Google Broke My Christmas * (Supplemental Result Query Changes)

If you read the Google blog or the coverage on Search Engine Land, you might be rejoicing that supplemental results are no more

It has been described as lipstick on a pig and others have just offered tips on site indexing.

What Happened To My /* Search Query?

Before this change, one of the tools still available to SEO practitioners to give an indication of the depth of site indexing was to add /* to the end on a site: search query.

Thus you would use

site:andybeard.eu/ – this would return the total pages supposedly indexed
site:andybeard.eu/* – this would return the number of pages in the primary index

By subtracting one from the other, you get some indication of the number of pages that might be in the supplemental results.

The numbers changed on a daily basis, and by datacenter, and were a little unpredictable, but it at least gave some indication.

Some sites I routinely checked for comparison were seo book, Michael Gray, Seomoz, Sphinn, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal, Bumpzee, Blogcatalog, Mybloglog and a number of others.

Typically Seo Book and Michael Gray had very deep index penetration, with above 90% of their pages in the primary index as indicated by /*

Many of the higher output SEO blogs faired far worse, with sometimes less than 50% primary index penetration, but far more total pages in the primary index.

Site structure makes a huge difference – if you have lots of duplicate content pages such as extensive use of tagging, you might end up with a fair number of those pages in the Supplemental Index because they do not receive a huge amount of links from external sources, and many receive a very small percentage of internal linking.
They would however still rank well for long tail search queries because of the different title tag, and combinations of content presented.

A wider net sometimes has bigger holes…

/* Now Returns Significantly Fewer Results

SEO Book now returns less than 50% of pages with /*
Michael manages 50%
SEOmoz has less than 20%
Search Engine Land seems to be fairing well with close to 75%, actually more than previously (I seem to remember less than 50%)
Search Engine Journal also manages close to 75%, again more than previously (again it was less than 50%)

I have dropped down to around 30% what was previously 85%, though my site structure isn’t quite the same as I had it before WordPress 2.3.1 (I still need to get some plugins modified)
Site structure might have had as much as a 10 or 20% difference, but not more.

I still see very little difference in Search traffic or positioning

I Don’t Know What It Means…

  • It could be some datacenter issues that mean that only a small percentage of sites have so far been updated
  • I am currently discounting this being some kind of penalty
  • Rather than reducing the size of the supplemental index, Google might now be storing the majority of pages in Supplemental, and effectively have a “super primary” index instead.
  • The tool could just be broken or set to give random results

I can understand the removal of supplemental results from the primary SERPs, but /* was actually quite useful. If supplemental results have disappeared, you would expect it to return the same number of pages as the search query without /*

Why do we have a useful tool fubarred?

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Comments

  1. says

    As I said in my post (thanks for the link, by the way), I don’t think the supplementals have gone anywhere. All they’ve done is repackaged the previously unpopular mechanism for publicly displaying them. The idea behind it, in my opinion, is to stop SEOs whining about the number of pages they’ve got stuck in the SI by not just removing the old SI tag but to publicly declaim the index.

    The fact remains that the internal G quality scoring metric will still be in place. That won’t have gone anywhere in a hurry despite the public “we’ll index anything, us” statement.

    It’s funny the way Big G work. A couple of days ago they launch, without much public acclaim, the changes to the Webmaster Tools section so that you can see things like duplicate meta tags but, within 48 hours, they remove a far more visible method of seeing how your site ranks within their index.

    I really can’t see that the internal forces at G are talking to each other because they seem to give with one hand and take away with the other.

    • says

      It’s funny the way Big G work. A couple of days ago they launch, without much public acclaim, the changes to the Webmaster Tools section so that you can see things like duplicate meta tags but, within 48 hours, they remove a far more visible method of seeing how your site ranks within their index.

      I really can’t see that the internal forces at G are talking to each other because they seem to give with one hand and take away with the other.

      Anytime such a thing happens, we are looking at the system in two ways..

      One: The organization is growing so fast that the departments are not talking to each other. [This is when the Quality dept. has a field day, talking ISO and the like.]And on an aside, you know you have arrived.. :)

      Second: Follow the paper trail. Why have they removed something most junta have been addicted to, for free? Yes, money may be involved in the near future. More a case of want to know where you stand? Then you better pay for it.

      Makes a lot of business sense doesn’t it? And we all know G does business in the low cost, high volume market.. ! [Explain Adsense to me..]

  2. says

    I guess that’s not completely rolled out. A few days ago Matt said that one data center pulls results form the secondary index for 100% of the search queries. Remember how long it took to distribute BigDaddy. I’ll check that again in February or so. ;)

    • says

      I was quite shocked to see a drop in my /* from 1400+ to 644 results, and for the effect on Michael and Aaron.

      Even SEOmoz was a significant drop.

      Maybe they will have something fixed before they are scheduled to break something again.

  3. says

    Hi Andy,

    Just a quick note to wish you all the very best for xmas and new year. I hope you have a great one.

    Ps. Did you ditch the ‘subscribe to comments’ plugin?

    • says

      Have a good one David, one of these days I will get to your neck of the woods for Hogmanay.

      Subscribe to comments was switched off whilst my internet access was extremely limited. I will switch it back on again soon.

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