The purpose of any search engine is to provide the most suitable and relevant answers that address the user’s query. But before Google and its competitors can do that, a database populated with years if not decades’ worth of content is necessary to call upon.
This is referred to as indexing in SEO terminology. It’s a process that takes place even before algorithmically deciding which websites should appear at the top for a given search query. However, indexing in SEO is not something that is to be taken for granted. If Google can’t find your website, you can’t expect it to get indexed, let alone ranking for any search terms.
If you’re aiming to get organic search traffic to your website, it’s a good idea to educate yourself on how to do indexing in SEO and what’s involved at every step of the way. We’re going to help you with that by touching upon the topics of crawling, indexing, and ranking a website and how it all relates to getting your content appear in the SERPs for your desired search queries.
How Do We Define Indexing in SEO and Why Is It Important?
Before Google adds a website to its library, it first needs to be aware of its existence. After the condition is met, it sends a search engine crawler (also referred to as Google spider) to investigate. Whether it stumbles upon the content for the very first time or simply detects that it has been updated since its last visit, it will capture an image of it and transfer it back to its database.
What we described above is crawling – a crucial step that search engines need to take before even indexing an SEO site, so it’s crucial to break it down before we can define indexing in SEO. In layman terms, indexing refers to organizing the information gathered in a way the search engines can pull up and display within a moment’s notice when someone searches for it.
Keep in mind this goes beyond the content itself. In fact, Google also analyzes every single multimedia element on the website, including images, videos, and so forth. With that being said, you can make Google’s indexing job either harder or easier depending on how you structure your website (more on this later).
How Search Engines Work
To get a complete picture of how search engines work and at what point indexing in SEO comes in, we’ve chronologically organized the steps that take a piece of content from being discovered and all the way to actually appearings in Google SERPs. The stages are as follows:
Crawling is the very first step in the process. Think of it as the discovery phase; this is where search engine crawlers discover content they’ve never encountered before, content that has been updated, and content that used to exist but no longer does, either due to being manually removed by the webmaster or something as unfortunate as the expiration of a domain.
To do this, search engines automate the process through intelligent scripting. The terms ‘crawler’, ‘spider’, and ‘bot’ all refer to the same piece of code that runs through the web and discovers fresh content. Keep in mind not every URL is crawled in an instant – some are added to Google’s TO-DO list, meaning the crawlers will be coming back to check up on them later.
After the crawling phase is complete, Google needs to make sense of the data collected. This is referred to as indexing in SEO. After dissecting the data, it knows exactly what the page is about and what section of the content is dedicated to a certain topic or subtopic.
The latter is also known as latent semantic indexing in SEO, a process where Google detects whether certain long-tail keywords are present on a given page and classify the content that surrounds them based on how helpful it is to the reader and whether it matches the intent of that particular search term.
Once the indexing process is complete, Google now has a massive library of organized information it can recall in the bat of an eye. Of course, this requires some massive server resources only a multi-billion company can afford and maintain, but for massive IT giants like Microsoft and Google, it’s not an obstacle at all.
Also, don’t forget that Google has publicly come out with the statement that indexing every single page on the internet is not the end goal; it’s mostly the ones that provide some kind of value to the user.
Finally, we have ranking, the last part of the search engine algorithm equation. Here, Google looks at all sorts of qualifiers that go beyond how well a content is written and whether it matches up with the search intent of the query. When someone searches for a particular term, prior to providing the answers, the search engine also wants to prioritize high authority sources as well as make sure the user experience is on point (preference is given to mobile-optimized and quick-to-load webpages).
In essence, Google now has a tough job of assigning a ranking to each of the qualifying web pages from its library in relation to that particular search term. No one (except the top Google executives) knows exactly how it all works, but a lot of it revolves around relevance, user experience, and the authority of the source that provides the answers. That’s the basic concept.
How Long Does Indexing in SEO Take?
Once the spiders crawl a page (and that’s an ‘if’), you can expect a significant delay before it gets indexed and much more so before the content actually starts ranking for any search terms. The delay can be anywhere from 1 day to weeks or possibly even months.
When it comes to crawling, indexing, and the frequently thereof, certain high-authority pages will always be given priority treatment by the algorithm. An example of this is the BBC, a widely known and reputable news site. The reason being is that Google wants to be the first to provide the freshest content, and a trusted resource will always be crawled and indexed more often compared to a fresh domain that still has lots to prove.
In addition, the world wide web is growing at a rapid pace and the fact that an average website is getting increasingly resource-heavier doesn’t help with the speed of indexing either.
Difference between Crawling and Indexing in SEO
To re-emphasize the points made above, crawling and indexing in SEO are two different processes. Crawling refers to Google’s crawlers following the web of links, just like a spider would. It’s what can be referred to as the discovery phase. Indexing, on the other hand, involves analyzing a piece of content to determine what it’s about and how successfully and relevantly it answers a given search query. Organizing the content and storing it into a searchable database is also something that happens during the indexing phase.
Boosting Your Website’s Indexability: Tips & Strategies
The good news is that you can improve your website’s crawlability and indexability to a certain degree. Remember that you don’t need to outcompete the BBC – only your direct competition!
With this in mind, we’ll share some concrete tips and strategies on how to boost your website’s indexability:
1. Improve Your Internal Linking
Are you linking to related sections of your website from other places than just the main menu, or, worse yet, not at all? As you write your content, make sure to reference another article you’ve published on your domain if it provides additional helpful information the reader can learn. At the same time, you’ll make it easier for search engine crawlers to discover the entirety of your website. Win-win!
2. Fix Broken Links
Sometimes, broken links can occur due to changing the site structure, migrating to another CMS, or other reasons. Consequently, Google will not be able to find the URLs referenced in these cases, so you’re going to need to give it a helping hand by creating redirects.
3. Setup Your robots.txt File Correctly
In your website’s robots.txt file, you can specify which pages you’d like search engine spiders to crawl and which ones you’d like to exclude. Unless you know exactly what you’re doing, it’s easy to get this wrong and unwillingly declare all pages as blocked from crawling.
4. Submit a Sitemap
A sitemap is like a roadmap to your website’s content. It makes it easy for the search engine crawlers to find even the most remote corner of your website that would otherwise remain hidden. If you’re using a CMS like WordPress, you can generate one automatically.
5. Publish Content More Often
Google likes fresh content and the websites that provide it. By publishing frequently, you will give search engine crawlers more reason to visit your website on a regular basis. It basically conditions them to expect a new post soon after the previous one.
6. Avoid Using Forms or Complicated Scripts Unless Absolutely Necessary
Script-heavy websites are generally harder to crawl than sites that are simpler in their structure and design. Naturally, this can create a problem as far as indexability goes. Similarly, hiding the content deeply in difficult-to-access forms makes it harder for crawlers to do their job, and it’s not doing you any favors when it comes to indexing in SEO.
7. Make Your Website Faster to Load
Your visitors do not have an unlimited reservoir of patience, and neither do Google’s search engine crawlers. The former have better things to do than wait around while the latter need to conserve their limited hardware resources. Unless the content loads in a reasonable amount of time, they will leave. Therefore, find a way to improve your load times which is often achieved by making your website lighter and as bare-bones as possible (often, this is a fine balancing act between function and form).
Indexing in SEO plays an important role in the discoverability of your website. Attracting search engine crawlers to visit your website is the first step, but it is not enough; you also need to make sure to remove any obstacles that would otherwise lie in their way. Only then can you hope to progress to the final phase, which is qualifying your website to appear in the SERPs under the relevant search terms.