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Zombie Google Bugs That Just Won't Die

Published: October 27, 2016

Author: Michael Cottam

I’ll be the first to admit that Google has some pretty incredible technology, and by and large, their websites tend to be pretty rock-solid. But, being in the SEO industry, I spend an awful lot of time working with their various tools, and have run across (and yes, reported to them) a number of rather irritating bugs that they just never seem to get around fixing.
Here’s my list of Zombie Google Bugs that refuse to die.

The Infamous Search Results Count

At the top of each search results page, Google always tells you proudly how many results they found for that search, and how fast they found them. OK, I’m impressed with the speed…but, that number of results is something they pulled out of thin air. It bears NO APPARENT RELATIONSHIP to the actual number of results they found! In this example, 1.6 MILLION pages…
Who wants a Ferrari?
But if you actually page through all the results, you get to the end after 14 pages…134 results. 134 vs. 1.6 million? WOW, GUYS. And it’s been broken like this for what, 5 years? Maybe longer?
Wait, that's not a Ferrari site
That’s the top of the last page of results for that search. I included the first result from this page because, hey, it’s hilarious.

Jumping Too Easily to Dumb Conclusions

I’m sitting here in Bend, Oregon, and search for just “attorney” (no, I’m not in trouble, I’m looking for a client’s page). There’s a Knowledge Graph result. One. Apparently, Google thinks there’s only 1 attorney in Bend anyone should care about:
Attorney in Bend - search results
Click the Maps tab now, and you get the same kind of thing in the Maps view:
Attorney in Bend search results - maps
Now, looking at this page, it LOOKS like this is the result you’d get if you just searched on Maps for “attorney”. BUT NO….click the search magnifying glass icon thingy, and….
Exploding attorneys in Bend
Yep. There are 33 Google My Business attorney pages in Bend, Oregon. How’d that one attorney get to be so special?

Index Status in Search Console

Google’s been tracking the number of pages from websites that it’s indexed for many years. You’d think it’d be a pretty core statistic to keep on top of…and, not really a very difficult statistic for them to get. But it’s been busted for several months now. Google acknowledged this in August, but doesn’t have an estimated date when they’ll fix it.
Search Console's index status bug
Search Console says: 21,868. Actual number of pages indexed from this site? About 500.

Google My Business Phone Support Form

I really like the folks who support Google My Business pages–they’ve solved a ton of issues for my clients, and you can get a callback instantly.
But the form you use to request the callback has a nutty bug: if you’re logged into Google, it pulls your email address and automatically populates the email field in the form like this:
Google Help prepopulation goblin
Now, if you click to request a callback, you get an error telling you that you entered an improper email address.
And yes, that is the right email address…but the form doesn’t like mixed case. Change it all to lowercase, and *boom* it works fine.
I reported this bug about 3 years ago.

Ghostly Unhelpfulness in Search Console Messages

One of my clients today got a message about malware on his site. Conveniently, they give you this nice, helpful message about what might be wrong, and a list of the pages where they found the malware, and when:
Whoops forgot the actual information
Except they don’t.

Goblin Central: Blogspot

I do a fair bit of Google penalty recovery for my clients. And I see blogspot blogs come up time and time again as sources of very spammy links.
The reason? It’s not really Google’s fault–they’re making it easy for anyone to create a free blog there. So it’s a target for spammers–not just for creating blog posts for the sole purpose of creating links to someone’s site, but also for blog comment spam.
I just find it ironic that what’s probably the #1 root domain for spam is actually owned by Google.
I’ll just call Blogspot One Giant Bug and leave it at that.

Google Alerts

The idea here is great: rather than search for something everyday, get a notification when Google discovers some new web page that wasn’t in the results before.
The bugs here:

  • Spammy crap that would have been filtered out of regular Google results are alive and well in Google Alerts.
  • You can’t get an alert on a new link appearing, i.e. a mention of you or your company with a link to your site. Pretty important omission, considering that Google CERTAINLY has that data!

