Published on June 10, 2023

How to Guide Googlebot in Crawling Important URLs

How to Guide Googlebot in Crawling Important URLs

SEO success extends beyond quality content—it requires a deep understanding of technical elements like crawling. If we look at the initial stage of Google’s process, crawling lays the groundwork for indexing and ranking. Together, these determine your SERP potential.

However, before content can be indexed, it must first be crawled. And when you’re dealing with limited crawl budgets on JavaScript-heavy websites, crawl budget efficiency becomes vital.

In this blog post, we will discuss the fundamentals of crawl efficiency and how to guide Googlebot in crawling certain web pages. We’ll break down everything you need to know about this powerful tool, step-by-step. By the end, you’ll be equipped with practical strategies to unlock its full potential and optimize your website for success in Google Search. We’ve also included both reactive solutions, like the identification and removal of low-value pages, as well as proactive strategies, like prerendering.

Understanding Google Search Console

Google Search Console is a free service offered by Google specifically for website owners and developers. It provides a comprehensive suite of tools to help you monitor and optimize your website’s performance in Google Search results.

Here’s a breakdown of what Google Search Console can do for you:

  • Monitor Crawling and Indexing: Track how Google crawls and indexes your website’s content. This allows you to identify any potential issues that might prevent your website from appearing in search results.
  • Fix Crawl Errors: Identify and troubleshoot crawl errors that might be hindering your website’s visibility. These errors could be broken links, server issues, or problems with robots.txt files.
  • Submit Sitemaps: Easily submit your website’s Sitemap to Google. A Sitemap is a file that lists all the important pages on your website, helping Google understand your website structure and content.
  • Analyze Mobile Usability: Test how mobile-friendly your website is. With the increasing number of mobile users, ensuring a seamless mobile experience is crucial.
  • Improve Search Ranking: By addressing crawl errors, optimizing website structure, and ensuring mobile-friendliness, you can improve your website’s ranking in Google Search results, potentially leading to more organic traffic.

Crawl Errors in Google Search Console

Crawl errors are roadblocks that prevent search engine crawlers from accessing and indexing your website effectively. By understanding and fixing them, you can improve your website’s visibility in search results.

Common Crawl Errors:

  • Server Errors: When a server fails to respond to Googlebot’s requests, it results in server errors. These can be caused by server issues, DNS problems, or downtime.
  • Soft 404 Errors: These occur when a page displays a “page not found” message but returns a success code (200) instead of a proper 404 code. This confuses search engines and hinders indexing.

Resolving Crawl Errors:

  • Check server logs: Identify issues causing server errors and fix them.
  • Monitor server health: Regularly check logs to catch recurring errors promptly.
  • Fix soft 404s: Ensure pages displaying “page not found” messages return the correct 404 code and provide helpful information to users.

By addressing crawl errors, you ensure your website is properly crawled and indexed, leading to better search ranking and organic traffic.

Understanding Crawl Stats in Search Console

Google Search Console’s Crawl Stats data gives you a window into how Googlebots interact with your website. Here are two key metrics to watch:

  • Pages Crawled per Day: This shows how often Googlebots visit your site. Significant changes might indicate issues or the impact of recent updates.
  • Average Download Time: This measures how long it takes Googlebots to download your pages. A sudden increase could point to performance problems hindering efficient crawling.

By monitoring these metrics, you can identify potential roadblocks and ensure Googlebots can crawl your website smoothly.

Understanding Crawl Efficiency

By now, you know that Google assigns a specific crawl budget to each website, indicating the number of URLs crawled per cycle. But crawl efficiency, on the other hand, refers to the effective use of your crawl budget. It heavily influences the way Google discovers and indexes your new or updated content.

Here are some other factors that influence crawl efficiency.

The Crawl Rate Limit

According to Google, the crawl rate limit is the “maximum fetching rate for a given site.”

This limit isn’t static across all sites and is determined by several factors, including your server’s health status and the use of redirects. A responsive server with few errors increases Googlebot’s crawl rate limit, enabling it to crawl a larger number of your URLs.

A common reason for hitting the crawl rate limit quickly is redirects. While redirects help Google when content moves to a new URL, the overuse of this setting can quickly eat into your crawl budget.

Optimizing your redirect chains can conserve your crawl budget and improve crawl efficiency, e.g. by making sure to update navigation links with the new URL instead of relying on redirects.

To add, Googlebot favors fresh content and frequently updated sites. Regular updates signal to Googlebot that your site likely requires more frequent crawls.

Clear and Logical Structure

A well-structured site acts as an easy-to-follow roadmap.

If there’s proper internal linking, even better! The reason for this is it will guide Googlebot to crucial pages, reducing time spent on low-value ones. You can also instruct Googlebot on which pages to crawl and index by using Robots Meta Tags like no-index or no-follow. For instance, placing nofollow on your /blog page in favor of relying on category pages, providing Googlebot with more context when crawling blog posts. Of course, this would require proper linking to category pages to be efficient.

Moreover, a clean and logical URL structure promotes efficient crawling and indexing, as a well-structured URL that accurately represents its content helps Googlebot understand and index it.

Identify and Remove Low-Value Pages

Low-value pages typically include outdated promotions, thin content with minimal or no value, duplicate content resulting from URL parameter issues, and dynamically generated pages that don’t offer unique value. When Googlebot spends its time crawling these pages, your crawl budget is quickly exhausted.

