The Ultimate Guide to Crawlability for Search Engines


If you were asked to think about the most essential components of SEO, which ones come to mind? Content? Backlinks?

These are both critical factors for getting your site in front of your most valuable online audience, but they don’t tell the whole story.

Two key components you need to seriously consider are crawlability and indexability.


Crawlability and indexability can make or break a site. Regardless of how great your content is or how many backlinks it boasts, your pages could decline in the rankings if it’s not crawlable and indexable. 


Improving your site’s crawlability and indexability can increase your chances of ranking higher in the SERPs and working your way toward the coveted first position.

The results? Becoming more visible to those who matter most to your business. In this post, we’ll give you details and five methods to increase your control over these factors.


How Do Search Engines Work?

It’s estimated that there are 5.6 billion searches on Google per day.  You’re not alone if you feel like search engines are more magic than mechanics. But the truth lies in the inner workings of a sophisticated system.


Google’s system constantly maps the web, browsing billions of pages to create an index. Think of that index as a colossal library of information, accessible to anyone at any time via a simple Google search.

To be able to hand you the most relevant results for your search, Google employs web crawlers.


Web crawlers are bots with a one-track mind. They follow links on the web with a singular goal of discovering and indexing new content, cultivating Google’s ever-growing index, and organizing information


Crawlability is a term that describes how easy it is for a search engine to access and understand the content on a page. 


On a site with no crawlability problems, web crawlers have no issue accessing all of its content by easily following a map of links between various pages.

If a site is littered with broken links and dead ends, crawlability problems abound. 


Indexability is a crucial term referring to a search engine’s ability to inspect a page and add it to its database of web pages.

Google might be able to crawl a site, but if there are persistent indexability problems, it may not be able to index every page.


How Do Search Engines Work


How Does Indexing Work?

Indexers get their hands on a page’s content from the crawler and analyze the page’s content, taking note of key signals. They track it all in the search index. Once a page is added to an index, it’s indexable.


Check whether your site’s pages are in Google’s index by typing “site:” in front of your URL. If there are missing pages, check the technical SEO of the site to identify issues that would prevent Google from indexing them. 


Partnering with an experienced SEO company is the best way to check the quality of your site’s technical SEO. They can conduct audits and gain deeper visibility into what’s working and what’s not.


Also checkout – How to know if your website is SEO friendly


What Is the Difference Between Site and Page Crawlers?

Two common types of crawls gather content from a website.


  • Site crawls are attempts at crawling an entire site at once, beginning with the home page. After grabbing links from the home page, crawlers continue across other pages of the site. We call this “spidering.” 


  • Page crawls are when crawlers attempt to crawl one page or a single blog post.


What Affects Your Site’s Crawlability and Indexability


What Affects Your Site’s Crawlability and Indexability?

There are a variety of components that affect a site’s crawlability and indexability. Here are just a few common examples.


1. Internal Links

Web crawlers travel through a site by following links, just like you would. Crawlers can only find pages that are linked to other content.

This is why having a solid internal link structure is vital to ensuring your site is crawlable

Poor internal linking structures send crawlers to a dead end, which leads to pages missing from the search index.


2. Site Structure

A website’s structure is how it organizes its information. It is the foundation of a site’s crawlability. Strong structures mean crawlers can find all the pages on your site and properly index them. 


On the other hand, weak structures can make it difficult for crawlers to access pages and can create crawlability and indexability problems.

A weak structure comes from a lack of linking between pages and a poor organizational system, leading crawlers to hit dead ends and miss crucial content.


3. Broken Redirects

If a site is polluted with broken page redirects or broken server redirects, crawlers will likely be stopped in their tracks.


4. Unsupported Technology and Scripts

A lesser-known fact about crawlers is that certain page elements block them from accessing content on a site.

For example, crawlers can’t travel across forms. That means if you have content locked behind a form, a crawler can’t index that content. Errors in code have a similar effect.

Sometimes, you have pages you want to block from public access. In this case, restricting crawler access would also block it from search engines.


How Can You Control Indexing and Crawling?

There’s no need to roll the dice regarding the crawling and indexing process. You can take control and make your preferences clear to search engines.

This allows you to dictate the most important sections of your site, which helps search engines understand what you value.


Methods to Control Indexing and Crawling


5 Methods to Control Indexing and Crawling

Search engine crawlers are allotted a certain amount of time per site. This is known as a crawl budget. You want crawlers to spend that budget wisely, and to do that, you have to tell them what to do.


While these DIY techniques can be powerful forces when directing crawlers and indexers on your site, having a dedicated SEO team in your corner can maximize your efforts. 


Here are five methods to instruct bots (crawlers and indexers) on your site.

1. Robots.txt

Your robots.txt file is a central location that lays basic ground rules for crawlers coming onto your site. These ground rules are known as directives


If crawlers are deterred from a URL, they will be unable to request access to its content and links. Indexers won’t be able to analyze the content, which can prevent duplicate content and keep the URL from ranking. To keep crawlers from crawling certain URLs, use robots.txt. 


You might want to stop crawlers from crawling your site’s admin page. Let’s say your admin section lives on:


Block crawlers from accessing this page by employing the following directive in the robots.txt:


Disallow: /admin

A Word of Warning

You aren’t required to have a robots.txt file. Millions of sites do just fine without one, but they can be advantageous for regaining more control over your site.

If you do decide to use one, take care not to block crawlers from your site entirely. 


If there is any code in your robots.txt that looks like this:


User-agent: *

Disallow: /

This code will block crawlers from accessing your site altogether.


2. Robots Directive

Using the robots directive allows you to instruct search engines on how to index pages while keeping the page viewable for visitors. The robots directive creates a stronger signal than the canonical URL


To implement the robots directive, include the meta robots tag in the source. To employ it across PDFs or images, use the X-Robots-Tag HTTP header. 


You might want to use this tool if you have multiple landing pages for paid ads. Indexing each page would cause issues with duplicate content, so instead, you include the robot’s directive and the no-index attribute.


3. Hreflang Attribute

The hreflang link attribute (also recognized as rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x”) tells search engines what language your site’s content is in and what geographical region it’s meant for.

It enables you to rank your pages in targeted markets.


If you have one page for the United States and one for the United Kingdom, having similar content on those pages isn’t a problem when you use the hreflang attribute.


4. Parameter Handling

Parameter handling is useful for sites of all sizes, especially when you don’t have a robust IT team.

Establishing parameters allows you to define how search engines should handle specific URLs. This includes telling Google not to crawl or index certain pages.

To leverage this beneficial tool, you’ll need URLs that are identifiable by patterns. 


You might use parameter handling when sorting, filtering, translating, or saving session data. This allows you to prevent search engines from crawling certain pages, which preserves the crawl budget.


5. HTTP Authentication

For a truly secure method of controlling bots on your site, implement HTTP authentication. It requires users and machines alike to log in to gain access to a site or a section of a site. 

No username or password? No entry. Crawlers and indexers won’t be able to get past the login screen and will be blocked from analyzing the content on the locked page. 


If you have secure and private information that you want to protect from Google, storing it in a password-protected directory on your site server is the most effective way to do that.

Web crawlers are unable to access content in password-protected directories.


Also read – Types of Flyers


Learn More About Crawlability

Crawlability and indexability are important concepts to master—and ever since Google started prioritizing mobile-first indexing in 2018, it’s been crucial to ensuring your site is crawlable, indexable, and works great on mobile devices. 

Learn more about mobile-first indexing to ensure your site is ready to compete for the top spot.


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