Marketing 3 min read

Google Reveals More Info About its Search Indexing Bug

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

Yesterday, Google Search Outreach specialist Vincent Courson revealed more information about the search indexing bug that affected about four percent of sites indexed by Google.

The issue was first reported last April. Back then, distraught site owners took to Twitter and the WebmasterWorld forum to air their frustration when their web pages got removed from Google search results page.

According to Google’s John Mueller, the problem was caused by a technical problem on their side. Mueller tweeted:

“Sorry — We had a technical issue on our side for a while there — tis should be resolved in the meantime, and the affected URLs reprocessed. It’s good to see that the Inspect URL tool is also useful for these kinds of cases though!”

Eventually, Google resolved the deindexing issue after six days but has not explained in details what transpired — until now.

The Search Indexing Bug

According to Courson, the search indexing bug they encountered caused them to lose part of the Google Search index temporarily.

The Google employee explained that while they were pushing some planned changes to their Search index last April 5th, parts of the deployment system broke. Courson wrote:

“As we were updating the index over some of our data centers, a small number of documents ended up being dropped from the index accidentally. Hence: ‘we lost part of the index.'”

The indexing bug also caused some significant problems to the Google Search Console. Days after the deindexing issue had been resolved, site owners reported that the Search Console was not reflecting live page URL indexing status.

Courson explained that the database used by the Search Console to generate reports is partially built using the information from the Search index.

To fix the search indexing bug, Google had to revert Search index to its previous version. By doing so, they also had to stop the Search Console database update, which caused inconsistencies to the reports.

“Because the whole Search index issue took several days to roll back, we were delayed focusing on fixing the Search Console database until a few days later, only after the indexing issues were fixed.”

Communication and Prevention

In their debriefing document about the two issues called postmortem, Courson said that they had included ways to communicate better with webmasters in case of system failures.

Their key decisions included:

  1. Explore ways to more quickly share information within Search Console itself about widespread bugs, and have that information serve as the main point of reference for webmasters to check, in case they are suspecting outages.
  2. More promptly post to the Search Console data anomalies page, when relevant (if the disturbance is going to be seen over the long term in Search Console data).
  3. Continue tweeting as quickly as we can about such issues to quickly reassure webmasters we’re aware and that the issue is on our end.

The company had already tested a new communication strategy when they encountered another issue last May 22nd. However, they discovered that announcing the problem through Twitter could still confuse affected site owners.

At the moment, Google is thinking of adding a way to signal any system disruptions through the Search Console. But, Courson noted that this kind of solution might take longer to implement.

Read More: Google Search Console To Show 90 Days Of Discovery And Search Results

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Chelle Fuertes

Chelle is the Product Management Lead at INK. She's an experienced SEO professional as well as UX researcher and designer. She enjoys traveling and spending time anywhere near the sea with her family and friends.

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