Familiarize Yourself with Google’s Quality Guidelines

Firstly, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with Google’s Quality Guidelines. By understanding these guidelines, you can discern pages that might not meet Google’s standards. Aim to align your content with these guidelines, ensuring that your website is in line with Google’s preferred standards.

For instance, duplicate content can hinder your SEO efforts, leading to lower rankings.

You can make use of tools such as Seobility to identify and address duplicate content across your site. By ensuring each page features unique and relevant content, you reduce the number of pages Googlebot will have to crawl, and you amplify the potential for every page to rank well in search engine results.

Every page should serve a clear, valuable purpose for users. Pages with duplicated content, auto-generated pages, or those that don’t provide a unique service or information often fall into the low-value category. Regularly evaluate the purpose of your pages to ensure they are user-centric and contribute positively to your overall website strategy.

Utilize Tools and Techniques

Google Analytics can provide valuable insights into pages that users find less valuable. Metrics like bounce rates and average time on page can hint at user dissatisfaction with certain pages. High bounce rates and low average time on page typically point towards content that doesn’t meet user expectations. However, remember to consider all factors, as a high bounce rate may just mean that users found their answers quickly.

SEO auditing tools, like SEMrush and Ahrefs, can be incredibly helpful in identifying low-value pages. These tools provide comprehensive site audits, highlighting issues like poor keyword rankings, broken links, and weak backlink profiles. Regular audits help you keep track of your pages’ performance, allowing you to promptly address any issues that arise.

For a quick and easy fix, you can use a no-index tag for single pages, and robots.txt for entire directories or single pages. With these, you can block Googlebot from crawling low-value pages, guiding it instead to the more important and valuable sections of your site. To be clear, cleaning up and optimizing your site as a whole is the preferred approach, but simply blocking low-value pages may be a good first step.

Your Sitemap is Key to Crawl Budget Optimization

Your sitemap.xml file serves as a roadmap to your site’s most critical pages for Googlebot. However, there’s a trove of opportunities lying beneath the surface that can be harnessed to maximize your crawl budget. (*Note that sitemaps are particularly crucial for large websites, new websites, sites with large archives, or sites using rich media or appearing in Google News.) In these cases, a well-structured and regularly updated sitemap.xml file can significantly enhance crawl efficiency.

Effective Use of XML Tags

XML tags can serve as guiding beacons for Googlebot. For instance, the <priority> tag allows you to indicate the importance of each page relative to other pages on your site. This doesn’t necessarily guarantee these pages will be crawled more often, but it signals to Googlebot which pages you deem most important.

The <lastmod> tag is another useful tag, as it provides Googlebot with the date a page was last modified. As Googlebot prefers fresh content, making regular updates and correctly utilizing the <lastmod> tag can attract more crawls to your important pages.

It’s also possible to include more than URLs in your sitemap. By incorporating media such as images and videos using <image:image> and <video:video> tags, you can enhance Googlebot’s discovery and indexing of these resources. This can be especially useful if your site relies heavily on rich media to engage users, or if you’re using Javascript to load images after the page has rendered, as Google won’t see those.

Structure Your Sitemap

A single sitemap.xml file can contain up to 50,000 URLs, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you should aim to reach this limit. Overloading your sitemap could potentially lead to slower load times and an inefficient crawl. Keep your sitemap lean and focused on your most important pages to ensure optimal crawl efficiency.

Consider segmenting your sitemap by content type, such as blog posts, product pages, and others. For larger sites boasting numerous sitemaps, a sitemap index file is often preferred. A sitemap index file is essentially a sitemap of sitemaps, allowing you to neatly organize your multiple sitemaps and guide Googlebot through them effectively. This ensures even your largest websites are crawled and indexed efficiently.

Test Before You Submit

Lastly, always remember to test your sitemap for errors using Google Search Console before submitting it. This preemptive measure can save you from potential pitfalls down the line and ensure Googlebot can crawl your sitemap as intended.

The JavaScript Challenge

JavaScript’s loading can delay the rendering of content on your pages.

Googlebot, on a tight crawl budget, might not wait for these elements to load, leading to missed content and a less accurate representation of your page in Google’s index. The question is, how can we mitigate this issue? The answer lies in two primary solutions: dynamic rendering and prerendering.

Dynamic rendering involves serving a static HTML version of your page to bots while delivering the usual JavaScript-heavy page to users. However, as stated in the official Google documentation, dynamic rendering is a workaround, given the complexity of implementation. Conversely, open-source tools like Prerender make the process effortless.

Related: How to Install Prerender

The prerendering process detects whether a user or a bot is requesting a page, ensuring that the 100% cached version is served to bots and the dynamic one to users. Prerendering also impacts perceived page speed as Googlebot receives a fully rendered HTML snapshot, indirectly boosting your SEO.

Services like Single Page Applications (SPAs) present a unique scenario. These applications heavily rely on JavaScript, making them particularly susceptible to crawl issues. However, prerendering ensures that all content of a SPA is discoverable by Googlebot. And, as prerendering can be implemented on your CDN—e.g. by using Cloudflare Workers—getting it implemented requires no code changes or support for specific frameworks like React or Vue.

Start Optimizing Crawl Budget and Efficiency

The process of guiding Googlebot to effectively crawl important URLs is no easy task, but it’s one well worth undertaking. By identifying and blocking low-value pages, optimizing your sitemap.xml, and embracing prerendering services, you can enhance your crawl efficiency and boost SEO performance.

Try Prerender today to improve your site’s indexation rate and speed.

Test it for free for the first 1,000 renders.

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