Crawling, indexing and ranking: the meanings & differences

As an SEO specialist, I use these terms daily: crawling, indexing and ranking are techniques that help develop and implement an effective SEO strategy. Crawling refers to the process by which search engines collect the content of Web pages on the Internet. Indexing is storing this content in the search engine’s database. Ranking, in turn, refers to the web page’s position in a search engine’s search results for a given query.

In this article, I’ll take you through the world of crawling, indexing and ranking and the ways it affects an entire SEO campaign.

What is crawling?

Crawling in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) refers to the process by which search engine spiders or bots go through Web pages and index their content. Search engines thus identify the content of Web pages, analyze it and store it in their database.

What is crawling

During crawling, the search engine gathers spider information about the content of the page. This includes text, images, links and other elements(1). It then analyzes and processes this information to index the page. This is how the search engine determines how relevant it is to certain searches.

For website owners, it is important for search engines to crawl their website. That’s because that’s how search engines absorb their content. You encourage crawling by ensuring good site structure, internal links and metadata. Also, there should be no technical problems that could impede site crawling.

What is indexing?

Indexing in SEO is the process by which search engines organize new or updated content into their database. Thus, during indexing, a search engine archives all the information it collected during crawling. This includes the text, images, links and other elements. This allows the search engine to quickly retrieve this information and display it in the search results when a user performs a relevant search.

What is indexing

Indexing a Web page is important because it allows a search engine to include a Web page in its search results. Thus, an unindexed page will not be visible to users looking for relevant information.

As a website owner, you need to make sure your pages are properly indexed. Only then can they become visible in search results. One way you do this is by making page content relevant to users’ searches. You also need to properly optimize the technical aspects of the pages for search engines.

What is tendril?

Ranking in SEO refers to the position a web page achieves in the search engine results for a given query. A Web page obtains this position based on the relevance and quality of its content in relation to the user’s search query.

Ranking in SEO

The purpose of SEO is to improve the ranking of a Web page in a search engine’s search results. In fact, this leads to a page gaining a higher position and receiving more traffic. Higher rankings are associated with higher levels of visibility and credibility. This can result in more clicks and also more conversions for your website.

Ranking factors can vary by search engine. Several aspects affect this. Here you can think about page content, site structure and keyword usage. In addition, the quality and quantity of inbound links to the page, as well as their loading speed, play a role.

Improving the ranking of a Web page requires a combination of factors. These are technical optimization and creating valuable, relevant content for users. Improving your website’s ranking is an ongoing process. Optimization and monitoring remain necessary to achieve and maintain good results.

The differences between crawling, indexing and ranking

You are now aware of what crawling, indexing and ranking mean. However, a good SEO specialist must also know the difference between these three fundamental concepts. It is important to understand their operation and mutual influence on each other in order to develop an effective SEO strategy.

A good SEO specialist should know the following:

  • Crawling is the process by which search engines gather the content of Web pages.
  • Indexing is storing and organizing the collected content in the search engine database.
  • Ranking is the positioning of a Web page in the search results for a particular query. This position depends on the relevance and content of the page to the user’s search query.

With the right knowledge of crawling, indexing and ranking, an SEO specialist can work effectively to optimize their website’s content and technology. This way you can improve your website’s visibility and ranking in search results.

In a table

StepExplanationPriority in an SEO journey
CrawlingThis is the process by which Googlebot, Google’s Web crawler, discovers new and updated pages on the Web by following links. Googlebot “crawls” the Web on a continuous basis and adds the pages it finds to a list of pages to be indexed.High – If your pages cannot be crawled by Googlebot, then they cannot be indexed and ranked. Therefore, it is important to make sure your website is crawlable, for example, by using a sitemap and avoiding broken links.
IndexAfter a page is crawled, it is indexed, which means Google analyzes the content and links on the page and stores them in the Google index, a huge database of all web pages Google has discovered. When a page is indexed, it may appear in Google’s search results.High – If your pages cannot be indexed, then they cannot be ranked. Therefore, it is important to ensure that your website can be indexed, for example, by using meta tags and avoiding technical errors that can block indexing.
Grades (Tendrils)This is the process by which Google ranks indexed pages in search results based on a range of factors, including relevance to the search query, quality of content, and the quantity and quality of links to the page. The highest ranked pages appear at the top of the search results.High – The ultimate goal of SEO is to get your pages to rank higher in search results so that they are more visible to users. This requires a combination of on-page and off-page SEO tactics, such as keyword optimization, link building and improving the user experience.

The differences between crawling and indexing

Search engines apply crawling and indexing to better understand and organize web pages in their search results. What are the main differences between the two?

