Not the Google SEO we all know and get confused by.

We are all conditioned to think that Google is the centre of the modern universe. We use Google search to find things, Google mail to tell people about it, Google maps to get to it and Google drive to store all the documents and photos. All this takes place in a virtual world that doesn’t exist. It couldn’t possibly. If search engines were run by real people, it would be far from the accurate instantaneous service we are used to today. By the time you received your list of fixtures and venues, the England [insert the sport of your choice here] team would have already been knocked out.

For the world to get the correct information about you, you must enter your own details correctly in the first place. Anyone who has dabbled with creating or maintaining a website will have encountered things like Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Calls To Action (CTA) and Winstemic Tracking Functions (WTF). I think I made up that last one, but optimising a web presence is such an ever-changing subject that by this time next week it could easily be the next big thing.

That is why I and two colleagues found ourselves heading to Google HQ in London, for a YouTube Content Lab workshop. 

For a corporation that insists on clarity, relevance and information the itinerary was incredibly vague, but they assured us we would benefit from what they had to offer, so who are we to turn down a chance to see inside the big G?

What could possibly go wrong?

Google SEO image

SEO: Sorry everyone onboard.

Shortly after 8am, the train pulled away from the station, and shortly after that, I required the loo. Although I am not an active sport participant, my bladder is honed to Olympic standards, and I could undoubtedly pee for England. (Now, there’s a sport that could challenge the drug testers seeking a urine sample after a gold medal performance). I entered the WC and waited for the door to close automatically (I am not a frequent train traveller). It didn’t. After pirouetting through about 350° I made eye contact with a chap standing outside the cubicle. He pointed to a button marked ‘close’ situated on the only part of the wall I hadn’t yet scanned. It wasn’t until I was in full flow that it occurred to me that the door may not be locked. I looked back at the ‘close’ button. Below it was a ‘lock’ button. With a twisting, bending action that would be worthy of any Tai-chi routine I managed to press the button while maintaining perfect aim and without spilling a drop. Phew, that could have been very embarrassing.

The train sped on for a couple of hours with all the efficiency one would expect, and with only a five-minute delay waiting for a missing member of staff at one of the stations. The other thing that efficiently sped on was my constitution, and my bowel announced, ‘time to go, and don’t forget the ‘lock’ button. 

As the door of the WC slid open, I was greeted by a woman frantically grabbing at her knickers with one hand and lunging at the ‘close’ button with the other.

“There’s a lock button’ I said as the door closed between us. When the door opened again, she had composed herself and was looking a bit more dignified.

I was still chuckling to myself as I went about my business, but this stopped as I pressed the flush lever, and nothing happened. I am not sure if ‘You are fucking kidding me!’ came out loud or was just in my head, but it was definitely there. I tried the lever again, but the cistern was definitely empty. There was clearly nothing I could do, and I can only apologise for what awaited the chap who went in as I scurried back to my seat in shame.

How ironic that a train with the word Waterloo in the front window was lacking water in the loo. Maybe SWT need to reassess the capacity of their cisterns to match the capacity of their passengers.


SEO: Searched everywhere outside.

Paradoxically, the UK headquarters for finding things is itself not easy to find. The building is a huge, multi-coloured monolith, like a giant Google doodle amid the grey concrete and Portland stone, but there are no signs on it. We walked around the building looking for a logo or maybe a huge G on a door. Nothing. All we found was an anonymous lobby that was as sparse as the Google home page, but lacking the Google logo. Once inside the lobby, we spotted the word Google on a small sign behind the reception desk. Unfortunately, the woman at the desk gave the impression that she knew nothing of us, or the event we had been invited to, or even Google itself. We eventually convinced her that Google was situated on at least three of the floors that she was responsible for, and she made a phone call. 

“If you’d like to take a seat, someone will come for you,” she said. I think it was a ploy to get rid of us.

We waited until the start-time then returned to the receptionist. This time, she directed us to a woman who agreed that we were supposed to be there, and who gave us our name badges. We were in.

Google HQ ceiling

CTA: Circumnavigating the area.

After several hours of talks, exercises and presentations, the last item on the itinerary was happy hour, but with our train expected we had to decline the invitation to this particular Google Search Bar. We grabbed a bottle of beer each, made our excuses, and headed off to catch our train. 

It was dark, and rush hour was well under way when hit the street, but luckily it was a straight line to Waterloo Station and home. We dashed hither and thither through the bustling streets, dodging the cars, busses and pedestrians that tried to delay us. My sense of direction is pretty crap (useless) and my memory is poor (even uselesser), but eventually I spotted a familiar sight. 

“Ah, The Illusionists,” I yelled, pointing at a massive theatre display that I recognised. We were heading in the right direction.

“That was right outside Google,” was the reply I received. We looked left, and discovered that we had gone in a loop and were back at the entrance to Google. Suffice to say, we missed our train.

Google plaza

WTF: Winstemic Tracking Functions.

So, what lessons can be taken from a day at Google HQ?

  • Google can be invaluable to help people find you.
  • Google makes it very difficult to find them.
  • Once you find Google, don’t expect to get away easily.
  • Only use the toilet early on a South West Trains train.

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