Not Even Google is Immune to Bugs
Did you notice a dip in website traffic last weekend? Was your revenue or other important KPIs impacted?
The hammer dropped on Sunday:
We’re aware of indexing issues that impacted some sites beginning on Friday. We believe the issues are mostly resolved and don’t require any special efforts on the part of site owners. We’ll provide another update when the issues are considered fully resolved.
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) April 7, 2019
Google’s SearchLiason Twitter account announced an internal bug that was randomly de-indexing sites. They thought things were under control and that site owners had nothing to do.
So what gives? We asked Digital Current’s Director of SEO & Paid Kevin Chow to demystify the situation for us.
Kevin, can you tell us what happened?
“Google does so many updates every day — every 13 hours, actually — so it’s not unheard of for its developers to make a mistake,” Kevin begins.
“With this particular bug, random pages on a website were being removed from Google’s search results pages, or index. It really seems to be totally random in terms of which pages are affected. Basically, that means some sites or pages were not showing up in SERPs (search engine results pages) on Google, not because the site owner did anything wrong, but because Google itself ran into an issue.
Frustrating, I know!”
Kevin clarifies, “This wasn’t an algorithm update like March 2019’s, but an actual bug rooted in programming and development.”
Unfortunately, unlike the algorithm update, this event wasn’t making search better for anyone.
By Monday, the issue still wasn’t fixed.
We are still resolving the indexing issue that has impacted some pages. We’ve made further improvements and hope any remaining issues will be done within the next 12-24 hours. Will provide a further update when the issue is fully resolved.
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) April 8, 2019
So, is it fixed now?
Google worked hard on the issue, but on Tuesday, it still wasn’t totally solved.
The indexing issue should be almost completely resolved within the next eight hours. Some documents might take an additional 12-24 hours to restore. We’ll provide a further update when the issue is fully resolved.
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) April 9, 2019
It took a few days, but Google finally wrangled this problem Wednesday, nearly a week after the issue began.
The good news? This bug has been squashed
Google announced Wednesday evening that their indexing problem had been solved by its internal teams.
The indexing issue has now been fully resolved. We apologize for the inconvenience. We appreciate your patience as we restored normal operation.
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) April 11, 2019
So, what should I do now? How do I know if the Google bug bit me?
Good question. Kevin?
“You should be able to log into your Google Search Console and see your crawl coverage,” says the SEO wizard. “You can also look at Google Analytics to see if you notice a dip in traffic, or look to your keyword tracking tools and search for a drop in your keywords. Make sure you place a note on these dips, too, so there’s no mystery when you or someone else goes back to report”
If you want to check on important pages specifically, use a Google operator search and see if it shows up in the results.”
What’s a Google operator search? It uses the “site:” operator to focus Google only on the site you list. For instance one would enter, “site:https://www.yoursite.com/googlebugtest” into Google’s search bar and see if that site popped up. It should, unless it’s been de-indexed due to this bug.
OK, so how do I get my pages back on the index?
Another good question — you’re really on a roll here! Kevin can help.
“First, log into your Google Search Console and submit your site and pages that were de-indexed through the platform’s URL Inspection tool. You’ll have to do this page by page, unless you’re sure your site is robustly search-optimized. If that’s the case, you should be safe to simply submit your homepage for re-indexing and let Google do its thing to crawl the rest of your site.”
“Another option,” Kevin continues, “would be a good choice for sites with large sitemaps, because you could, technically, submit the sitemap itself. If that’s the case, you could submit the category page sitemaps for a quick route to re-indexing that will eventually apply to all of your categorized ecommerce listings.”
Kevin advises a two-day window for Google to catch up.
“If you don’t see pages re-indexed in 48 hours, you should reach out to a digital marketing/SEO agency that can guide you through solving more technical issues that may be affecting your site, beyond Google’s own bug.”
How can you protect yourself from Google bugs in the future?
The short, quick answer?
Really, this instance was an issue inside Google and those of us on the outside — well, even most of the people inside, save for a select few — are powerless to prevent a bug or avoid the fallout.
What you can do, though, is have a robust digital marketing team on your side. They’ll keep you in the best shape possible when it comes to SEO, content and site technicalities to ensure you’re on prime footing no matter what happens.
“With an SEO expert working for you, you can get in front of these issues as soon as possible,” says Kevin. “That way, the impact of a bug will be minimal and you’ll resume your place in search rankings sooner because Google can easily crawl your site again.”
What else can you do once you’ve got SEO experts behind you?
Kevin advises, “Set up alerts! Have automated systems in place to let you know immediately that there’s been a substantial drop in traffic or search ranking. That way, no matter what the cause, you know when something’s fishy.”
If you’re looking to protect yourself from the interruption and headache of Google bugs, whether they regard indexing or other elements, an SEO-equipped digital marketing agency is a must.
Not only can a company like Digital Current step in when there’s a crisis, we can set you up for success whether you’re launching a new site or trying to get the most out of your current one. Plus, having a full arsenal of integrated digital marketing tactics such as PPC, content marketing and more will help boost your online presence and make up for lost exposure.