2023.
Video length: 36:11.

This video is about the Search Console Help Center, featuring a conversation between John, Lizzy, and Josh Cohen from the Search Console team.

Josh discusses his experience as a tech writer at Google and his involvement in documenting various products, including the Search Console.

He explains that his role is to provide documentation and information about how the Search Console affects search rankings and its user-facing features.

  • The video features a discussion with Josh Cohen from the Search Console team.
  • Josh Cohen has been at Google since 2006 and has worked on various types of documentation.
  • Search Console is over 15 years old and was initially called "sitemaps tool" and "sitemaps help center".
  • Josh Cohen's role is to document how changes in search affect the Search Console product.
  • The speaker met Larry and Sergey, the founders of Google, and other influential figures in the development of the internet.
  • The speaker's input as a tech writer helps improve the usability of the Search Console product.
  • Deciding on the right amount of information to provide in the Search Console tool is a challenge.
  • Engineers may assume that users understand technical aspects, but it's important to not make that assumption.
  • Being a tech writer at a big company often means being anonymous in documentation.
  • The Search Console Help Center is authoritative and easily findable through Google's algorithm.

Search Console Help Center - YouTube

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Introduction

  • The video is from the official Google Search Central YouTube channel.
  • It features a discussion with Josh Cohen, a Tech writer from the Search Console team.
  • They talk about his experience and role in documenting the Google Search Console product.
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Josh Cohen's Background

  • Josh Cohen has been at Google since 2006.
  • He has worked on various types of documentation, both internal and external.
  • He has worked on internal platform documentation for Google Engineers.
  • He has also worked on API documentation externally.
  • Search Console is the first end-user product that he has worked on.
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Search Console History

  • Search Console is over 15 years old.
  • It was initially called "sitemaps tool" and "sitemaps help center".
  • Josh Cohen worked on internal documentation while Vanessa Fox worked on external documentation.
  • Josh Cohen has also worked on other areas of Google, such as Android and cloud.
  • He was the first writer on bigtable.
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Search Console Help Center - YouTube

Josh Cohen's Role

  • Josh Cohen's role is to document how changes in search affect the Search Console product.
  • He specializes in the Search Console product and documents the help center, email messages, user-facing text, and tooltips.
  • He does not have direct input on search algorithms or ranking.
  • His focus is on providing documentation for the engineers who work on the search algorithms.
  • He reports on the news and documents how it affects the Search Console product.
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Meeting the Founders

  • The speaker met Larry and Sergey, the founders of Google, when they visited the Seattle office.
  • They had a conversation with the founders and had lunch with Larry.
  • The speaker also bumped into Sergey and Eric Schmidt in the hallways of the office.
  • They also mentioned meeting Vince Surf, a foundational figure in the development of the internet.
  • The speaker accidentally took Vince Surf's desk during a visit to the Seattle office.
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Input in Search Console

  • The speaker's input as a tech writer helps improve the usability of the Search Console product.
  • They provide feedback on new features and reports based on their perspective as a stage zero user.
  • They ask questions and provide feedback to the UX designer to ensure clarity and understanding.
  • They sometimes suggest hiding or exposing certain information in the product.
  • Their input helps the product development team make informed decisions.
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Deciding on Information Level

  • The speaker discusses the challenge of deciding how much information to provide in the Search Console tool.
  • They mention the risk of overwhelming users with too much information.
  • As a naive user, they push back on including excessive information and suggest renaming industry terms for better understanding.
  • They sometimes win battles to reduce information overload, but if they lose, they document it more explicitly in the Help Center.
  • They also suggest additional tool tips or remove extraneous ones to improve user experience.
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Engineers as Product Experts

  • Engineers may assume that users understand certain technical aspects, but it's important to not make that assumption.
  • Engineers are front-end UI engineers and may not have expertise in the search stack.
  • Engineers often need to learn information by talking to the teams generating the data.
  • Engineers focus on creating usable reports, while tech writers consider the larger aspect of data understandability for users.
  • Tech writers provide feedback and cover the perspective of data understandability in the terminology used in user text and documentation.
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Being an Anonymous Tech Writer

  • Being a tech writer at a big company often means being anonymous in documentation.
  • Occasionally, the tech writer sneaks their name into the documentation in cryptic ways.
  • Working on external documentation feels different from internal docs because external docs are visible to the public and can be scrutinized.
  • External documentation requires being conscious of every nuance and potential misinterpretation.
  • Internal documentation has a lower risk as it is usually read by a smaller group of people who can easily seek clarification.
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Using Search Console for Help Center

  • Findability is not a problem for the Search Console Help Center.
  • Google's algorithm recognizes that the Search Console Help Center is authoritative for search console documentation.
  • Occasionally, the tech writer uses Search Console to track spikes or dips in documentation and identify external events that may have caused them.
  • When looking at Search Console, it's clear that people are finding the Search Console Help Center when searching for search console-related information.
  • Confusion may occur between the Search Console Help Center and the consumer support.google.com help center, but it's not a significant issue.
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Confusion between Help Center and Dev site

  • Confusion arises between the Help Center and the developers.google.com search.
  • Feedback in the docs includes questions about why certain websites or content are not showing up in Google search.
  • There are also questions about safe search and why Google is shutting down certain content.
  • Many questions are related to porn and explicit content.
  • Efforts are made in the documentation to direct users to the correct set of docs when they are not finding the information they need.
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Confusion between Search Console and Web Search

