Before Blaming Google …

Before Blaming Google …

For the past couple of years, the most popular page on this site has been iPod Touch as a PDA and Entertainer. Part of the reason for its popularity is that I have updated it whenever Apple improved the Touch hardware and/or software.

Also contributing to the popularity is the number of useful comments made on the article, where readers would add helpful information: the article has a little over 150 comments at this writing.

So, when my Google Analytics account began showing a significant decline in the number of views of that page, I got concerned. I figured that, if anything, the traffic should be increasing because Apple recently made a significant upgrade to the Touch.

I began investigating. I knew from my Google Webmaster Tools account that the phrase that resulted in the most traffic to this article was “ipod touch calendar.” So, I decided to search on it myself, and got the following result.

The nice thing is that it shows up as the very first result, the one at the top of the page. The bummer is that the description, which Google chooses, makes it sound like the article was written by someone who doesn’t even own a Touch.

That tends to make the article not even sound credible, so I figured it was what contributed to the decline in traffic.

For a long time, Google used part of the article’s introductory paragraph for the description … why the change is beyond me. (The current description is from one of the comments on the article … why Google chose such a seemingly irrelevant comment out of all the comments is beyond me.)

So, I entered a complaint of sorts in the Google Webmaster Central Forums hoping that a Google engineer would see it and tell me what I could do to get Google to choose a more useful description.

After not getting a helpful response for a few days, I was about to write a nasty article here about how Google discriminates against smaller blogs by choosing dumb description phrases, while using the nicely-worded “meta descriptions” for more popular blogs.

Then yesterday I just happened to run a test on my website using SiteScan, and that scan told me that my Google Analytics script was not showing up on any of the pages it scanned. I was floored, and realized that this could be the cause, or a cause, of the decline in traffic. Actually, it occurred to me that the traffic might not have even changed, but the measurement of it had.

The only things I could think of that would cause this were problems with the modifications I made to the theme I was using and/or my caching software. So, I switched back to a theme I had used before and turned off caching. And, after a day of watching the traffic, it looks like most of it “is back.”

Actually, according to Google Webmaster Tools, the number of impressions for “ipod touch calendar” is down about 18% and the number of clicks is down about 33%, so there still may be a negative effect from Google’s choice of description, but not of the magnitude I first thought.

Anyway, on reflection, I realized that this was not the first time I had blamed Google (or someone else) for a problem that was more of my own making than theirs.

My sense is that our species does entirely too much of this. It’s a shame for multiple reasons: not only does someone get falsely accused, but the problems are not solved because the proper cause is never identified.

Former Microsoft executive Philip Su recently wrote the following, as a part of his overall observations on working at Microsoft:

I’ve managed almost 150 people across dev/test/PM. I estimate about 60% of employees think that they belong in the top 20% when ranked against their peers. I have never once had a person say that they belong in the bottom 10%.

In essence, he is saying that most of us overrate ourselves (I’ve also seen studies suggesting we underrate our colleagues). In thinking back over my long professional career, I recall several glowing performance reviews that probably should have had some feedback on ways for me to improve. And, I recall arguing about some of my other reviews, when perhaps I should have been listening more.

Anyway, something to keep in the back of your mind for the next time you want to fly off the handle at someone. Sure is something for me to keep in mind, too.

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