I Gained Ground against Google – Or Did I?

See that upward hop in my Coverage graph? Something just happened.

The Google Inspection Game

Imagine you want to open a restaurant in a big city. You set up shop and apply for the required permits. But you never see an inspector or get a direct response; there’s just a web site telling you how that process is going. Inspectors come by, but you never know when – it’s always when you’re not there – and they don’t leave notes. No one calls, you don’t get anything in the mail.

One day, you check that web site for the 500th time and see your permits were denied and you have 50 violations. Digging deeper, 35 of the violations are for “access” and 15 are for “electrical” – but no details of what’s actually wrong or what you’re supposed to do. And there’s no one you can call. But hey, don’t worry – they might come by again… if they feel like it… someday. Then a guy calling himself an “SEO consultant” comes around with a pitch: for a nice fat fee, he’ll be your “fixer”. He has connections, he’ll pull some strings.

That’s what it’s like trying to get a site indexed by Google, and their power is absolute. You have no right to know the charges against you, face your accusers, or appeal the judgement. The inspector isn’t even human.

But Back To My Story

It’s been a couple of years since I started trying to get my photos on SmugMug indexed by Google (the story starts here). Results have been mixed to say the least; and while blogging is fun, I’ve made little progress on my original goal of getting 680+ photo gallery pages indexed, according to Google Search Console.

When I last left the story, I’d sort of stalled out. About 600 photo pages were listed as “Discovered – currently not indexed” which is Googlese for “maybe someday”. Only a few had been seriously rejected. 20 or so were “Duplicate, submitted URL not selected as canonical”, whatever that means. A grand total of 21 individual photos were actually indexed after being found in my sitemap.

In the weeks since then, I gained a couple of pages now and then, for blog posts. But yesterday, I made my usual check – expecting nothing – and found I’d gained about 60 pages overnight, mostly photos. The picture had changed – but it still didn’t make sense.

On the bright side: a whole bunch of gallery photo URLs moved to the category of “Indexed, not submitted in sitemap”. (Even though they are in fact in the sitemap. Just sayin’.)

On the dark side: about 180 pages were dumped in the “Crawled, not currently indexed” trash bin.

On the weird side: 190 photo pages now in “Duplicate without user-selected canonical”. Huh?

So I gained, and lost, and it’s confusing. Here’s the strange thing: although a whole bunch of gallery pages were sorted into these 3 bins, there’s no real difference between the actual pages, no reason for them not to end up in the same bin. Obviously the photos, descriptions and tags are different, but that’s it, the rest of the code is auto-generated by SmugMug. Oh and they’re all in the sitemap too.

So Now What?

The red tag for “Duplicate” URLs is aggravating – it’s a lot of pages, and Google says it’s on me to fix them, but I’m clueless. I don’t write the HTML, I just use WordPress and SmugMug, so even if I could figure out why Google can’t identify a “canonical” URL for some of these pages, I probably couldn’t do anything about it. For now I’ll assume it’s just another bogus statistic from Google Search Console and hope it gets fixed on its own.

“Crawled, not currently indexed” is a well known Google limbo. Supposedly, these pages are now dead to the world but might – might – be revisited someday. Who knows.

A bigger question: will this upward trend continue? I’ll post again in the future.

Update: I’m losing altitude.

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