New Math: AdWords Keyword Planner

Here, Google has invented their own concept of rounding. Keyword search volume numbers are not really rounded–they’re put in nutty buckets. For example, you’ll see search volumes of 390, but never 400 or 300. You’ll see 1,600 but not 1,500 or 2000. You’ll see 210, but never 200.
To make matters worse, the numbers are often a long ways from reality.
As an example, if I get the search volume for “tahiti weather”, and restrict results to just August 2016, here’s what I get in AdWords:
Adwords keyword data is on crack
Now, if I go to Google Search Console’s Search Analytics, and look at the impressions for that term for my own website:
Real traffic numbers
I’m getting over 3800 impressions for that term. (An impression in Search Analytics means you showed up on a search results page that a user viewed…I’m in the middle of page 1 for this term, so impressions here should = searches.)
I’m pretty sure the Search Console numbers in this case are pretty accurate, as it lines up with Google Analytics traffic numbers for my pages.
How can I get 3800 impressions when there were only 1600 searches that month, AdWords?

Glacially Slow Google+

First off, with all the focus on page load times at Google, you’d think they’d put some effort into making Google+ load quicker.
Go to plus.google.com to post something…then go get a cup of coffee while the page stutters and redoes its layout, moving boxes all over the place and making it impossible to hit the status box to paste or type.
What’s absolutely astounding is that they hired Chris Poole, creator of the porn cesspool 4chan, to try and fix it.
(Now, I don’t have anything against porn, but 4chan is pretty infamous for hosting some really nasty stuff. Just for sport, Google “4chan lawsuit”.)

Advanced Search Operator inurl:

This was one of my favorite tools for doing site audits. Want to find all the subdomains for a site, besides the www subdomain?
Just do a site: search, and add -inurl:www
inurl operator
Or if you want to find all blog posts, you could do site:example.com inurl:blog. Fabulously useful, until they broke it about 3-4 months ago. Oh wait…they’ve fixed it!
I tried to get a screenshot for this blog post and it’s working once again (thank you, Google!).

Zombie Crawl Errors in Search Console

This is a bizarre one…Google Search Console will often show as broken link, in the Crawl Errors section, for pages that not only haven’t existed for many months, but for which there aren’t any links…from ANYWHERE, internal or external.
Google bites down and holds on like a rabid dog for many months afterwards–even if you mark those as “fixed”…they just return.

Featured Snippets

Google has done a pretty amazing job recently of being able to extract data from web pages and show a featured snippet at the top of the page with just that information. Well, it’s amazing unless you’re the creator of that information, and now Google’s using your hard work and not sending you the site traffic you earned from your content.
But Google is not always pulling the right information–which is really much more of an issue that showing a bunch of webpages in the search results, some of which might be good answers to the question and some not. We’re conditioned to click into those web pages, look at what’s there, and decide for ourselves whether it’s goodness or bunk.
It’s a different story with the featured snippets–Google presents these as The Answer, right up top, no need to look further, folks.
When two columns of data are present, Google has a difficult time identifying which one should be used for order, but will display a featured snippets anyway. A search for Top 12 Month CD Rates brings back a table that starts at 1.25%. When clicking through, the best rate is actually 1.3%. What I think Google did is look at the longest string of minimum deposits that show an increasing pattern, and start there.
Don't go to Google for the best CD rates
If you search a very similar query, “Best 1 Year CD Rates”, you get a featured snippet from the same interest.com page that starts in another area even lower in the page, but again it starts with an increasing minimum deposit order. Again, it doesn’t show the actual best rate of 1.3%.
CD rates 2

And Finally…More Featured Snippets

To wrap it up–what’s that Google is always telling us? Just build great content and links and rankings will magically come?
OK, let’s ask Google for some great content examples:
Now that's what I call great content!
Thanks to Erica McGillivray, David Sottimano, Adam Melson of Seer Interactive, and Rand Fishkin from Moz for contributing examples for this post.

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