What Is Index Bloat and How SEO Expert Solved it Strategically and Creatively

Written by Adrian Ignacio, Journalist

Anyone in the digital marketing and communication sphere knows that SEO is one of the most sustainable ways to get traffic and potential business today. However, optimizing websites for organic searches is tricky because it comes with various technical problems that, if not identified or addressed properly, can also drastically tank the sites' performance in Google Search. We recently interviewed a seasoned SEO expert, Marco, who shared with us one technical SEO challenge he had addressed in his career using an original method he invented and its impacts.

Before joining Dotdash Meredith, America's largest print and digital publisher, as the Growth Lead for the organization's Travel, Technology, and Sustainability verticals, Marco led the SEO at The Company Store, a leading textile and home product retailer with a thriving online business. In 2017, the company was acquired by The Home Depot, looking to expand and boost its e-commerce and online platform.

During Marco's venture at The Company Store, he created an original "no-index and canonical" strategy to fix the index bloat issue of the brand's website. Index bloat occurs when hundreds of thousands of low-value pages, such as those with thin or duplicated content, are indexed, wasting Google's allocated crawl budget that could be better used indexing business-critical pages like product pages or blog posts. Index bloating can be detrimental to search engine rankings in that it lowers the site's quality score in the eyes of Google's algorithm. Google uses what is allowed to be indexed to judge the quality of any given website. As a result of this effort, the website's organic traffic soared from 342,000 to over 411,000 in two months.

While Marco couldn't share with us the strategy details, he did hint that it involves canonical and no-index tags, two HTML elements to indicate Google the master products, and their relationships with the color and size variations, which were indexable pages that were causing issues. This process is extremely complicated and involves months of planning and implementation. Also, the organic search potential of product variations needs to be measured via extensive keyword research to ensure the site does not miss any opportunities by canonicalizing or no-indexing them. Companies like Adorama and J.Crew later utilized this strategy to help improve their crawlability and organic performance and have seen success.

Marco's success at The Company Store was not limited to resolving the website's index bloat. He also utilized tools like Ahrefs and SEMRush to identify content gaps, mapped out the ideal structure of each by analyzing the search engine result pages (SERPs), and collaborated with the design and edit teams to make updates or produce new content. As a result, the brand's organic traffic increased by nearly 4,000 sessions a month, just from the three pages published. "It is a very time-consuming and manual process, but the traffic numbers, in the end, make it all worth it," Marco said.

In addition to corporate pursuits, Marco created and established his own website, MarcoFeng.com, which became one of the top travel resources, with over 3 million annual readers in just a few years. He also created unique formats for his site, including grouping long-form content by geographies, types, and genres for higher readability, and used ratings and reviews from various local directories to create editorially genuine round-ups. Though Marco no longer manages the site, his articles continue to draw attention en masse. Awards? Marco has garnered plenty just during the first half of the year, including dotCOMM, Hermes Creative Awards, CSS Design Awards, WebAwards 2022 for its "Best Publishing Website" category, and more.

In 2021, the site also launched faceted navigation that lets readers search destinations and guides using filters like "best time to visit," "located in," "great for," "cost," and "visa and vaccination requirement," acting as a one-stop-shop for trip planning. While such a feature is common in eCommerce, this is the first time it has been used in publishing, offering readers a brand-new way to find and consume content. Another highlight of Marco's site that we love is the use of illustrations in children's storybook style, which makes the site appealing and approachable.

Marco is a well-known SEO expert whose personal and professional work has won many awards and provoked commentary and coverage in large and small publications. If you have any SEO questions for him, below is the contact info.

Hailun (Marco) Feng

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