Before you show up on search engine results pages, Google has to know you exist. Plus, you’ll want it to show some pages while hiding others.
That’s where search engine indexing comes in.
What is SEO indexing?
In SEO, “indexing” refers to the process search engines use to collect and store information from websites, including yours. They organize this data in a massive library (or index), then use it to generate search engine results pages (SERPs) when a user searches for something related to your content.
The search engine index is formed through a series of crawls (also known as spiders or bots) that continually scan the internet for new content and updates on existing pages. Search engine crawlers follow links from one page to another, collecting information along the way.
For easier searching and filtration when someone types something into the search bar, they segment the index based on web pages and their corresponding keywords, topics, and other relevant identifiers.
In a sense, Google’s entire ranking system relies on indexing. It uses its repository of web pages and the keywords it actively associates with them to deliver content in a few seconds.
Otherwise, it would take forever to sift through billions of web pages every time someone searched for something.
Take us as an example. When you Google “Linkflow,” we pop up in a few seconds or less.
Google doesn’t even need to think about it. It automatically knows.
Why? Because we indexed our site.
How indexing works in SEO
Search engines like Google and Bing use what’s called an inverted index (sometimes called a reverse index) to organize and store information.
An inverted index is a database that contains an alphabetically sorted list of all unique words found on web pages throughout the internet. Whenever a user types something, it’s an efficient way for search engines to look up which pages contain the words that user inputs.
- In a standard index, you might have a list of web pages, with the content of each page listed under them.
- An inverted index flips this around. It lists all the words and phrases the search engine found across all pages. For each word, it lists all the pages where it appears.
This structure allows for quick searches, even over vast numbers of web pages, as the search engine can quickly find all pages that include the specific terms used in a search query.
Rather than search the entire internet, search engines use the index to quickly find pages that match the criteria. Then, they return them in an ordered list of what they believe is most relevant to the user’s query.
The order of these results comes down to three core elements of the broader ranking process:
- Crawling — Search engine bots read all the content on your page to discern what it’s about.
- Indexing — Then, they parse all that information and store it in their massive databank using a process called tokenization, which strips words to their core meaning.
- Ranking — Within the greater index, Google’s algorithm determines where to present your page based on its quality and contextual relevance.
The point of indexing is: When someone types certain keywords in a search engine, its database (or index) guarantees certain pieces of content are presented.
That’s why Google is consistent, reliable, and loved by billions.
Why is search engine indexing important?
That pretty much sums up why indexing matters in the context of how search engines work.
If you’re wondering, “What’s in it for me? Why should I care?” The answer is simple: if Google is guaranteed to present certain content when someone hits “Search,” you need yours to be on that list.
The whole purpose of SEO is to increase your visibility in search results.
How do you do that?
By ranking your content on the first page for the right keywords.
And how do you do that?
Well, a lot of ways. But first and foremost, by indexing your site.
How to check if your site is indexed by Google
You can do a Google search right now for a rough estimate of how many of your pages are in the Google index.
Type “site:yoursite.com” into the search bar.
This tells it to filter search results to pages that include your URL only. If that’s the only filter, it’ll simply return all of them.
To see whether Google indexes a particular page, you can use the URL Inspection tool in Google Search Console.
Simply copy and paste the URL of any page on your site into the tool, and Google will tell you whether it’s indexed or not.
If it is, you’ll see this message:
If it isn’t, you’ll see this message:
Should I index every page on my website?
There are certain pages you’ll want web crawlers to avoid for a number of reasons.
- Internal pages only accessible through a login. You don’t want to waste crawl budget on pages that the majority of people can’t access.
- Pages with duplicate content or low-quality content. This can harm your overall SEO efforts, so it may be best to use the “noindex” meta tag on these pages.
- Pages with sensitive information. If your site deals with sensitive data like personal information or financial details, you want to keep those pages out of the index for security reasons.
- Utility pages. Basic pop-up pages like “Thank You” pages after a form submission, policy pages, or internal search result pages don’t add any value to search engine users.
- Temporary content. For example, you might choose not to index a page that promotes an event or sale that’s only going to happen once (though you 100% should index and save URLs for annual or seasonal events).
- Development, test, or staging versions of your website. You’ll run into duplicate content issues if you index these.
For every other type of web page, it’s almost always a better idea to index.
- Your homepage
- Product pages
- Pricing information
- Blog content
- Pillar pages
- Landing pages
- About page
- Contact page
If it’s something you think someone might search Google for, you want to make sure you alert search engines to read and rank it.
Indexing and PageRank
PageRank is a Google algorithm that, believe it or not, actually nods to the company’s co-founder, Larry Page, rather than describing a way to rank your page. Seriously.
It’s a method of measuring the importance and relevance of a website based on the number and quality of links pointing to it.
