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. As a human you get bloated when you overeat. 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”, is 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.

It also includes website quality, engagement, sitemaps, duplicate content, spam, and page rank. Not to mention the importance of your ranking is 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 web pages to that particular search. This is called Google indexing.

Why is index bloat 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.

Indexed pages on your site will be zero, at best very little.

As a major result, a single product category may have thousands of variations. This sometimes causes duplicate content. What this means is that both your meta info and page content are not unique.

As such, 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).

Moreover, it can affect site traffic, conversions, and especially, rankings.

In this scenario, you will be penalized for low-quality pages. Your search rankings will drop, and your crawl budget wasted.

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 is the cause of index bloat?

Index bloat is an issue for your website

Sometimes, all it takes is a small technical glitch to cause index bloat.

An example is eCommerce sites, in particular, are known to suffer from index bloat. This is because of 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 index bloat.

Where content is not searched engine optimized (SEO), pages are deemed low-quality and non-responsive. Google detects these “key signals” as common starting points for index bloat.

Worse comes to worst, 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 do you fix this indexing problem?

Index bloat can hamper the search ability on Google

Fortunately, Google’s here to help. It’s highly recommended to first use Google Webmaster Tools to identify which pages are indexed (or use Google Search Console).

This will also assist you in removing unnecessary pages, whereby you delete pages that are irrelevant. This increases the number of indexed pages and increases the amplifying of 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 (checking your URL parameters), 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.

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Final thoughts

Here are a few technological solutions to recover from index bloat, such as delisting undesirable pages, removing duplicate and dynamic URLs from your site, and employing meta robot tags to govern future indexing.

But the first step is to determine the scope of the problem and what aspects of your website have triggered it in the first place.

This is where a professional technical SEO audit may assist to identify those reasons and ensure that any efforts you take to recover from index bloat are as successful as possible. We welcome you to an obligation-free consultation with our SEO team on how we can help you.