Website Crawling: Unraveling the What, Why, and Optimal Optimization Techniques

Marc Strewart
7 min readJun 14, 2023

Unleashing the Power of Crawling: A Pathway to Digital Visibility

In the vast realm of websites, irrespective of size, crawling reigns supreme. Without content crawling, your chances of being noticed on Google surfaces are futile. It’s time to explore the art of optimizing crawling to give your content well-deserved exposure.

Understanding SEO Crawling

Crawling, within the realm of SEO, encompasses the systematic process wherein search engine bots, commonly known as web crawlers or spiders, diligently unearth content across websites. Whether it’s textual brilliance, captivating images, engaging videos, or any accessible file type, content discovery solely relies on the intricate web of interconnecting links.

The Mechanics of Web Crawling

A web crawler functions by unearthing URLs and acquiring page content. This intricate operation passes the content to the search engine index while simultaneously extracting links to other web pages. These discovered links can be classified into various categories:

  • New URLs: Unknown to the search engine, these URLs are subjected to periodic revisits, ensuring any modifications to the page’s content are duly updated in the search engine index.
  • Known URLs: These URLs may lack explicit crawling instructions. However, periodic revisits are essential to ascertain content changes and update the search engine index. XML Sitemap last mod date-time stamps are an effective means to signal the need for re-crawling and re-indexing.
  • Known URLs (unchanged): URLs that provide explicit crawling guidance but have remained unaltered. As the HTTP 304 Not Modified response header indicates, these URLs need not be re-crawled or re-indexed.
  • Inaccessible URLs: URLs that cannot or should not be followed, often due to login forms or links blocked by “No-Follow” robot tags.
  • Disallowed URLs: URLs deliberately excluded from search engine bot crawling through the robots.txt file.

All allowed URLs are added to the crawl queue, forming a list of pages for future visits. However, each URL is assigned varying priority levels, determined by its categorization and a range of factors that gauge its relative importance in the eyes of different search engines.

Different Bots, Different Behavior

It’s crucial to note that popular search engines deploy their unique bots, each governed by specific algorithms dictating their crawling patterns. Googlebot, Bingbot, DuckDuckBot, Yandex Bot, and Yahoo Slurp exhibit distinctive behavior. Hence, their crawling processes are different.

Embrace the nuances of crawling to master your digital presence across diverse search engines and soar to new heights of online visibility.

Unlocking the Depths: The Crucial Significance of Website Crawling

A site’s crawlability determines its ranking and indexing potential within search results. Yet, the significance of crawling extends far beyond mere visibility.

Swift crawling becomes paramount for time-sensitive content. Failing to crawl and grant quick visibility renders yesterday’s breaking news, expired events, or sold-out products irrelevant to users.

Even in non-time-sensitive industries, expedited crawling remains advantageous. When refreshing an article or implementing significant on-page SEO changes, speedy indexing by Googlebot leads to faster optimization benefits or swift error rectification.

The pace of Googlebot’s crawling influences the ability to iterate quickly and learn from mistakes.

Consider crawling the cornerstone of SEO, as your organic visibility hinges entirely on its execution within your website.

Measuring the Crawl: Analyzing Crawl Budget vs. Crawl Efficacy

Contrary to popular belief, Google does not aspire to crawl and index all content across the vast expanse of the internet.

Crawling individual pages is not guaranteed, and Googlebot has never crawled a significant portion of websites.

If the Google Search Console’s page indexing report displays the exclusion “Discovered — currently not indexed,” this issue undoubtedly impacts you.

However, this exclusion does not imply an absence of crawling issues.

Misconceptions surround the metrics deemed meaningful when evaluating crawling performance.

Shattering the Crawl Budget Myth: Unveiling the Truth

Within the realm of SEO, crawl budget is often hailed as the holy grail — a reflection of the number of URLs Googlebot can crawl within a specific time frame for a given website. However, the obsession with maximizing crawling is misguided. Increasing the total crawl count is a hollow pursuit, draining server resources and finances without guaranteeing faster (re)indexing of valuable content.

The proper focus should lie on quality crawling, minimizing the gap between publishing or updating SEO-relevant pages and Googlebot’s subsequent visits. This delay, known as crawl efficacy, is the key to meaningful optimization. By extracting creation or update timestamps from the database and comparing them to Googlebot’s crawl timestamps or utilizing XML sitemaps and the Search Console URL Inspection API, you can accurately measure the impact of crawl optimizations.

As crawl efficacy diminishes, newly created or updated SEO-related content experiences expedited visibility on Google surfaces. If your site’s crawl efficacy score reveals prolonged delays, exploring strategies for optimizing crawling is crucial.

