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December 4, 2008

Google unleashes its new Webmaster Help Group

Since its launch in June 2005, Google’s Webmaster Help Group [GWHG] has helped tens of thousands of frustrated webmasters to overcome a vast array of problems, penalties and other assorted issues between their websites and Google. Now, some three and a half years later, on Thursday December 4th 2008 at 8.15AM PST, Google’s main front-line support group has undergone a dramatic transformation.

Moved from its old location within the Google Groups framework to a brand new home within Google’s own support site, the Webmaster Help Group has received a much-needed technological upgrade. Gone are the old ‘Usenet Feel’ and the clunky, unresponsive, plain-text interface, replaced with a slick new look, rich-text functionality and the ability to cross-reference answers, post live links, cite resources and even embed video, all of which combine to turn the group from being a great webmaster resource into a truly outstanding one.

Another major improvement in the new group is the introduction of user-levels, ranging from 1 through 6 [One being a new user and six being a Google employee], with increasing access to the group’s new functionalities as users gain reputation and progress through the levels. And, since a user’s level is clearly displayed next to any posts they make, it is now much easier for new forum members to distinguish whether the person answering their question is also a new user, a regular, a top contributor or even a Google employee.

So, from a sheer technology & functionality standpoint, Google Webmaster Help has taken a huge leap forward

But, like so many things, a support group of this kind cannot function on technology alone; it needs expert members, capable of dealing with the myriad problems webmasters around the globe will ask it to address.

As things stand currently, some three and a half years after the group’s inception, Webmaster Help is inhabited by a colourful assortment of professionals from around the globe, always ready to answer the many questions thrown at them by close to 42,000 members. During the past year, the group has also seen the ever increasing participation of Google Employees (affectionately called Googlers), with even such ‘celebrities’ as Matt Cutts, Adam Lasnik, John Müller and Susan Moskwa answering the occasional frustrated query.

Indeed, given the ever-growing number of Googlers regularly frequenting the group, Webmaster Help can now safely be counted as the best place to get your website questions answered by Google’s own staff, given that the company fields no means for webmasters to contact them via phone or email.

However, the Webmaster Help Group’s strength lies not simply in the participation of Google’s staff, but mainly in its population of resident experts, dubbed Bionic Posters by Google. Currently numbering fourteen, the ‘Bionics’ are an eclectic crowd of experts in subjects ranging from site design, CSS, Java and W3C compliance to more SEM-specific topics such as improving conversion rates and SEO Consultancy, who freely donate their time each day to help webmasters and frustrated site owners who reach the group in need of some expert advice.

Ultimately it is this little crowd, along with a growing number of less frequent regulars, who answer the vast majority of users’ questions, be they about Rankings, HTML, Penalties, SEO or whatever. And, thanks to the new group’s architecture and facilities implemented by Google, they will now be able to answer those same questions far more efficiently.

And, with persistent rumours of a group companion-site, laden with answers, statistics and diagnostics tools coming in the New Year, Google’s Webmaster Help Group is poised to further extend its reputation of being the single most comprehensive resource of its kind on the internet.

Having spent a substantial amount of my spare time around Webmaster Help since August 2006, I have witnessed a great many changes and improvements to the group, though none on quite this scale. I have also been privileged enough to be part of an online community which has taught me more about web design and online promotion during these last 28 months than any other resource on the web, and would heartily recommend anyone reading this article to take a look at the group and learn from the wealth of knowledge shared by its many inhabitants.

As a technical writer and SEO consultant with a career spanning almost fifteen years, Sasch Mayer has been living in the Republic of Cyprus since 2005. He has helped countless webmasters and online business owners to diagnose problems with their websites and is rated as a Top Contributor by Google in its Webmaster Help Group. His company, IceGiant Web Services also undertakes graphic and web design work.