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May 2, 2007

A Closer Look at the Google Supplemental Results

Supplemental results at Google have been around for a while but there has been a growing interest and focus on the evolution of this complementary index.
What are Google Supplemental Results?
Supplemental results are web pages that have been reviewed by Goggle and, after close examination, have been identified as “not very useful” to the user and therefore are placed in a so called supplemental index for future reference: It’s a sort of “just in case” resource that will be accessed if nothing in the main index matches the query.
But Google has indexed billions of pages so it’s gonna be a cold day in hell before the supplementals will be showing up in the SERPs.

Why are pages placed in the supplemental index?
I think the whole matter should be put in historical perspective: if you don’t know where you’re coming from you don’t know where you’re going. So far there have been 3 important factors leading to the supplemental results index:
1. Duplicate Content

When supplemental results first showed up they were mostly duplicate content – copies of pages from dynamic web sites with a search engine unfriendly content management system.

Search engines were faced with the problem of inflated indexes with hundreds of duplicated pages.
2. Duplicate TITLE and/or META TAGS

Another factor that would put you in the supplementals is duplicate TITLE and/or META TAGS. If you don’t believe your pages are worth personalization with unique titles and META TAGS, don’t expect additional efforts from the search engines to understand what they are about.
3. Not Enough Content

Pages with little or close to no visibile content are also subject to supplemental results indexing. This often happens with Ecommerce sites that have literally hundreds (if not thousands) of pages all looking very similar to each other.
This is what was happening. I think the philosophy is changing because of:

  • The ever increasing number of crawlable websites
  • The limited amount of resources
  • The increased amount of effort and complexity to maintain an up to date index of resources

It costs more to get pages into the index and keep them there
If you look at it from the Search Engine perspective, it only makes sense to keep a focus on “the best” pages. There’s less and less room for the others, and Google is putting more and more pages in the supplemental index.
In a recent Forbes article the Supplemental index is called the Google Supplemental Hell – Andy Greenberg opens his article stating: “Don’t anger the Google Gods …” I really wouldn’t go to that extreme and compare supplementals to hell, simply because once you’re in hell there’s no way back.
There is a way out of the Supplemental Results
General statements generate widespread panic and useless talk about non issues. If you have pages in the supplemental results there is a way out.
Fix your site:

      1. Make sure your CMS isn’t generating hard to read URLs or feeding search engine spiders session IDs creating hundreds of identical pages with different URLs
      2. TITLE and META DESCRIPTION TAGS must be unique for each and every one of your web pages.
      3. Page content must be different from the previous and the next.
      4. Implement a deep linking strategy – make sure you have links leading not only to your home page but to the rest of your website

New pages can go supplemental no matter what
I was recently confronted with this paradigm shift in supplemental philosophy. Adding new keyword focused content is a typical ongoing effort. The long tail is where to start looking for niche keywords and create new pages within the context and theme of your website.
About 1 month ago I did just that for a Client and after a few days when I entered the command to monitor indexing status: intitle:keyword
I found the new pages were all supplemental. I had created 3 pages, in the same sub folder (just 1 level beneath the root) over a 10 day period. There was nothing wrong with them, but they were supplemental. I did nothing but wait and wait … until they came out of the supplementals all by themselves.
It looks like there were automatically labelled supplemental, then analysed and “promoted” to the main index. Not only did they come out of the supplemental index but they are also ranking rather well (top 20), considering the fact they are lacking relevant external links right now.
So relax and focus on building a great website.
Keep in mind that supplemental indexing with Google can be an issue but only if you are careless or not doing as well as your competitors are.

Author:  Sante has an engineering degree and has worked the web since 1994. An accomplished speaker, Sante has appeared at many European SES Conferences, including the first Italian SES held in Milan in April 2006. Appointed as an ICT consultant to the regional government in Abruzzo, Sante has also appeared at the Reykjavik Iceland Internet Marketing Conference and will be presenting at SES Milan in late May. Sante has a multilingual blog on Search Engines and Search Marketing.