Index bloat is a term used to describe when search engine crawlers focus on low-quality or low-value pages, instead of more important and valuable ones. These low-quality pages may provide value to some users but are not pages you wish to appear in the SERPs, such as archive pages, thank you pages, internal search results pages, filter pages, etc.
The theory of index bloat suggests that search rankings can be negatively impacted as the site’s crawl budget is being inefficiently used when crawling these lesser-value pages.
Google’s John Mueller touched on this issue in the June 2023 Google SEO office hours.
He stated: “I am not aware of any concept of index bloat at Google. Our systems don’t artificially limit the number of pages indexed per site.”
Mueller’s comment suggests that index bloat isn’t a real concern, since there is apparently no limit imposed when indexing a site’s pages, however, this isn’t to say that every page will be indexed during every crawl.
A common method to ‘detect’ index bloat is using Google Search Console (GSC) to compare the number of indexed pages with the number you would usually expect. A larger volume of pages supposedly hints towards index bloat. However, Google says that this does not indicate a problem and is simply part of regular website management and monitoring.
The index bloat theory encourages you to block search engine crawlers from indexing any pages that do not need to appear in the SERPs. Blocking crawlers will remove these pages from search results, but will still allow them to be accessed by site users internally. This can help more valuable pages to rank higher.
To block pages from Google’s crawlers, add the ‘noindex’ meta tag to the header section of the page’s HTML.
Mueller has hinted at this in his comments, stating: “I’d just make sure that the pages which you’re providing for indexing are actually useful pages, but that’s more independent of the number of pages your site has.”
So, although he has technically debunked the index bloat theory, he has also enforced the resolutions promoted by many index bloat believers. Ultimately, good SEO practice will aid visibility and rankings – who’d have thought it, eh?
Although some pages are worth emitting from Google’s index, more time should be spent publishing valuable content and following best SEO practices. Utilise GSC to identify any underperforming pages and take necessary steps to improve them. Consider:
Is the content available elsewhere on the site? Duplicate content should be tweaked (to still be valuable!) or removed if completely unnecessary.
Could you promote the page better using internal links?
Is the page SEO optimised?
The concept of index bloat may be somewhat true, but there is one thing we know for sure: keeping up with regular, high-quality and high-value content is the best way to encourage higher visibility and rankings for your site.