Understanding Crawling and Indexing: A Simple Guide

Explore our simple guide to understand the basics of website crawling and indexing. Boost your SEO strategy and site visibility with these tips.
Understanding Crawling and Indexing: A Simple Guide

Have you ever wondered how Google knows which websites to show you when you search for something? It’s not magic, it’s a process called crawling and indexing. 

Understanding Crawling and Indexing: A Simple Guide

But, what is crawling and indexing actually? Why is it so important? In this post, I will explain what these terms mean and how they affect your website’s visibility on Google.

These concepts play a crucial role in how search engines discover, understand, and organize content on the internet. By mastering these aspects, you can significantly impact your site's visibility in search results.

What is Crawling?

What is Crawling? - A detailed explanation

Crawling is the initial step where search engines send out specialized robots (often called crawlers or spiders) to explore the web. 

These crawlers travel across websites, examining the code and content of each URL they encounter. The primary goal is to find new and updated content. Whether it's a webpage, image, video, or PDF, content discovery occurs through links.

For instance, Googlebot starts by fetching a few web pages and then follows links on those pages to discover new URLs. By hopping along this path of interconnected links, the crawler identifies fresh content.

The activities involved in crawling include:

  1. Scanning and analyzing all the latest launched websites.
  2. Analyzing the newest changes in the existing websites.
  3. Scanning the websites for dead connections.
  4. Scanning all the pages of the website linked through URL.
  5. Crawling the pages according to the website owner’s choice.

This process ends in Google's index—a vast database known as Caffeine, containing all the discovered URLs.

What is Indexing?

What is Indexing? - A detailed explanation

Once content is discovered during crawling, it enters the next phase: indexing.

Search engines process and store this information in their index—a massive database that houses all the content deemed relevant enough to serve to searchers. Think of it as a digital library where every book (webpage) has its place on the shelves.

When someone performs a search query, search engines search their index for highly relevant content. The goal is to order this content in a way that best answers the searcher's query. This ordering process is called ranking.

Ranking: Serving Relevant Results

Search engines aim to provide searchers with relevant answers. They order search results based on relevance—placing the most fitting content at the top. The higher a website ranks, the more relevant it appears to be for that specific query.

To help you visualize the main steps of how Google search works, I have created an infographic that summarizes the three stages of crawling, indexing, and ranking.

How Google Finds and Shows Your Website

To ensure your content shows up in search results:

  1. Make It Accessible: If your site can't be found by crawlers, it won't appear in search results. Ensure that your site structure allows easy crawling.

  2. Optimize URLs: Organize your URLs logically so that they make sense to both humans and crawlers.

  3. Use Sitemaps: Submit sitemaps to Google to inform them about new or updated pages on your site.

  4. Control Crawling: You can manage how often crawlers visit your site using techniques like adjusting crawl rates or specifying which pages should be crawled frequently.

  5. Indexable Content: Ensure that essential pages (SEO-relevant ones) are indexed by allowing crawlers access.

Remember that while there are valid reasons for blocking certain parts of your site from crawlers (such as sensitive data), if you want your content visible in search results, make sure it's accessible and indexable.

Key Differences between Crawling and Indexing

  1. Crawling vs. Indexing:
    • Crawling is the process through which indexing occurs.
    • Google crawls web pages, collecting data, and then indexes those pages.
  2. Purpose:
    • Crawling discovers publicly available web pages.
    • Indexing stores a copy of all relevant information from crawled pages in index servers.
  3. Steps:
    • Crawling involves search engine bots actively exploring your website.
    • Indexing analyzes the gathered data and stores it in the index.
  4. Resource Usage:
    • Crawling requires more resources than indexing because it involves actively visiting websites.
    • Indexing is more resource-efficient as it analyzes existing data.

In summary, crawling and indexing work hand in hand to ensure that relevant content is available for users when they perform searches. Understanding these processes helps optimize websites for better visibility and discoverability.

Remember, while crawling finds pages on the internet, indexing determines what information from those websites gets stored for later retrieval .


Why are crawling and indexing important for SEO?

Crawling and indexing are the first steps for your website to appear on Google. If Google doesn't crawl and index your pages, they won't show up in the search results, no matter how good your content is.

Therefore, you need to make sure that your website is crawlable and indexable by Google. This means that you should:

  • Optimize your website for speed and mobile-friendliness
  • Create a clear and logical site structure and navigation
  • Use descriptive and relevant title tags and meta descriptions
  • Publish high-quality and original content that answers user questions
  • Update your content regularly and remove outdated or duplicate pages
  • Submit a sitemap to Google Search Console and use robots.txt to control crawling
  • Build links from other reputable and relevant websites to your pages

By following these best practices, you can improve your chances of getting crawled and indexed by Google and increase your website's visibility and traffic.

What is Crawl Budget?

"Crawl Budget" is the number of pages Googlebot crawls and indexes on a website within a given timeframe. If the number of pages exceeds your site's crawl budget, you may have pages on your site that aren't indexed. This is particularly important for large websites with 10k+ pages, or if you've just added a large number of new pages.

Here are some ways to maximize your site’s crawl budget:

  1. Improve Site Speed: Faster loading pages allow Googlebot to visit and index more of your pages.
  2. Use Internal Links: Googlebot prioritizes pages that have lots of external and internal links pointing to them.
  3. Flat Website Architecture: A flat architecture ensures that all of your site’s pages have some link authority flowing to them.
  4. Avoid “Orphan Pages”: Orphan pages are pages that have no internal or external links pointing to them. Google has a hard time finding orphan pages.
  5. Limit Duplicate Content: Duplicate content can hurt your crawl budget.
What is Server Log Analysis?

Server log analysis involves inspecting your server’s log file, which records information on all requests performed by users’ browsers or search engine crawlers. The log file contains accurate data on how users and bots interact with your site and can be a base for important discoveries that will improve your SEO.

Here's what a log file analysis can help you understand:

  1. Crawling Behavior: Understand which content is being crawled and how often.
  2. Google’s Actual Behavior: Log files are one of the only ways to see Google’s actual behavior on your site.
  3. Identify Issues: Identify any issues with crawling.

Remember, a well-optimized website is not just user-friendly, but also crawler-friendly and search engine-friendly!

How Can You Improve Your Site’s Crawling and Indexing?

There are several ways to make your site more crawler-friendly and ensure it gets indexed properly:

  1. Sitemaps: Sitemaps tell search engines about new or updated pages on your site.
  2. URL Structure: Organize your content so that URLs are constructed logically and are easily understood by humans.
  3. Robots.txt File: This file tells search engine crawlers which pages or files they can or can't request from your site.
  4. Canonicalization: This is a way to tell Google about any duplicate pages on your site to avoid excessive crawling.
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