It’s a little known fact, but something I try to remind everyone all the time, that Google Search has a lot of common with Dustin Hoffman‘s character in Rain Man, Raymond Babbitt. Google Search may well be a highly-functional super-genius with the entire world of everything readily indexed and available in its big brain; but, like Raymond, there are quite a few confounding quirks to Google Search’s behavior — some extreme eccentricities that need to be considered every time you engage.
Google Search has a lot of eccentricities. For example, I bet you didn’t know what Google considers www.gerriscorp.com and gerriscorp.com to be two separate sites.
When I use my short-code URL, gerr.is, I also need to be careful because unlike most of us, Google only knows each of us my one specific name.
My name’s Christopher James Abraham. When I introduce myself to Google, through my websites, I need to be careful how I introduce myself.
I call myself Chris Abraham — or just Chris — but my full name is Christopher James, right, but Google has a hard time handling all of that, at least now. One needs to choose one and run with it. One explicit keyword phrase for your identity and one explicit URL for your website.
Google Search is More Rain Man Than A Beautiful Mind
So, I chose www.gerr.is. Unfortunately for me, a dot-IS address is hardwired in Google’s mind as an Icelandic address so if I really want to woo Mid-Atlantic clients — hell, even American clients — instead of clients in Reykjavik via search, I will need to go through an official name change where Google is the presiding judge (and when I do that in a couple weeks, I promise I will share my experience). Google Search is more Rain Man than A Beautiful Mind.
So far, with the limited availability of resources and the amount of competition over keywords, Google doesn’t have to think very hard. You’ll only see Google’s inner John Forbes Nash Jr. if you explore the thinnest content on the web, when Google meets with zero results and gets creative. As I have said before, Google abhors a vacuum. In this space, Google will equate Tony, Anthony, and Antonio if all three names share the same Surname. But, when there are many of SEO experts like me helping people like you so there’s plenty of premasticated content that already meets Google as far past halfway as possible — at least further than anyone else, if possible.
Fill Out an Explicit Google Change of Address Card
So, when I finally make the leap from www.gerr.is to gerriscorp.com, I won’t just change the domain within Google Webmaster Tools itself, I will use Google’s handy Change of Address form — here’s the direct link. You should do all the “moving” yourself before you submit the card — here’s what Google wants you to do in preparation:
- Use this tool if you are moving your site to a new domain: don’t use this tool unless you are moving your primary website presence to a new address.
- Pick your new site from the list: if you don’t see your site, add it now. You must specify a domain with no trailing path (for example, https://www.example.com/ or https://subdomain.example.com).
- Confirm that 301-redirects work properly: URLs from your old site should be redirected to your new site using permanent 301-redirect directives.
- Check that verification methods are still present: this step ensures your new and old sites are properly verified before the move, and will remain so afterwards.
- Submit the change of address request: transition your site indexing from www.gerr.is to your new site.
You Need to Explicitly Stitch Your Google Analytics to Your Google Webmaster Tools
You would think that having the same domain on your Google Analytics account and your Google Webmaster Tools account would be enough of a hint to allow Google to make the assumption that you own them both and you want them to work together, especially since you need to go through some technical domain verification and domain validation processes in order to officially adopt your sites to your accounts in the first place.
Yeah no. Instead, you need to hop over to the Google Analytics Property Selection page here, where you can either choose the correct Google Analytics account for the data merge or you can create one (you really should).
International Targeting and the Elusive Hreflang Tag
Last but not least, while Google knows all languages and all lands, it’s surprisingly not presumptuous when it comes to making assumptions about you — except, of course, when it comes to my Icelandic top level domain name, grrrr — so you need to explicit. I’m assuming you don’t know what an Hreflang tag is, but I don’t have the time to go into it here, so here’s some info from Google, MOZ, and W3 Schools.
Long story short, you can include tags on your site that explicitly express not only what language your site supports but also what region that site intends to serve. These explicit signifiers can help Google quite a lot sort out both who you are and your intent.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Google Search is a bit of a Lt. Columbo or Matlock — much more clever and savvy then they let on in order to put you at ease only to catch you with your hand in the cookie jar. Google’s nobody’s fool and search spammers often try to use translated content pages as a way to game Google. Google wants you to prove that you’re supporting visitors not simply in Arlington, VA, but also EN speakers in GB, and EN speakers in EU, too.
If you’re serving the expat community in Germany, you might even put together an Hreflang tag for EN speakers in DE! When you sort out your Hreflang tags, you can put them either in your header code or in your Sitemap.xml code.
No, I Won’t Go Into Sitemaps In This Post
I’ve gone far enough into the Google search rabbit hole. If you want to learn about Sitemaps right now, however, check out the Sitemap page on Google Webmaster Tools, learn about Sitemaps from Google, and if you’re using WordPress, use either Google XML Generator or Yoast SEO (not both, but if you do, turn it off on Yoast), and if you’re using Drupal, the Sitemap they have build in is not what you want, so install this module, XML Sitemap. If you are using Squarespace, it’ll just work as it’s built in and turned on and will look like this gerr.is/sitemap.xml, with your domain in place of mine.
I hope this was really useful to you. Let me know if it was. I know it’s really basic to a lot of you but I do a lot of work for a lot of pretty savvy organizations, associations, and corporations, and none of them really have it sorted out at all. Web developers never go the extra mile, still assuming that if you build it and host it, Google will come. Maybe yes, maybe no, but if you’re smart, you’ll make sure Google knows who you are, how your site works, what community you’re serving, and when your site’s been updated or changed. Google is painfully literal but don’t get frustrated because Google holds all the cards and the house always wins.
Good luck and go git ’em, Tiger!