10 Ways to Improve Website Indexing and Crawlability
If search engine robots can’t discover and crawl your site’s pages, no other optimization will be of any use. To avoid this, it is necessary to make the process of indexing as easy as possible for them and to ensure a high level of availability of the web resource for scanning.
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Keywords and content may be the two main pillars on which most search engine optimization strategies are built, but they are far from the only ones that matter.
Less often discussed but no less important—not only for users but also for search bots—is the ability to discover your site.
The Internet has about 50 billion web pages on 1.93 billion sites. Not a single person, not even the largest team of living people in the world, will be able to study such a large number of documents. Therefore, search engine bots, also called spiders, play an important role here.
Bots learn the content of each web page by following links from site to site and from page to page. This information is collected into an extensive database, or index, of URLs, which are then run through a search engine algorithm for ranking.
This two-step process of navigating and understanding your site is called crawling and indexing.
As an SEO professional, you’ve no doubt heard these terms before, but let’s define them for the sake of clarity:
- Crawlability refers to how well search engine bots can crawl and index your web pages.
- Indexability measures the ability of a search engine to parse your web pages and add them to their index.
As you can probably guess, both of these aspects are integral to SEO.
If your site is not crawlable, for example because it has a lot of broken links and dead ends, search engines will not be able to access all of your content, which will remove it from the index.
The ability to be indexed, on the other hand, is vital because pages that are not indexed will not appear in search results. How can a search engine rank a page that it has not included in its database?
The process of crawling and indexing is a little more complicated than described here, but for the purposes of this article, I think this is quite enough.
How to improve crawling and indexing
Now that the importance of crawling and indexing is out of the question, let’s take a look at some of the elements of your site that affect these processes and discuss ways to optimize for them.
1. Improve page loading speed
With billions of pages to catalog, web spiders don’t have a full day to wait for your site to load. Here, it is usually customary to make a reference to the crawl budget.
If the pages of your site do not load within the set time, the spiders will leave it. And this will lead to an insufficient level of crawling and indexing. And this, as you know, is not very good for SEO.
Therefore, it is a good practice to monitor the page loading speed of your site and improve it where possible. Be sure to use Google Search Console and any available SEO software for this.
You can find out what slows down the loading time of the site using the Core Web Vitals report. If you need more information, especially from a user’s perspective, Google Lighthouse is an open-source tool that will definitely help.
2. Strengthening the structure of internal linking
Good site structure and internal linking are fundamental elements of a successful SEO strategy. A disorganized site is difficult for search engines to browse, which is why internal linking is one of the most important things an SEO specialist can do.
But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Google’s John Mueller had to say about it:
Internal linking is very important for SEO. I think this is one of the most important things you can do on a site to direct Google and visitors to the pages you think are important.
If you have poor internal linking, you also run the risk of having orphan pages, or pages that don’t link to other parts of your site. Since there are no paths to these pages, the only way for search engines to find them is with a sitemap.
To eliminate this and other problems caused by bad site architecture, create a logical internal structure for your project.
Your site’s main page should link to internal sections supported by pages further down the pyramid. These subpages should have contextual links where it seems natural.
Another thing to watch out for is broken links, including those with typos in the URL. This results in a critical 404 (page not found) error. Broken links are also detrimental to crawling.
Double-check your URLs, especially if you’ve recently performed a site migration, bulk page deletion, or structure change. Make sure you don’t link to old or deleted URLs.
Other good practices for internal linking:
- sufficient amount of content (content is always king);
- using anchor text links instead of image links;
- a reasonable number of links per page.
Oh, and make sure you use the “follow” attribute on your internal links.
3. Feed the sitemap to search engines.
I’ll use Google as an example.
If you have enough time and you don’t stop him from doing it, Google will eventually crawl through your site. And that’s great, but it won’t help you rank in organic search while you’re waiting.
If you’ve recently made changes to your site’s content and want Google to know about them right away, it’s worth submitting your sitemap to Google Search Console.
The sitemap is another file located in the root directory of your project. It acts as a roadmap for search engines, including direct links to every page on your site.
This is useful for indexing because it allows Google to know about multiple pages at the same time. If a search engine might need to follow five internal links to discover a page deep within a site, then by submitting an XML sitemap, it can find all of your pages in one visit.
Submitting a sitemap to Google is especially useful if you have a “deep” site, add new pages or content often, or don’t have good internal linking on your site.
4. Update the Robots.txt file
Robots.txt is one of those things that is better done than not done. While this file is optional, 99% of modern websites use it. If you do not know what it is, then it is a plain text file in the root directory of your site.
It tells search engines how you want them to crawl your site. Its main purpose is to manage bot traffic and prevent the site from being overloaded with requests.
This can be useful for limiting the number of pages that Google or Yandex view and index. For example, you probably don’t need pages like a shopping cart, login panel, or tags in the search engine index (although there are nuances here).
Of course, this useful text file can also negatively affect crawling. It’s worth reviewing your robots.txt file (or calling in a professional if you’re unsure) to see if you’re accidentally blocking web spiders from accessing your pages.
