Eternity, in Google Limbo

Definition of in limbo
1: in a forgotten or ignored place, state or situation
2:  in an uncertain or undecided state or condition

In a series of posts (starting way back here) I’ve related how I’ve tried to get Google to index my photography site, including this blog and an image gallery on SmugMug. It’s been a long slog, with some successes and some reversals. But hope of a total victory has ebbed.

In a previous post I detailed how I finally got Google read and parse my sitemaps, and hoped those hundreds of URLs for photo pages would eventually get crawled and indexed. But for the most part, this hasn’t happened; those URLs are forever trapped in some sort of Google limbo, neither blessed nor condemned – just ignored. For 6 months.

At this time, I have 258 pages indexed according to Google Search Console, which is an all-time high; but the great majority (227) of those are blog posts and related URLs. The Sitemap section of GSC shows the “gallery” map successfully parsed, and 645 URLs found; but only 21 – seemingly chosen at random – have been indexed. The remaining 621 are “Excluded”, and this is where it gets interesting.

Of those 621, 3 are “Crawled – currently not indexed”. That’s Google saying “no thanks”, they’ve been looked at and not found to contain enough of what Google sees as value.

Another 19 are “Duplicate, submitted URL not selected as canonical”. These pages are just like any others in the gallery, there’s nothing unusual about them; so I’d say this categorization is just an error on Google’s part, and there’s no obvious way to find out why it happens.

The other 602 are still listed as “Discovered – currently not indexed”. That means they’ve not been crawled by Google – and it’s looking like they never will be, unless I do something. But what?

I posted this question on Google’s “Search Console Community” and was told that “…Google wanted to crawl the URL but this was expected to overload the site; therefore Google rescheduled the crawl.”   That’s obviously not the case here because SmugMug has plenty of server capacity. I think what’s really going on is that Google just doesn’t doesn’t like “photo gallery” sites, sees them as not worthy of indexing, and when it detects one it just crawls a few randomly selected pages and leaves the rest in… perpetual limbo.

There may not be a way to win at this game. A critical weakness of Google is that its idea of a site’s “value” is based only on text, not images; it does me no good to have the best photos of Minneapolis on the web, if Google sees nothing but a bit of alt text with the word “Minneapolis” in it. And I can’t pad the description of every photograph out to the length of a Wikipedia entry.

Obviously sitemaps haven’t been the charm I was hoping for. Next, I’m going to try submitting some photo and gallery pages manually and see if that moves the needle.

Update: some progress, maybe

17 Replies to “Eternity, in Google Limbo”

  1. Hello, very useful article, do You have some new success till now?
    I have the exact same problem. Google search console does not index my photos, I have fully described all photos, but if Google can find my photos, I cannot selling my photos, nobody can find them.

  2. Thank You for your reply,
    I trying now add my site also to Microsoft Bing
    I connected bing webmaster /admin with my Google search console ( not need to verify ownership of the domain)

    Microsoft found automatically all my sitemap on Smugmug
    and other sub-sitemaps numbered from 0 to 10:
    Now I am waiting for what bing will do. I hope, that he will be better than google and index all my 20,9K photo files.
    I also hope that Microsoft leads new users to my web and when Google see some traffic, start maybe indexing more my files.

    As well, all my sitemaps I also manually added to GSC as sitemaps and now I waiting for what google will do.

    1. I have never paid attention to Bing, and perhaps I should.

      Google has now suddenly reduced my number of indexed pages. It’s hard to know what’s happening, but I think part of the issue is the SmugMug produces many URLs for the same photo, and Google interpets those as undesireable duplicates.

  3. I don’t underestimate bing search, many of my friends and older people use it because it is pre-installed in Windows as the default browser and default search engine, and those who have no experience and skill with a PC don’t know how to change bing to google search. In addition, the new bing browser is pretty super fast.

    From my 20K photos, there are only 70 pages in the google console. This is terrible, that’s why I started looking for a solution to improve it.

    1. I learned some things about GSC, and indexing, but eventually I got discouraged. I don’t know what more I could do to get ‘deeper’ indexing of my photos. At this point my SmugMug ‘gallery’ pages are indexed, but few of the individual photos. Maybe that’s the best I can do; I’m thinking about concentrating on the gallery pages, maybe working in more keywords.

      You have a very large and impressive portfolio with obvious sales potential. Have you considered paying an SEO “professional”? I realize that it may be hard to find someone with real competency, but it could pay off in your case.

      I’m also wondering if another gallery site might do better. My impression is that SmugMug is behind the times and not seeing much development. Another, newer site might have a fresh approach to SEO, or at least give us more information about what’s going on.

  4. Thank you. I sell photos on microstock sites like Shutterstock, Adobe stock and others.

    My experience with SmugMug:
    I have currently sold about 3 photos for about $30 on SmugMug in a year and a half.
    I wanted to use the store and the ability to sell photos on SmugMug, but if google can’t find my photos, it probably sucks. On Shutterstock I sell photos for $0.1, no comment. So I’m looking for ways to sell better, for more money.

