Caret leftBack to Blog

Time Is On Your Side: How To Use Crawl Frequency Metrics For SEO

23rd February 2017JeffJeff

In the previous post in our ongoing Crawl Budget series, we explored Crawl Ratio and the reasons you should optimize it. Once you understand your Crawl Ratio, it's useful to understand Crawl Frequency so that you can make the most of Google's behavior. crawl frequency seo

What Is Crawl Frequency?

In Google’s article defining Crawl Budget and factors you can optimize to influence it, Gary Illyes described crawl rate limit as the part of Crawl Budget that is the maximum fetching rate for a website. The limit can change based on site performance and limits set in Google Search Console.

Assuming the limit hasn’t been reached, however, the crawl rate can be influenced by crawl demand. The article defines crawl demand as Google’s attempts to keep URLs fresh because they are popular, or to prevent URLs from going stale in the index.

In Botify, Crawl Frequency is the number of days per month that Googlebot requests a URL. We will see below that there is a clear relationship between traffic and frequency of crawl.

Why Crawl Frequency Matters

When Google is ignoring chunks of your website it’s a good indicator that you have something to improve. Remember: crawling is the first step on the road to organic traffic. If pages aren’t getting crawled, they’re not going to get into the index or, if they were indexed, they are at risk of dropping out of it.

Things that can reduce crawl frequency include:

  • Site structure issues
  • Duplicate content
  • Publishing pages for which there’s no demand
  • Publishing at a rate that is faster than what Google is ready to admit to the index

On the other hand, understanding what Google is crawling frequently is a good indicator of what Google thinks is worthwhile, what it needs to keep fresh in the index. Understanding the characteristics of those pages can inform what you might need to do to improve the remainder.

If Google is crawling some pages frequently but they aren’t producing many visits, then this may be wasting crawl budget and steps should be taken to improve more important pages so the crawl shifts to them.

How To Determine Crawl Frequency For Your Website

As with determining Crawl Ratio, you need to have a crawl of your website structure joined with Googlebot requests for your URLs from your server logs.

For most websites, Google is crawling at least one URL per day so you wouldn’t learn much by simply asking the question ‘did Google crawl my site today?' You need to measure this at a URL level.

As with Crawl Ratio, Crawl Frequency varies by website. In these examples of Crawl Frequency visualizations, each section of the pie chart represents a range of days crawled by Google. The green section, for example, means 17.4% of URLs in the site structure were crawled 24 or more days out of the preceding 30 days.

crawl frequency ecom

Botify crawl frequency chart for a popular e-commerce website

crawl frequency publisher

Botify crawl frequency chart for a popular publisher

Below, we can see that Google is crawling nearly all of this publisher’s core offering - its articles - and it's doing so with some regularity. The publisher’s categories, collections, and aggregations aren’t being crawled as often, however, so there may be an opportunity to improve those templates and/or their place in the site structure.

crawl frequency segment publisher

Botify Crawl Frequency by segment chart for a publisher

Focusing just on the Crawl Frequency of those articles, we can see in the table that there is still a long tail of Crawl Frequency and visits. It’s possible that Google no longer needs to crawl the end of the tail because there’s no more demand for that content in the index. Or maybe it’s too deep. Maybe the publisher has deprioritized this content for the same reason Google is ignoring it - it’s old and there is no longer demand on the site for it.

Crawl Frequency Publisher Metrics Table

Exported Crawl Frequency Metrics Table for popular publisher

Use Crawl Frequency To Take Action

Besides knowing the relationship between crawl frequency and traffic exists, there are practical applications for this data.

Use Highly Crawled URLs For SEO Testing

Whether you’re testing new page title or meta description templates or a new user experience, you’re going to need the variant pages to be crawled so the changes can be updated in the index so you can gauge the ultimate impact on searchers.

That process takes time. If you select pages in your test and control groups that get crawled every day, better yet multiple times a day, then you are optimizing the time to see results in the index and from searchers (click-through rate change in response to a new page title or meta description, for example).

If you select pages at random without accounting for Crawl Frequency, then it could take additional weeks or months to see get results. A faster result, even if negative, will help you learn and iterate more quickly. The classic growth concept of failing fast applies here.

Use Highly Crawled URLs for New URL Discovery

If you can use XML sitemaps to update search engines about new pages, you should. But you can increase the speed to discovery and perhaps to index by also using highly crawled pages to link to new content. This is not a new idea in SEO, but it is still a useful one.

Increase Crawl Frequency For Less Crawled URLs

For those less frequently crawled URLs, try to improve their Crawl Frequency by:

  • Reducing their depth in the site by adding more followed internal links
  • Check the on-page content and keyword focus to ensure it actually matches things for which people are actually searching
  • Check to be sure the pages aren’t duplicating or too similar to other pages that are getting traffic
  • Check the performance of these pages to ensure they aren’t significantly slower than pages that are crawled more frequently
  • Check their HTTP status codes to make sure they aren’t incorrectly in an error state (404, 503, for example)

Conclusion and Next Steps

Crawl Frequency is a useful metric for identifying what Google deems important in your site and can be used for practical purposes to optimize your site for more organic traffic and, ultimately, increased revenue.

Still to come in future articles in our ongoing Crawl Budget series:

  • Improving Crawl Budget by reducing access to low-value URLs
  • Impact of site migration on Crawl Budget
  • How to identify the relationship between URL popularity and crawl demand
  • How to identify whether performance is inhibiting your rawl rate
  • How to identify differences between frequently and infrequently crawled URLs

And, in case you missed them, don't forget to start with Part 1: Google Confirms SEOs Should Control Their Crawl Budget and Part 2: What is Crawl Ratio, and Why Does it Matter?

We’d love to hear how you’ve used Crawl Frequency metrics to improve your organic search performance. Please leave comments and feedback below!