Background / introduction: I originally went to Google’s Webmaster Forum (about four years ago now) to ask a few questions of my own. In doing so, I came across some questions asked by other webmasters that I was able to answer, so I decided to stick around after participating a bit. Since then I’ve learned a huge amount from the forum (and still do every day) which enables me to answer a wider range of questions. After a couple of years participating, I was asked to join the Top Contributor (TC) programme, and then earlier this year was invited to the TC Summit in California.
When/how long for: the summit took place between 30th September & 3rd October.
The TC Summit is a biannual event hosted in California, where Google invite all TCs from around the world to thank them for the support they provide to their users. Over the course of three days, TCs were able to meet various Google engineers and product managers for a series of workshops and the opportunity to provide direct feedback, as well as see demos of new products (such as Google Glass).
The Experience: I really enjoy participating in the forum, not only because I learnt so much from there, but also because it’s always motivating when people thank you for fixing problems and giving advice. The summit was great as I was able to meet a lot of fellow TCs and Google employees who I’d previously only known online.
Skills Gained: the webmaster forum receives questions on an extensive range of topics, so you can gain skills in a lot of areas by participating there, such as accessibility, usability, content management, malware & keeping your website safe from hackers, information architecture, server management, dealing with search engine penalties, best practices for building international websites, getting sensitive content removed from search results, and more. Since Google’s search algorithms are constantly updating, it’s also a good place to keep up to speed on the latest developments and trends. The summit also offered the opportunity to learn new skills and build upon existing ones.
The TC Programme: Currently, the TC programme consists of nearly 600 people around the world, and covers 26 different languages. Collectively, the TCs contribute close to a million posts to Google’s help forums every year. Google’s Top Contributors (TCs) are the front line of support in Google’s help forums. TCs are hand-picked by Google staff for demonstrating expertise in a particular area or for a particular product (such as webmaster support or Gmail).
The Webmaster Central forum: specializes in troubleshooting technical issues with websites, which can include usability, website security & cleaning hacked sites, problems getting indexed and/or ranked in search results, using Google Webmaster Tools, removing content from search results, and more. Since Google’s search algorithms are opaque and highly dynamic (hundreds of changes every year), most of the facts are unknown to outsiders, so helping users in the webmaster forum is a unique challenge when compared to other Google forums, since the people helping here are not supporting a product with clear help documentation, all they have to work from is their own professional experience.