Index Bloat: Why SEO Suffers and How to Improve It

When you search Google, you’re not actually browsing the web – you’re searching Google’s index of it. In the same way humans bloat from overeating, a search engine index bloat occurs when a website has too many indexed URLs – most of which, should not be.

After you enter a search, it takes Google only half a second to produce your search results. How? Crawlers, otherwise known as “spiders”, are software used to collect information throughout billions of pages.

As these site crawlers journey from link to link, Google retains specific “key signals” in the process. These signals typically include: keyword frequency, placement and synonyms, website quality, engagement, sitemaps, duplicate content, spam, and the page rank – determined by how many backlinks lead back to that particular page.

Here, it’s important to decipher between Google crawling and Google indexing. Following a search crawl, Google then adds the most successful webpages to that particular search – this is called Google indexing.

Why Index Bloat is an Issue

Index bloat is a regular SEO issue for websites. When a site has index bloat, search engines are unable to identify which pages are most relevant.

As a major result, a single product category may have thousands of variations. This sometimes causes duplicate content, which means both your meta info and page content are not unique and Google is most likely targeting the wrong pages. Here, this index bloat is known to prompt a noteworthy decrease in the overall return on investment (ROI), site traffic, conversions and especially, rankings.

With Google continuously changing its search and indexation algorithms, it becomes more difficult to maintain a high ranking. This is why it’s imperative to ensure your sitemap provides a precise outline of your site’s indexable URLs.

What Causes Index Bloat

Sometimes, all it takes is a small technical glitch to cause a huge index bloat. eCommerce sites in particular, are known to suffer from index bloat due to their pagination process, whereby product pages are often created without knowing.

In our previous blog How To: Make Your Content Mobile-Friendly, we discussed the importance of testing your site across multiple devices. This is also an important method when preventing an index bloat. Where content is not search engine optimised (SEO), pages are deemed low-quality and non-responsive. Google detects these “key signals” as common starting points for index bloat.

Worse comes to worse, your content won’t even appear. Due to the countless paths available, searchbots become incredibly confused when crawling for search results. Neil Patel further explains ‘four data driven alarm signals’, which perfectly align as root causes for index bloat. These four signals include: the depletion of index pages, duplicate content (as previously discussed), missing links and an overall decline in organic traffic.

How to Fix Index Bloat

Fortunately, Google’s here to help. Before you utilise any software, it’s highly recommended to first use Google Webmaster Tools to identify which pages are indexed. This will also assist you in determining which pages to delete, whereby removing these irrelevant pages proves a powerful tool for amplifying your SEO.

To ensure your site is friendly, Google Search Console provides the mandatory data, diagnostics and tools. More importantly, you’ll need to clean up your site. This entails link and keyword building, using canonical tags, redirects, pagination, meta robots tag, a URL parameter tool,  and of course, software.

As complementary to Google Webmaster Tools, widely renowned software programs in alleviating index bloat include: Deep Crawl, Screaming Frog and XOVI.

Not so creepy-crawly after all! Now that you have the lowdown on Index Bloat, discover The Rise of Emotional Marketing: What You Need to Know or learn how WeChat is fast monopolizing the social media game with our ultimate WeChat Marketing: Your Fast Guide to Business