Support from Search Engines: A New Era in Crawling

In recent years, the focus on improving crawling efficiency has gained momentum among search engines and their partners. This concerted effort not only empowers search engines with access to superior content for delivering results but also contributes to a greener ecosystem by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The spotlight often falls on two APIs designed to optimize crawling. Instead of search engine spiders determining what to crawl, websites can proactively push relevant URLs directly to search engines via the API, triggering prompt crawls. In theory, this approach expedites the indexing of fresh content and offers an effective means to remove outdated URLs — an area where search engines currently lack robust support.

Embrace the evolving landscape of crawling and harness its potential to elevate your SEO endeavors to new heights.

Expanding Horizons: IndexNow’s Support Beyond Google

Among the APIs dedicated to crawling, the first one worth mentioning is IndexNow. This API finds support from Bing, Yandex, and Seznam, offering a promising avenue for SEO improvement. It seamlessly integrates with various SEO tools, CRMs, and CDNs, potentially minimizing the development effort required to leverage its benefits.

However, it’s crucial to proceed with caution. Assess whether your target audience predominantly utilizes the search engines supported by IndexNow. If not, triggering crawls from these bots may yield limited value. Furthermore, evaluate the trade-off between server weight and crawl efficacy score improvement for those search engines. The costs incurred may outweigh the potential benefits.

The Google Indexing API: Support from the Giant

The second API on the radar is the Google Indexing API. Google has explicitly stated that this API should only be used for crawling pages with a job posting or broadcast event markup. However, numerous tests have debunked this claim.

By submitting non-compliant URLs to the Google Indexing API, you may observe a significant increase in crawling activity. However, this is a prime example of why “crawl budget optimization” and solely focusing on the quantity of crawling are misguided approaches.

Submitting them through the API has no impact on indexing for non-compliant URLs. On deeper contemplation, this rationale becomes apparent. When a URL is submitted, Google quickly crawls the page to determine if it contains the specified structured data. If it does, indexing is expedited; if not, the page is disregarded.

Hence, calling the API for non-compliant pages serves no purpose other than burdening your server with unnecessary load and wasting development resources with no tangible gain in return.

Unleashing the Power of Google Search Console

Within the realm of Google Search Console, a way to receive direct support from Google through manual URL submission exists.

Most URLs submitted via this method are crawled and have their indexing status updated within an hour. However, a limit of 10 URLs within 24 hours poses a scalability challenge.

Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean dismissing its potential.

By automating the submission process for high-priority URLs using scripting techniques that emulate user actions, you can expedite crawling and indexing for select crucial pages. In my testing, clicking the “Validate fix” button on “discovered currently not indexed” exclusions did not accelerate crawling.

When search engines provide limited assistance, exploring self-help strategies is essential.

Efficient Site Crawling: Five Tactics for Success

> Ensure a Swift and Robust Server Response

A high-performing server is paramount. It should handle the desired amount of crawling by Googlebot without negatively impacting response time or encountering errors. Monitor the host status report in Google Search Console, monitor 5xx errors, which should be below 1%, and ensure server response times remain under 300 milliseconds.

> Eliminate Valueless Content

Low-quality, outdated, or duplicated content on a website diverts crawlers from accessing new or recently updated content while contributing to index bloat. Start by checking the Google Search Console pages report for the exclusion “Crawled — currently not indexed.” Identify folder patterns or other issues and address them by merging similar content with a 301 redirect or removing irrelevant content with a 404 response.

> Instruct Googlebot on What Not to Crawl

While rel=canonical links and Noindex tags help maintain a clean Google index, they come at the cost of crawling resources. Evaluate if certain pages need to be crawled and, if not, utilize a robots.txt disallow directive to prevent Googlebot from accessing them. Look for instances in the Google Search Console coverage report where blocking the crawler may be preferable to providing indexing instructions. Additionally, review “Indexed, not submitted in sitemap” and “Discovered — currently not indexed” URLs and block non-SEO relevant routes, such as parameter pages or unimportant images, scripts, or API URLs.

> Instruct Googlebot on What and When to Crawl

An optimized XML sitemap is a powerful tool to guide Googlebot toward SEO-relevant URLs. Ensure your sitemap dynamically updates with minimal delay and includes the last modification date and time, informing search engines of significant changes and the need for recrawling.

> Facilitate Crawling Through Internal Links

Crawling relies on links, and while external links are valuable but challenging to acquire in large numbers, internal links offer scalability and significant impacts on crawl efficacy. Pay special attention to mobile sitewide navigation, breadcrumbs, quick filters, and related content links, ensuring they function without dependence on JavaScript.

Optimizing Web Crawling for Enhanced SEO

Undoubtedly, website crawling forms the bedrock of effective SEO. With crawl efficacy as a tangible key performance indicator, you now have the means to measure and optimize your site’s performance, propelling your organic rankings to new heights.



Marc Strewart

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