Why Exposing Targeted Search Results Pages Can Be SEO Gold – Here’s Why #259

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Many SEOs strongly believe that you never want to expose your search pages to indexation. Is that a myth?

In this episode of the award-winning Here’s Why digital marketing video series, Eric Enge and John Dietrich reveal that there are cases where exposing a targeted group of search pages for indexation makes a lot of sense for SEO.

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Eric: Hey, everybody, Eric Enge here. I’m the Principal for the Digital Marketing Solutions Business Unit at Perficient. And welcome to another episode of “Here’s Why.” Today, please help me welcome John Dietrich. John is an Organic Search Strategist specializing in technical SEO at Perficient. John and his team help create digital marketing success for mid-sized businesses as well as large enterprises. Say hi, John.

John: Hi, Eric. Thanks for having me on.

Eric: Absolutely. So, John, there’s a strong belief out there that you never want to expose your search pages to indexation. What do you think about that?

John: Yes, Eric, you know, I’ve heard that too. But there are cases where exposing a targeted group of search pages for indexation actually makes a lot of sense.

Eric: Agreed. But many people question whether there really are any search pages that are actually valuable to search engines.

John: You’re absolutely right. But in many cases, an e-commerce site will have relevancy gaps in their category pages.

Eric: That’s true. And for many e-commerce sites that may have good inventory that matches people’s search intent, but there are no really good category pages to house that inventory. In that case, it makes sense to think about exposing some specific query relevant search pages to Google so users can find what they’re looking for on your site. But can exposing too many of these pages to Google be a bad idea? I mean, a site could end up having thousands or even millions of URLs pointing to pages with little or no value for users or Google.

John: Absolutely. I mean, that’s a really good point. This technique can cause more harm than good, so definitely, proceed with caution. It’s critical to identify a specific set of search pages, which only fill those gaps in your existing architecture with high-quality and relevant content.

Eric: Great. So, we’re getting on the same page here. What’s next?

John: Yes. So what’s cloudy is now clearing up.

Next, what we would need to do is identify those gaps in the existing category structure. So, to do that, you’d need to do some competitive research to find out where there’s good search demand for the products that your site offers.

Eric: Right. And using the keywords from that research to find out where a site doesn’t already have category pages ranking reasonably well for those targeted terms can be a really good idea. When you have the inventory but don’t have a good category page ranking, that’s now when you start thinking about exposing a search page to meet that demand. So providing a targeted set of new queries relevant to your pages this way can bring you valuable new traffic to your site. But, I mean, is that all there is to it, John?

John: If only, right? But actually, there is some other steps that you need to take. So, what we need to do is convince Google that the new search pages that you’re exposing to indexation are actually worth the time and effort they take to index them. Google Search is very cautious about indexing new pages, particularly if they think that you’re exposing them accidentally. Some webmasters do this by accident, there are parameters in URLs so you can get into a situation where you’re exposing way too many pages to indexation, and that can happen accidentally. So, Google, again, they’re cautious about that. So, there are a few steps that you can take to convince them that you really know what you’re doing. For example, you can request indexation manually in Google Search Console. However, this is not a great option if you’re exposing a few hundred, maybe a few thousand, even, pages to Google because, of course, you don’t want to be manually entering that high number of URLs.

Eric: Sure.

John: Or you could create a sitemap, an XML sitemap. This is a SEO best practice, anyway, so you’re definitely going to want to include any canonical URLs in your XML sitemap. These new pages, of course, will be canonical as they’re exposed to search. So, creating an XML sitemap that has them is a good step as well.

You can also create an HTML sitemap. So, this would be a pretty good option. It does get your new pages into the crawl path. So, that’s important, right? But Google has indicated in the past that they don’t pass PageRank through HTML sitemap links. So, it could be considered a weak signal, though it should still help with the discovery of the new pages.

Eric: No, absolutely. All of that makes sense. In addition to the steps that you’ve mentioned, a site should also add links to their new pages and to already indexed and ranking pages. And this is, of course, your best bet, really, because it makes it look very natural and intentional, but it does require extra effort. To do this, look for pages which are relevant to some of the new search pages and add a link from those pages to the new one. Ideally, maybe even some of the other related category pages. And if you’re trying to do this at scale, you look for those category pages with an existing template where you can add a block of related links. So, maybe that would be one way to pull this sort of additional content in. This will require some tagging or other more automated system for associating links, but if you can get those algorithms worked out and the process set up properly, it can work really well.

John: Absolutely. Getting the appropriate level of internal PageRank flowing to the newly indexable search pages is definitely an important step. So, this will

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Eric Enge

Eric Enge is part of the Digital Marketing practice at Perficient. He designs studies and produces industry-related research to help prove, debunk, or evolve assumptions about digital marketing practices and their value. Eric is a writer, blogger, researcher, teacher, and keynote speaker and panelist at major industry conferences. Partnering with several other experts, Eric served as the lead author of The Art of SEO.

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