Getting more pages into the Google Search results might seem like one of the main priorities for any website, but there are times when this can result in ‘index bloat’ with negative consequences for your SEO campaigns.

Index bloat is when a very large number of pages from your website flood the search results with irrelevant, low-value content, making it harder for your own priority pages to achieve a good ranking.

This leaves you competing with yourself for a front-page Google result, and even if somebody finds your website when searching for your target SEO keywords, they’re less likely to land on the page you would want them to find first.

How to diagnose index bloat

If you think you might have a case of index bloat, a professional SEO audit can help to confirm it.

Some of the symptoms of index bloat include:

  • Obsolete or irrelevant pages appearing high in search results.
  • Archive, index and category pages ranking higher than actual content.
  • Dynamic URLs leading to pages indexed multiple times.

There’s a good chance that if you suspect your website is suffering from index bloat, it probably is, even if you can’t find the specific source of the problem.

In many cases, there’s a more technical cause and you might need a technical SEO audit to spot it.

For example, you might have pages that have moved, updated pages that are still being indexed in their old form, or development areas of your site that should not be indexed at all.

Why is index bloat bad?

Index bloat can lead to low-quality content ranking higher in the search results than your more carefully crafted — and higher converting — online marketing landing pages.

This makes it more difficult for the ‘good’ pages on your site to rank higher, and can also lower the perceived quality of your website overall if your highest ranked results appear spammy, irrelevant or of low quality.

Finally, it can also have hardware implications, as Google and the other search engines may be using large amounts of your bandwidth as they crawl through the hundreds or even thousands of irrelevant pages.

More recently index bloat has become even more of a problem, as Google has cut off total search results after 300-400 links for several years and since June 2019, usually will not show more than two links to the same domain on the first results page.

That means if your preferred landing page was previously third in the rankings behind two of your own pages, it now might not appear at all.

How to recover from index bloat?

There are a few technical ways to recover from index bloat, including delisting the unwanted pages, eliminating duplicate and dynamic URLs from your site, and controlling future indexing using meta robot tags.

But the first step is to understand the scale of the problem you’re dealing with and exactly what features of your website have caused it in the first place.

That’s where a professional technical SEO audit can help to flag up those factors and ensure that any actions you take to recover from index bloat are going to be the most effective they can be.