Everything We Know About Google’s Recent Indexing Issues

by Ben Austin Absolute Digital Media

As with any website or service, Google, over the years, has run into its fair share of problems. From concerns surrounding privacy to global outages on Gmail and Google Drive, the search engine has battled with a variety of legal and technical issues since it’s incorporation back in 1998. The most recent issue to rear its ugly head has been a series of indexing issues, initially starting in early April.

It first began with de-indexing across the entire search engine for some sites and pages and while this issue was resolved, went on to cause issues with Google Search Console. More recently, we’ve also seen indexing issues across Google News, with a number of publishers failing to see their previously indexed posts within the results.

In light of these issues, we’ve been looking deeper into exactly what has gone wrong and what Google has been doing to fix it.

What Was Google’s Indexing Issue?

Between 4th-5th April, the marketing world was faced with countless initial reports from webmasters claiming that their URLs and webpages had dropped from Google’s index.

At first, there was no clear explanation, but as an increasing number of people were reporting issues, experts were quickly questioning whether a bug had overtaken the search engine. There were cases of brands losing the indexing of their homepage, with up to 50 per cent – and in some cases more – of their pages also dropping from the SERPs completely despite initially ranking.

For this reason, it became clear that this wasn’t a case of ranking issues or an algorithm update, but instead a direct issue with the indexing system.

These issues were visible in both Google’s Search Console (GSC), as well as when using the ‘site: [insert URL]’ command in the search engine itself. The Inspect URL tool on GSC acted as a way for SEOs, marketers and webmasters alike to track and inspect pages that were missing and tweets were soon flooding in to Google officials.

Initially, Google’s John Mueller had been responding to a number of these tweets with promises and comments that he would be looking into issues for some of those tweeting at him directly. On the following day, he confirmed indexing issues but claimed that they had been solved.

Despite this claim, however, the issues appeared to still be ongoing all the way up until April 10th.

How Were The Google Indexing Issues Resolved?

For branded sites who rely on Google to send them traffic, this indexing issue was one that needed a solution – and fast. However, Google hadn’t completely restored indexing functionality until 10th April – around 6 days after the initial reports. While Google hasn’t reported quite how widespread this issue became or what the ‘technical issue’ behind the de-indexing of sites was, reports suggest that this affected a huge chunk of the search engine’s standard index and continued to do so despite the company claiming it had been solved beforehand.

The first claim of a resolution came with the aforementioned tween from John Mueller but the following morning, he went on to confirm that there were still some issues with the reprocessing of certain pages and websites. The advice was to resubmit URLs through the URL inspection tool and while this seemed to be the clear way to resolve the reported issue, this didn’t appear to remedy the concerns.

On April 9th, Google Search Liaison tweeted about the indexing issues.

True to their word, the issue was reported to be resolved on April 10th after John Mueller reported that Google would be going through the last few data servers, updating them with the new index.

What Were The Issues With Google Search Console?

Despite the indexing issue being resolved, Google Search Console was still being affected by the issue in the week following the fix. Two of the most widely affected issues came with leading analytics reports – particularly index coverage and enhancement reports, which weren’t updating despite the fix to the main index. The URL Inspection tool was also proving faulty, with incorrect data that didn’t show the true status of the URL and whether it has been indexed or not.

Google claimed that, while these reports weren’t working correctly, all users of the Search Console could still submit URLs to be inspected, particularly in cases where their pages still weren’t appearing in the SERPs.

In general, webmasters were advised to use Google itself to determine the status of their URLs and pages, rather than the report on Search Console. Where pages still weren’t appearing to be indexed, it was possible to resubmit URLs for checking, however, if there were issues specific to the website or the webpage, webmasters were unable to see what this issue was or how to solve it.

Google has been working to fix this, with claims that they would announce when the issue was fully resolved.

Google News

This week, we’ve also seen issues relating to Google News – Google’s separate index for news articles and related content. Google Search Liaison confirmed on the 16th April that they were aware of an issue relating to Google News content, that affected ‘a limited number of publishers’.

As it currently stands, there has been no confirmation as to what has caused the issues or what can be done to resolve it. Instead, a number of publishers are simply seeing their news stories failing to be listed or being removed from Google’s News index. Currently, there appears to be nothing that these publishers can do to resolve or encourage a solution to the problem and so they are being left to wait until a solution is found.

The past few weeks have been rocky for the search engine, with these indexing issues affecting a growing number of webmasters and websites across the index. While the initial error was fixed, they appear to still be working on resolving problems with Search Console and Google News, so it’s all a matter of keeping an eye on Google’s platforms to see what happens.

Absolute Digital Media will be at our Digital Marketing Summit on Thursday 25 April to answer your questions. For more information regarding the event you can view the full agenda here.

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