I Understand Google Better than Google

Or How to Lose Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars a Month

Every single day I work with international businesses who are struggling to maintain their brand within the labyrinth of Google’s guidelines.

And since Google is the one establishing all the rules, you’d figure that no one would know how to do Google better than Google.

And you’d be wrong.

Terribly, terribly wrong.

Who Googles the Googlers?

A few years ago, there was a job ad that made the rounds in the SEO industry. This was a head scratcher at the time because why would Google need to hire an SEO rather than just train someone internally?

In many ways SEO is shaped and molded around the actions of Google, so it’s incredibly bizarre that Google — the search engine which ranks websites — would need help ranking itself in Google. This would be like Stephen Hawking looking for a tutor in physics.

Google’s Ticket to Nowhere

In March 2018, Google finally became more aggressive in the travel niche with the relaunch of Google Flights. SEOs working for major travel sites like Expedia or Travelocity were starting to get a little worried…

The relaunch of the website included a redesign that made the site more usable for its users, but more importantly, they embedded a Flights search as one of the tabs in Google.com (visible when searching for locations).

This move was meant to be a game changer.

Instead, they introduced a website that had some serious technical SEO issues. I even wrote an article showing a lot of the rookie mistakes they made during their relaunch. Not only were Googlers unable to deal with basic JavaScript SEO, they were also using footer links as one of the tactics to improve their organic visibility.

For those of you who might not see the problem, in terms of visibility and ranking for your website — for instance — Google appears to prioritize footer links last because it could be considered spamming. This isn’t a solid practice. Especially when you can’t cover your basics first.

Naturally, a lot of SEOs noticed and this issue became quite popular.

Google didn’t reply to any of the footer links questions on Twitter, but they did remove all of the footer links a while later.

Crash and Burn

Flash forward to October. This morning I arrived at the office, made myself a cup of coffee and wrapped my dog in a warm blanket.

I was working on my deck about JavaScript SEO for SMX East and I figured that it would be nice to include Google Flights’ updated data (Google Flights is an example of a JavaScript powered website).

I didn’t expect to see the site doing well, but this was something else entirely. The good news is that the expression “it could always get worse” no longer applied to them.

I’ve analyzed hundreds of BAD websites, so imagine an ER doctor seeing something so bad that he had to stop and vomit. This was me while looking at Google Flights’ data.

Google Flights had lost ALL visibility and rankings in Google over the last 7 months.

They went from a SearchMetrics (a tool used to increase and monitor online visibility) visibility score of 20,000 to…47.

Note that the higher the score, the more visible the site. For the sake of comparison, Amazon.com is 12M, Craigslist is ~50K, and DonaldJTrump.com is 2K. So Google Flights’ score of 47 is low AF.

To further show how dramatic the situation is, 47 is a huge improvement over the last few months, as they recently hit 0 visibility, meaning they didn’t even rank for their own brand keywords.

Reminder: This is Google we are talking about.

Let’s have a look at just the last 3 months.

Let’s pause for a second now.

When you are passionate about a topic, there are moments when you start doubting yourself and the data you are seeing. This was me after looking at Google Flights’ significant decline for 20 minutes.

I couldn’t believe that Google Flights wouldn’t rank for their own brand, so I did some more digging. It turns out that Googlers changed (or forgot about not changing) the rules for the trailing slash for all the URLs within the website’s structure.

This is yet another super basic mistake that I didn’t even consider looking at initially. This is something that any intern at Elephate would spot after 2–3 weeks of being here.

If you look at the chart from Sistrix (another tool for this kind of analysis), you’ll see that the non-trailing slash version (https://www.google.com/flights in red) is gaining visibility at the same time that the trailing slash version (https://www.google.com/flights/ in blue) is losing all of the traffic.

You can read more about this and other guidelines here.

(If you’re not sure what’s going on here, then consider this: both https://www.google.com/flights and https://www.google.com/flights/ are competing for the same content, which probably won’t be consolidated by Google. This is called cannibalization.)

However, what is the most interesting fact, regardless of the toolset used (Sistrix, SearchMetrics, etc.), Google Flights lost most of its organic traffic in the end.

4 Easy Steps to Lose 100% of Your Rankings within 6 Months — the Google Way!

Instead of turning this article into a 50 page rant about Google (they are making it too easy with such basic mistakes which are most certainly causing a massive income loss), let me wrap this up by providing you with a quick checklist so that you at home can share in Google’s “success.”

1. Redesign your website using client rendered JavaScript. Don’t ask technical SEOs for help. You got this!

(If this is Greek to you, imagine asking a general surgeon to do a heart transplant. You don’t need a cardiac surgeon — you got this!)

2. Use the time you saved by not hiring a technical SEO team to implement SEO footer links visible only for Googlebot!

(See above)

3. Redirects are awesome! Use them. 302, 301 doesn’t matter. PROTIP: Stack them up, the more the better.

(According to Google’s Guidelines: A page is considered a failure when it has 2 or more redirects)

4. If using client-side JavaScript didn’t kill your rankings, follow the steps below:

A) Make sure that all of the website’s content is not indexed in Google. You can see below that the content visible on EVERY SINGLE page of Google Flights is only indexed once (!) in Google. The second result is my aforementioned article about their issues from March 2018.

B) If you still see the content indexed in Google — block the JavaScript generating the content in robots.txt. This way there is no chance that Google can rank your content!

This basically means, don’t let Google or any other search engine see the content you’ve created.

It’s for your eyes only!

You are done.

Now all you have to do is wait and watch your website get completely destroyed in search, just like Google Flights.

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Bartosz Goralewicz is the co-founder of Elephate, which was recently awarded “Best Small SEO Agency” at the 2018 European Search Awards. Elephate believes in paving new ways in the SEO industry through bold, precise SEO campaigns for clients, SEO experiments and case studies. Bartosz leads a highly specialized team of technical SEO experts who work on the deep technical optimization of large, international structures. Technical SEO is not only Bartosz’s job, but one of his biggest passions, which is why he enjoys traveling around the world to share this enthusiasm with like-minded SEO folks.