Tips for getting help with your site

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

As a search company, we at Google try to develop scalable solutions to problems. In fact, Webmaster Tools was born out of this instinct: rather than fighting the losing battle of trying to respond to questions via email (and in multiple languages!), we developed an automated, scalable product that gives webmasters like you information about your sites and lets you handle many requests yourself. Now you can streamline the crawling of your site, improve your sitelinks, or clean up after a malware attack all on your own.

Of course, our Help Forum still gets hundreds of questions from site owners every week—everything from "Why isn't my site in Google?" to very specific questions about a particular API call or a typo in our documentation. When we see patterns—such as a string of questions about one particular topic—we continue to use that information in scalable ways, such as to help us decide which parts of the product need work, or what new features we should develop. But we also still answer a lot of individual questions in our forum, on our blog, and at industry events. However, we can't answer them all.

So how do we decide which questions to tackle? We have a few guiding principles that help us make the most of the time we spend in places like our forum. We believe that there are many areas in which Google's interests and site owners' interests overlap, and we're most motivated by questions that fall into these areas. We want to improve our search results, and improve the Internet; if we can help you make your site faster, safer, more compelling, or more accessible, that's good for both of us, and for Internet users at large. We want to help as many people at a time as we can, so we like questions that are relevant to more than just one person, and we like to answer them publicly. We want to add value with the time we spend, so we prefer questions where we can provide more insight than the average person, rather than just regurgitating what's already written in our Help Center.

The reason I tell you all this is because you can greatly increase your chances of getting an answer if you make it clear how your question helps us meet these goals. Here are some tips for increasing the likelihood that someone will answer your question:

  1. Ask in public. If you post your question in our forum, the whole world gets to see the answer. Then when Betty has the same question a week later, she benefits because she can find the answer instantly in our forum, and I benefit because it saves me from having to answer the same question twice (or ten times, or fifty times, or...). We have a very strong preference for answering questions publicly (in a forum, on a blog, at a conference, in a video...) so that many people can benefit from the answer.
  2. Do your homework. We put a lot of effort into writing articles, blog posts and FAQs to help people learn about search and site-building, and we strongly encourage you to search our Help Center, blog and/or