  • People looking for web search-related questions often end up in Search Console and ask web search-related questions.
  • Examples include questions about safe search and removing content from platforms like Instagram.
  • There is a need to clarify the concept of website ownership and the limitations of Search Console.
  • Google will not remove content just because someone asks, and Search Console can only help with owned web pages.
  • There is a challenge in making users understand the specific requirements and limitations of Search Console.
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Addressing Confusion in Documentation

  • Important information is highlighted at the top of the documentation, such as the requirement of owning a webpage.
  • There is a need to emphasize that Google will not remove content upon request.
  • Ownership of the page and the specific requirements for using Search Console are key points of clarification.
  • Efforts are made to include banners and graphics to draw attention to important information.
  • Feedback mechanisms in the documentation could be improved to better address confusion.
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Differentiating Documentation Feedback from Product Feedback

  • There is a separate mechanism for providing feedback on the product itself within the Search Console interface.
  • Feedback in the Help Center should focus on the documentation rather than the product.
  • Issues with the product itself may require a different feedback channel.
  • Feedback about the product should be directed through the feedback link within the Search Console interface.
  • Feedback in the Help Center is not the most suitable place for product-related feedback.
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Frequency of reviewing feedback

  • Josh looks at the feedback queue about once a month.
  • He receives a lot of feedback emails every day.
  • He scans through the feedback to identify specific problems.
  • He focuses on feedback about the documentation and the product.
  • He also considers feedback from other channels, such as product experts.
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Types of feedback

  • Feedback should be focused on pointing out problems or negative aspects.
  • Feedback about the documentation should be specific and clear.
  • Feedback about the product should be given using the feedback link within the product itself.
  • Josh looks for feedback about specific pages and common issues affecting the product.
  • He pays attention to feedback related to verification, which is a common problem for users.
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Scanning and addressing feedback

  • Josh scans through the feedback once a month.
  • He looks for high-level issues and problems with the product.
  • He focuses on understanding and addressing difficulties users have with the documentation.
  • He spends time improving the steps for verification based on feedback.
  • He tries to make the documentation as clear as possible, but acknowledges limitations.
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Effective feedback

  • Feedback should be specific about the problem or confusion experienced.
  • Providing context about what the user is trying to do helps in understanding the issue.
  • Identifying mistakes or misleading information in the documentation is valuable feedback.
  • Feedback from product experts and other channels is also considered.
  • Clarification requests and suggestions for additional explanations are useful.
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Confusion over error bucket

  • Users were confused by the "other" error bucket in Search Console.
  • It was difficult to provide ultra-specific information about the search stack.
  • Information was bucketed into a larger group of three possible problems.
  • Users were frustrated and needed more specific labeling and steps to fix the issues.
  • Feedback was important in understanding user frustrations and improving documentation.
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Setting up filters for feedback

  • Filters were set up to catch high-quality feedback.
  • Some filters were not very smart and ignored important bugs.
  • A filter was set up to catch keywords like typo, 404, and broken link.
  • Filters sometimes caught unrelated feedback, causing confusion.
  • Feedback suggestions like "most beautiful girl in the world" were received.
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Favorite documentation project

  • Being the first person on the Android team was exciting.
  • Walking around with a test device and keeping it secret was cool.
  • Documenting physical hardware was different from software documentation.
  • Interacting with the device helped understand how to use it and write documentation.
  • Android's success was unexpected at the time.
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SEO considerations in documentation

  • Not much thought is given to SEO when writing Search Console documentation.
  • There is no worry about others writing similar material.
  • If others cover the same information on their websites, it is seen as a positive thing.
  • There are limitations to what can be added to help docs, such as meta tags.
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Josh's SEO Tools

  • Josh's tools for SEO are his wits and ensuring that the content is focused and clear.
  • He thinks about titles and making sure they accurately represent the page's content.
  • He uses Zippies (expandable sections) to organize and present information.
  • He avoids using Zippies for critical information that users might skip over.
  • He considers the style and intuitiveness of Zippies, as symbols may vary across regions.
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Benefits of Using Zippies

  • Zippies help make pages physically shorter and more focused.
  • They allow users to step through and find exactly what they need.
  • Josh uses Zippies for procedural material to avoid overwhelming users with unnecessary information.
  • Clear expansion titles in Zippies help users search for specific information.
  • Zippies can help retain users' attention on long help pages.
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User Preferences and Reading Documentation

  • Users often prefer quick fixes rather than reading documentation.
  • However, understanding the underlying concepts and background information is crucial for effective problem-solving.
  • Reading documentation helps users gain a deeper understanding of search and its complexities.
  • Some issues require more than a simple three-step solution.
  • Documentation provides the necessary background and conceptual information for effective debugging.
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Google's Role and User Responsibility

  • Google can only reflect what is on a web page and cannot directly fix issues.
  • Users must take the time to read and understand the documentation to fix issues themselves.
  • Documentation may not always fit into a concise format, but it provides comprehensive information.
  • Structured data issues, for example, require users to go in and fix their web pages.
  • Users need to be willing to invest time in understanding and fixing issues on their own.
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Josh Cohen's Role in Documenting the Google Search Console Product

  • Josh Cohen is a tech writer from the Search Console team.
  • He documents the Google Search Console product.
  • Josh Cohen keeps a low profile and writes under the pseudonym John Updike.
  • He has written books and short stories under this pseudonym.
  • Josh Cohen is the tireless anonymous search console documentation guy.

Watch the video on YouTube:
Search Console Help Center - YouTube

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