So, you've just had a heart attack after discovering a lot of your pages -- or maybe just a few important pages -- have gone from Google's main index into the supplemental index.
Google's supplemental index is essentially a backup database of web pages. When Google can't find an adequate supply of matching pages in its main index (where you want to be), it'll show pages from the supplemental index (where you don't want to be). You can tell a supplemental listing very easily: look for the phrase "Supplemental Result" in green text on the bottom line of your Google listing.
Why do pages end up in the supplemental index?
1) Duplicate content. This is often the main reason a page ends up in the supplemental index.
2) Too many variables (parameters) in the URL. Google mentions this on the "help" page linked up above.
3) Poor overall link profile. Matt Cutts specifically mentioned earlier this year that the Bigdaddy software upgrade would result in more supplemental results for "sites where our algorithms had very low trust in the inlinks or the outlinks of that site. Examples that might cause that include excessive reciprocal links, linking to spammy neighborhoods on the web, or link buying/selling."
4) The page is buried. Orphaned pages are candidates to go supplemental. These are pages which can only be reached by a deep crawl of your site's internal links, or pages which can't be reached at all.
Getting Out of Google's Supplemental Index
Supplemental indexing is, to a degree, a matter of trust. So the first question you have to ask yourself is, Am I absolutely positive there are no other "trust" reasons why Google would toss my pages into the supplemental index? Have I done anything suspicious in the past? Has my webmaster or SEO expert done something wrong?
Assuming the answer is NO, here are some ways to help get your pages out of the supplemental index:
1. Eliminate the duplicate content issues on your pages. Page TITLE and meta Description tags should be unique (and meta Keywords, too, if you use it). Try to limit as much duplicate content as possible. It's okay to have a common header, footer, and site menu on your pages — as long as your pages have enough other content to offset the common stuff. It's not okay for your red widget and blue widget product pages to have the same exact product description and page content, with the exception of the color.
2. Improve the content on the supplemental pages. As mentioned in #1, pages with little or no content are strong candidates to land in the supplemental index. That's especially true if the amount of duplicate content (header, footer, etc.) is substantially more than the non-duplicate content.
3. Improve your site architecture. If you have pages that are 4-5 levels deep (i.e., below or away from the home page), redo that structure so the pages aren't buried like that. Make it easier for the crawler to reach all your pages.
4. Improve your internal linking. Have a site map that includes links to all your pages. This'll help make sure pages don't get orphaned. Be sure to link to the site map from your home page so the crawlers can find it — and all those links — easily.
5. Fix your link profile. Who you link to and who links to you impacts the level of trust Google gives you, and less trust often equals more supplemental pages.
6. Fix your URLs. Do you really need to pass 3-4 variables in the URL? Cut down on the parameters. Keep your URLs as simple as possible.
7. Are you a theft victim? If someone has stolen your content, it's possible Google is ranking the stolen content on the other site instead of yours. Use a service like Copyscape to check for content theft. Plagiarism Today is another good resource to learn about stopping content theft, with specific instructions for contacting the offending party/parties.
8. If all else fails, take drastic measures. Rename/save all the supplemental pages with a new URL and link to the "new" pages somewhat prominently on your site — the site map idea mentioned above would be a good start. And then do a 301 redirect from the old URLs to the new ones. (This is obviously a lot of work if you have a lot of pages in the supplemental index.)
9. And finally, tell Google what's going on. When you're convinced you've exhausted all of these issues, use Google's Webmaster Central to submit your URLs directly into Google's brain.
And no matter what path you take to fix the problem, be patient. Google isn't known for quick reflexes when webmasters push to get pages back into the main index.
Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
Matt McGee is SEO Manager at Marchex, a search and media company in Seattle, Washington. He's guided successful projects for clients of all sizes and budgets, with special emphasis on traffic acquisition via organic rankings. Matt is a speaker at the Search Engine Strategies conferences, and writes about online marketing at Small Business SEM. He's a frequent contributor to several SEO/SEM forums, and is a moderator for the Small Business Ideas Forum.
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