It won’t be news to those who regularly follow me here and on social media that both I personally and Five Directions Press, the writers’ cooperative that publishes my books, have been upgrading our websites over the last two months. We’re very happy with the results of the move, and on the whole the process has gone smoothly, but there have been little hiccups here and there. So given that this blog is in part about technology as experienced by those who are not especially tech-savvy (me), I thought I’d share my headaches with verification to reassure those still wandering in the wilderness, bereft of map, that the confusion really isn’t their fault.
Let me say straight off that I love Google. I have at least three accounts for different things; it’s a great search engine; it hosted my site for years and still manages the domain names—and all without charging a cent (except for the domain name registration, of course). Without it, I could never have gotten as far as I have. So any complaints have to be balanced against the reality that I don’t pay for the service, other than by supplying information (willingly or otherwise) to the ever-present Google bots.
That said, dealing with Google’s help files is a nightmare. It’s hard to name another collection of support files on the Web that so effectively combines reams of information with an almost total absence of answers to the simplest questions. I tried for years to verify my website, managed and hosted by Google, on my Google+ account. No matter how often I searched the help files and followed their instructions to the letter, Google refused to recognize the HTML code supplied by Google as valid. I moved the site to Wix, and the next time I checked Google+, the site appeared as verified even though I hadn’t done a thing.
Redirecting the domain name to the Wix servers was another odyssey—complicated by the detail that although GoDaddy acts as my registrar, I don’t actually have an account there, because it’s all managed through Google. The Wix support files walked me through that one—and again, for Five Directions Press. Wix also got me through adding the Google Analytics codes to my sites.
So, you can imagine my surprise (although, really, I should have expected it!) when I tried to verify the sites through Google’s Webmaster Tools and was told that I couldn’t use Google Analytics for that purpose because “the Google Analytics code appears to be malformed.” Malformed? Seriously? Not only had Google generated the code, but it was right there, gathering data in another browser window!
Whatever. I watched a help video, which repeated information I had just read in a bunch of help files, none of which told me how to get access to the header code on my website or to upload the HTML file or even to correct the “malformed” code. Instead, video and text just told me what should happen in an ideal world. I added myself as a verified owner—zilch. I added myself on Google Analytics—nope. I tried a different site, clearly linked to the Google Analytics account—that wouldn’t verify either; its code was “malformed,” too. I logged out of one account and into another, more closely associated with the site I was trying to verify—nada.
All this wasted an insane amount of time that I could have spent writing. Finally, I logged into the Wix site and began searching its help files. At first, nothing came up, but after clicking on a few links about HTML, I found the step-by-step instructions for adding a Google verification code to the header text on my site. Less than a minute later, I was done. Google found its tag and departed happy, throwing up a green check mark to indicate its joy. I repeated the process with the other site, and I was all set. And I didn’t even have to edit the darned HTML itself, as I had tried and failed to do in all the years I left the sites in Google’s tender care.
So this story has a happy ending. And the moral, I suppose, is that it’s true: you get what you pay for. Fair enough. Still, if a company is going to go to the trouble of creating an extensive help system, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to make it useful? The professional coders who write their own HTML aren’t, for the most part, the people struggling with the free templates on Google Sites. It’s not enough to tell us that we have to add a tag to the <header> area if we don’t know where to find the header area on our sites. Because if we knew, we might not be writers. We could support ourselves by coding—or producing competent help files....
On another note, The Winged Horse was featured a couple of weeks ago as part of Steve Wiegenstein’s series on the M. M. Bennetts Award long list. You can see the questions, answers, and overview on his blog.
Image no. 15328264 from Clipart.com.