Some common errors in the robots.txt file:
- robots.txt is not located in the root directory of the site.
- incorrect use of special characters;
- no index in the text of the file;
- blocking scripts, style sheets, and images;
- There is no link to the sitemap.
5. Competent canonicalization
Canonical tags combine signals from multiple URLs into a single canonical URL. This can be a good way to tell the search engine to index the pages you need, skipping duplicates and outdated versions.
However, this also opens the door for malicious canonical tags. They link to old versions of pages that no longer exist, causing search engines to index the wrong pages and leaving your preferred pages invisible.
To fix the problem, use the URL Inspection tool to scan for bad tags and remove them.
If your site is internationally oriented, meaning you are directing users in different countries to different canonical pages, you need canonical tags for each language. This ensures that your pages are indexed in every language your site is available in.
6. Website audit
After completing all the steps above, it’s time for one final thing to help you make sure your site is optimized for crawling and indexing: an SEO audit.
The audit begins by checking the percentage of pages indexed by the search engine.
Checking the indexing factor
The indexing ratio is the number of pages in the search engine index divided by the number of pages on our site.
You can find out how many pages are in the Google index using the Google Search Console by going to the “Pages” tab in the “Index” section and checking the number of pages on the site from the CMS admin panel.
It’s likely that there are pages on your site that you don’t want to be indexed, so this number likely won’t be 100%. But if the indexability rate is below 90%, then you have problems that need to be investigated.
You can get non-indexed URLs from Search Console and audit them. This may help you understand what is causing the problem.
Another useful site audit tool included with Google Search Console is the same URL inspection tool. It lets you see what the Google spiders see. This information can then be compared to real web pages to understand what Google can’t render.
Auditing Recently Published Pages
Every time you create new pages on your site or update the most important pages, you need to make sure they get indexed. Go to the Google Search Console and check that they all show up.
If you’re still having issues, an audit can also give you insight into what other parts of your SEO strategy aren’t working, so it’s a double win. Scale your audit process with SEO tools like:
7. Check for low-quality or duplicate content.
If a search engine thinks that your content is of no value to users, it may decide that it is not worth indexing.
Such content may be poorly written (with grammatical and spelling errors), formulaic, not unique to your site, or lack external signals of value and authority.
To find content of little use, determine which pages on your site are not being indexed and then look at targeted queries for them. Do they provide quality answers to search engine questions? If not, replace or update them.
In Yandex Webmaster, this problem can be found in the “Pages in search” report, which is located in the “Indexing” section by going to the “Excluded” tab.
Duplicate content is another reason why bots can get stuck while browsing your site. Basically, this is because your code structure has confused the robots, and they don’t know which version to index. This can be caused by things like session IDs, redundant content items, and pagination issues.
This sometimes results in a warning in the Google Search Console stating that Google is encountering more URLs than it thinks are appropriate. If you don’t get this warning, check your crawl results for things like duplicate or missing tags or URLs with extra characters that might create extra work for web spiders.
8. Eliminate chains of redirects and internal redirects.
As websites evolve, redirects are a natural by-product, directing visitors away from a page to a newer or more relevant one. While they are common on most sites, if you mishandle them, you can inadvertently sabotage your own indexing.
There are several mistakes that can be made when creating redirects, but one of the most common is redirect chains. This happens when there is more than one redirect between the clicked link and the destination. Search engines don’t like that.
In more extreme cases, you can create a redirect loop in which one page redirects to another page, which redirects to another page, and so on, until eventually the link returns to the very first page. In other words, you’ve created an endless loop that leads nowhere.
You can check your site’s redirects using tools like:
9. Fix broken links.
Likewise, broken links can ruin your site’s visibility for crawlers. You should regularly check your site for broken links, as they not only worsen SEO results but also frustrate users.
There are several ways to find broken links on a site, including manually checking (header, footer, navigation, inline links, etc.), as well as using Yandex Webmaster, Google Search Console, Analytics, or Screaming Frog to find 404 errors.
Once you’ve found broken links, you have three options to fix them:
IndexNow is a relatively new protocol that allows you to simultaneously submit URLs to different search engines via an API. It works like an enhanced version of the XML sitemap submission, alerting search engines to new URLs and changes to your site.
In essence, this means that search engines get a roadmap of your site in advance. They land on your site with the information they need, so there’s no need to constantly recheck the sitemap. And unlike an XML sitemap, IndexNow allows you to inform search engines about pages with a status code other than 200.
Implementing IndexNow is very simple; all you need to do is generate an API key, place it in your directory or somewhere else, and submit the URLs in the recommended format.
If you have carefully read the post, you should already have a good understanding of what indexing and crawling your site are. You also need to understand how important these two factors are for ranking in the SERPs.
If search engine spiders can’t crawl and index your site, no matter how many keywords, backlinks, and tags you use, you won’t show up in search results.
That’s why it’s important to regularly check your site for anything that could lead bots astray, mislead them, or send them on the wrong track.
Get a good set of tools and start analyzing. Be diligent and pay attention to details, and soon web crawlers will multiply on your site like spiders.