    I don’t know if an SEO professional would be worth it, I edited the captions on the site today so I’ll see what happens. I used some chrome add-ons for SEO (META SEO Inspector), shortened most of the category headings to match the requirements. I’m still going to analyze the data from bing webmaster console, which I find far better than google search console) I see more things there that can affect search.

    I don’t know of a better site, maybe picfair, but I have no experience, I think it will be similar to SMugMug.

    I use SmugMug mainly as a backup of all my photos, I currently have 95,000 photos and videos uploaded to SmugMug, but most of them are invisible and private, I share these photos with my family.

    1. I did microstock for several years. Great learning experience, but total ripoff for photographers.

      Have you considered FAA? I sell a few there every month and my portfolio is a tinyfraction of yours. Your travel photos should do well. FAA is a mixed bag, I have plenty of opinions on it, but at least you can set your prices and get out of the print fulfillment part.

      With regard to “SEO professionals” I’m as skeptical as you are, but it seems we’ll get nowhere just based on the official, public guidelines from Google. Maybe some of these “professionals” know how the game is really played.

  5. Photography and travel is my hobby, not fulltime job, but thanks to microstock i can travel around the world.

    I have some photos on FAA, but there are difficult upload more photos at one time, FAA doesn’t support FTP and I can use only web uploader for 5 files at one time. I had on 1-2 sales per month, nothing special.
    You have very nice photos, I understand, that you have sales on FAA.

    Yesterday I sold on Shutterstock 37 photos, one photo on the demand at $2.57, rest photos mostly $0.1 – 0,3 and one 4K footage for $2.98. All sales for only total 9.83 USD. Terrible.

    We must found way, how to indexing out photos in our Smugmug galleries and bring users to our site.

    1. I think Google doesn’t like “galleries” and when it sees a large number of similar pages, it only indexes a few. There may not be anything I can do about that, other than create ridiculous long descriptions for every individual photo. And even that might not work.

      My thinking now is to create pages, on my blog and web site, that are “about” my photos, and link to my gallery. For example, I may create a page about a place I’ve photographed, or about the habits of a particular bird, and put some of my photos on those pages, with links to “buy” pages.

  6. Because I’m preparing photos for microstock, I’ve filled out the title, description, and keywords for all the photos, and I agree, it has no effect on indexing. I don’t think Google can see them on the photo page.

    Meta SEO inspector (chrome addon) see on this photo page:
    head title: Ethiopia nature, landscapes, landmarks and places – artushfoto (62 characters)
    description: Beautiful nature sceneries, pure wilderness landscapes, and incredible historic buildings from interesting African country Ethiopia. Royalty-free stock photo. (158 characters)
    keywords: ethiopia; landscape; nature; place; architecture; landmark; wilderness ( 1 items ) INFO’keywords’ meta tag is obsolete

    This is descriptions for the gallery.

    Title, Description and keywords of photo in only in OPENGRAPH
    Maybe google thinking, that all paged in the gallery are the same, I don’t know if google looking and checking to OPENGRAPH.

    I asked SmugMug support, and the only relevant answer is:
    You need to create more backlinks to your photos so google will see the connection and traffic to them. They will then start indexing your content once more visitors are clicking on your links.

    I lower all my prices and I will try to add pages with some free photos, free my photoshop actions, LUTs and LR preset. I will try to put some links for these freebies to photo relevant forums. This may be helpful.

    1. Some days I’m discouraged. Other days, I think I should forget about photo galleries, and just do more with my blog and my web site.

      I used to follow Over the years I saw many forum posts from photographers trying to sell direct from their own sites. I never saw any claiming success.

      I don’t think SmugMug can do anything to help photographers get indexed. Maybe none of the ‘gallery’ sites can.

    2. Just wrote another post on this, based on my GA numbers changing recently. It’s not encouraging.

  7. I will try to propagate my website on social. Till now I not paid big attention to social networks. I will start posting 3-4 post every week to Facebook and Instagram. For Facebook I will try share my photos directly from SmugMug, to force users to open my site and do some traffic. Maybe not all post, but some of them.

    For Instagram I will try the strategy with photo for example Gelada and in photo description link: for gallery of this animal generated by keyword:
    I found this function: site//keyword/yourkeyword/
    This will show all photos containing the keyword, if you want use more keywords, use divider ;
    I will see if social networks are helpful.

    my Google index grow from 80 to 85 indexed pages from about 20 000.
    and Bing webmaster says: indexed 2500 pages, this is much more than on Google, but I don’t exactly understand, what this means, because:

    google search for “” found About 94 results bing search: for “” found 42 results.

    1. I submitted my site to Bing webmaster tools and waited a few days. It shows only 29 indexed pages on my SM gallery – about the same as Google. The top-level pages get indexed, and a handful of individual photos. But some of the indexed URLs for those photos don’t really work – instead of a specific photo, they just bring up the ‘gallery’ page.

      This leaves me wondering if the URLs generated by SmugMug for those photos aren’t permanent.

  8. “This leaves me wondering if the URLs generated by SmugMug for those photos aren’t permanent.”

    I don’t know.
    I try to wait, no I focus on social network and after a month I will see, what changed with indexing.

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