So, if you have a lot of high-quality websites linking to your content, that can significantly boost your PageRank and, in turn, your chances of being indexed higher on search engine results pages.
How much link equity a link passes (i.e., how high-quality that link is in terms of the PageRank algorithm) depends on a few factors, like your content’s relevance, the authority of the site linking to you, and that site’s link profile.
Nofollow backlinks (which have the “rel= “nofollow” attribute) don’t pass PageRank.
How to get indexed by Google
For any search engine crawler to index your site, it has to come across it first.
You can submit your website to search engines directly through their respective webmaster tools or add a sitemap that lists all the pages you want indexed.
If done properly, Google will crawl and index all of your pages within a few weeks.
Let’s break down how to do that in four steps.
1. Request indexing for your home page.
If, upon running a URL inspection, you see Google hasn’t indexed your homepage, you’ll see a button in the bottom-right corner of the pop-up that says “Request indexing.”
As long as the rest of your site structure is good to go, search engines crawl through your homepage and discover the rest of your site.
2. Submit an XML sitemap to Google.
Your XML sitemap is what search engines use to understand the structure of your site and where all its pages are located.
That way, crawlers can prioritize which pages are most important to find.
To get yours indexed by Google:
- Go to the “Sitemaps” section in Google Search Console
- Enter the URL of your sitemap
- Click “Submit”
To save yourself the effort, you can use an SEO tool (like XML-Sitemaps) to generate your XML sitemap automatically.
To verify your sitemap has been submitted to Google, you can locate it in the root directory of your domain (normally www.yoursite.com/sitemap.xml or www.yoursite.com/sitemap_index.xml).
It’s worth mentioning that most website platforms (including Shopify, WordPress, and Webflow) create a sitemap for you automatically.
If you can’t find yours in the root domain, you can see if you can find its location in your robots.txt file (www.yoursite.com/robots.txt).
3. Create an easy-to-read site structure.
Google’s algorithm loves simplicity and organization. So do people.
So, to improve your chances of indexing, create a site structure that follows these rules:
- A clear hierarchy. The overall theme or topic of your website should naturally lead into supporting topics. For example, a recipe website would have main categories like “Breakfast,” “Lunch,” and “Dinner.” Each of those might have subcategories like “Vegetarian” or “Gluten-Free.”
- No orphaned pages. Orphan pages are those that don’t link to any other page on your site and aren’t linked to by other pages (so only accessible through a direct URL search). Since crawlers follow links, they’ll never find orphaned pages. It’s like walking down a dead-end hallway with no doors.
- Use breadcrumb navigation. This makes it easier for people to navigate your site and gives Google more context about the structure of your pages.
If you add your website as a project and integrate it with Google Search Console data, you can use an SEO tool like Ahrefs to look for orphaned pages.
You can also use Screaming Frog to find pages with no internal links.
If I’m stuck trying to figure out where to add internal links, I sometimes like to audit the page in Surfer as well.
It tells you which pages on your site would make good internal links. Plus, it tells you tons of other valuable information.
4. Build backlinks to your web pages.
Like I mentioned earlier, Google wants to expose its users to the most valuable and credible information.
And what better way to know for sure than to see how many other credible websites link to its content in theirs?
That’s why backlinks have always been Google’s (and other search engines’) best way of knowing which pages in its index to present to its users over others.
There are plenty of tactics you could use to get backlinks.
- Guest blogging
- Listicle mentions
- Interviews and podcasts
- System integrations (for SaaS SEO)
- Review sites
- Infographics and other visual content
If you’re new to the game, the best place to start is by looking at competitors’ link profiles. You can use the Link Intersect tool from Ahrefs.
Take a few of your competitors and see where their backlinks overlap.
Then, you’ll have a list of sites you could potentially reach out to and secure backlinks from.
Not all these are great. But you’ll find some solid ones in there.
- Listicles that mention others in your space but not you
- Niche directories and review sites you weren’t active on
- Solid guest post prospects
Before you consider any site for link building, check out its domain rating (DR) and URL rating (UR).
Also, look a little closer at who’s linking to them (and who else they link to).
If you see a bunch of spammy sites, move on.
Still having indexability problems?
You can run a Site Audit in Ahrefs and pull up an Indexability report.
Look for the following issues:
- Noindex follow page
- Noindex and nofollow page
- Noindex in HTML and HTTP header
When you click on the individual issues, you can see which pages they affect.
If you want these pages to be crawled by Google, you’ll have to remove the “noindex” tag from the HTML code or HTTP header.
Indexing is just the first step…
…in making your website visible to potential visitors.
To truly rank well and drive traffic, you’ll need to continuously create and publish high-quality, relevant content on your website.
You’ll also need to build links, manage the technical aspects, optimize for conversions, and regularly monitor and analyze your website’s performance.
That’s why you’re better off with someone in your corner.