If your company has a website, chances are it’s compiled of both indexed and noindexed pages. If a page is indexed, it means it has been analyzed, crawled, and added to the SERP by a search engine. If a page is noindexed, it is still accessible by search engines, however, it denies them the ability to index and add it to the search results to be found by users.
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There are a few reasons for noindexing, but many marketers noindex pages that house content they don’t want to give away without something in return. For example, a page that includes a recording of a webinar may be noindexed so that someone needs to fill out a landing page form to access it versus simply searching and finding it without giving their information.
While this remains an important part of a website strategy, if not done correctly, an article by Search Engine Journal revealed that noindexed pages can actually harm your search rankings.
In a recent Google Search Central live stream, John Mueller confirmed this query by reporting that noindexed pages can, in fact, still be used to evaluate a website’s Core Web Vitals even though they aren’t included in the SERP. Google uses Core Web Vitals to create a snapshot view of your website’s overall user experience (UX) by looking at a set of specific factors that contribute to page performance.
Mueller explains that even though noindexed pages are hidden from the search results, users can still access these pages from different mediums — so they’re technically still a part of the user experience. Therefore, it’s important for them to be included in the overall evaluation.
At this point, you may be thinking:
“I deliberately noindexed some pages because they’re slow or not user-ready... how will this affect my search rankings?”
Using folders may help Google understand which pages should be recognized as a group
When calculating Core Web Vitals, Google takes a group of pages and analyzes the observed data to come to a conclusion that’s representative of the entire website. This is the same data that you can find in Search Console, and it will also be the same data used next year when the Web Vitals ranking factor rolls out.
But how does Google choose which pages it uses to calculate Core Web Vitals?
That was one of the questions directed at Mueller. He replied by stating that within the Chrome User Experience report data in the Chrome developer site, they have some information about how the page grouping is made, but he doesn’t know how detailed it actually is.
He continues by explaining that Google often has trouble gathering information about an individual page on its own, so it turns to groups of pages.
“One of the tricky parts is also it’s very hard for us to understand when a page is something that is not meant to be indexed because all of the canonical decisions and all of that.
Just looking at an individual page on its own, it’s sometimes not absolutely clear is this something that can be accessed directly, or does that cookie that was set in the beginning need to be set to access the page… like what all is involved there.
So I imagine that’s always kind of tricky to balance out.”
With that said, Mueller suggests that using folders to organize your URLs can help Google to recognize these groupings and potentially treat them individually when it comes to Core Web Vitals. He explains that Google uses both URL folder structure and page content to better identify grouping patterns:
“So, if you have parts of your website that you want to be seen as belonging together then I would definitely make sure from a URL pattern point of view it’s clear these belong together.”
When asked if there’s a way to exclude specific pages from the Core Web Vitals evaluation, Mueller didn’t know the answer, but he did say there will never be a way for users to pick and choose.
Google doesn’t have a ton of aggregated data for every website
Although page grouping can have a positive effect on your rankings, this might not always be the case. Google doesn’t have a lot of aggregated data for every website; they may only have a few data points for some.
This means that grouping pages by URL structure may have no effect on which pages Google chooses to group, due to a lack of data. Mueller suspects there will be additional information on grouping and how it works in the future.
Your to-do list in the meantime...
While we wait for more insight into how important optimizing our noindexed pages really is, there are a few things you should do right now.
First, don’t exclude noindex pages from your website out of fear that these will negatively affect your search rankings; the goal is to ensure the pages exist with the user in mind, not to get rid of them completely. Even though they’re not meant to show up in the search results, they still hold as much importance as an indexed page if you plan on bringing visitors to them.
For example, your thank you pages should still include an action item or a next step for your visitor that will provide them with value and allow them to click through versus bouncing (which also has a negative effect on your page rank).
If you have noindexed pages that are unnecessarily slow, incomplete, or aren’t optimized for the user, either create a plan to fix them, or unpublish them.
If you’re feeling somewhat ambitious, you can take Mueller’s advice and group your pages. Neil Patel gives some great, actionable advice in his article on structuring URLs correctly. He recommends utilizing directories, categories, and subcategories instead of subdomains.
You can even continue the folder structure if you had specific items nested within virtual sales team training. Organizing your URLs like this is not only great for SEO, but it’s also much more visually appealing to the person perusing around your site.
Remember, Google’s Core Web Vitals are all about the user experience, so always make sure you’re catering to your user.