  • Definition: crawling is the process by which search engine bots go through Web pages on the Internet and collect their content. Indexing is the process of storing collected content in the search engine’s database. This allows it to quickly retrieve the information when a user performs a relevant search.
  • Purpose: The purpose of crawling is to gather and understand information about web pages. By storing and organizing this information in a database, a search engine can quickly retrieve it in the event of a relevant query.
  • Timing: crawling happens more frequently and regularly. Indexing occurs less frequently and depends on crawling.
  • Technical: crawling focuses on collecting content from a web page, while indexing has a different function. In fact, indexing focuses on storing and organizing content. During this process, its relevance to particular searches is determined.

In short, crawling is the process of collecting content from a web page. Indexing is the of storing this content in a database. Both processes are critical for search engines. They help them better understand the Internet and deliver relevant search results to users, which is their ultimate goal.

The differences between indexing and ranking

Although indexing and ranking are closely related in SEO, there are some important differences:

  • Definition: indexing is the process by which search engines archive the content of Web pages in their database. Ranking is the achievement of a certain position by a Web page in the search results for a particular query.
  • Purpose: The purpose of indexing is to store Web pages in the search engine’s database. Ranking aims to determine a Web page’s position in search results. It does this based on the relevance and quality of the page’s content.
  • Timing: indexing takes place earlier than ranking. In fact, indexing is done by a search engine after it has crawled the content of a Web page and stored it in its database. Ranking occurs at the time a user performs a search.
  • Determinants: indexing depends on several factors. Here you can think about page content, site structure and keyword usage. The quality and amount of inbound links to the page also play a role of importance. The same goes for page loading speed. It is the search engines’ search algorithms that take all these factors into account and determine the final ranking.

In short, indexing is the process of storing the content of a Web page in the search engine’s database. Ranking is the ranking of the web page based on the relevance and quality of its content. It is important to optimize both indexing and ranking of web pages. In this way, you ensure that your pages are displayed optimally in search engine search results.

The differences between crawling and ranking

The last difference I want to clarify is the one between crawling and ranking. Although they are strongly related and both are essential to your SEO, they have some fundamental differences:

  • Definition: crawling is scanning web pages and collecting their content. During ranking, the search engine then determines the position of those Web pages in the search results. It does so based on the relevance and quality of the content.
  • Purpose: crawling is intended to collect and understand the content of web pages. The purpose of ranking is to organize search results. This is used to determine the position of a page. It does this based on its relevance to users’ searches.
  • Timing: the timing and frequency of crawling and ranking also vary. Crawling does a search engine more regularly, whereas it only ranks when a user performs a search.
  • Technical: crawling focuses on collecting content from a web page. Ranking, on the other hand, focuses on evaluating the quality of its content and determining the position of that page in search results.

So, in short, crawling is about scanning and collecting the content of a page. Ranking is precisely determining a web page’s position in search results. Crawling is a necessary first step for search engines. After all, using this step, they can better understand the content of a website. Tending is a process that occurs later, but also continuously. The ranking depends on the quality and relevance of the content and is determined by the search engine’s ranking factors.

How do crawling, indexing and ranking affect SEO strategy?

As an SEO specialist, I use the terms crawling, indexing and ranking daily when executing SEO strategies for my clients. Below you can read in what ways these terms affect the technical SEO of websites.

The importance of crawling for a technical SEO strategy

Crawling is critical to a technical SEO strategy. This is because it forms the basis of how search engines understand and organize a Web site’s content. If a search engine cannot crawl a website’s content, it cannot index it. As a result, he cannot rank them in the search results.

For this reason, it is important to ensure that your website can be properly crawled by search engines. This means checking the following factors, among others:

Site structure: assure yourself that the website has a clear and logical structure. Simple navigation is also important in this regard so that search engines can easily find the content.

Internal links: make sure that all pages on the website have internal links. This helps search engines easily navigate from one page to another and crawl its content(2).

Sitemap: create and submit an XML sitemap so that search engines can easily access all pages on the website. This allows them to easily crawl the content(3).

Robots.txt file: it is important that the robots.txt file is properly configured. This tells search engines which pages should or should not be crawled(4).

Robotstxt

Technical SEO issues: prevent technical issues from interfering with site crawling. This includes broken links, page views or server errors.

By ensuring that the website can be properly crawled, a technical SEO strategy ensures that the search engines can find and understand all the content on the website. This helps improve indexing and ranking in search results.

Crawl budget plays a decisive role

Crawl budget refers to the amount of time and resources that search engines allocate to crawling a Web site. Crawling is the process by which search engines collect and index the content of a Web site. The crawl budget, in turn, determines how much of this content the search engine can collect and index within a certain time limit.

Search engines have limited resources to devote to crawling websites. Therefore, it is important to optimize a website’s crawl budget. This allows search engines to crawl and index the most important pages of your website. Optimizing the crawl budget can help improve indexing and ranking in search results. This is explained by the fact that it allows search engines to find and understand all the important pages of the website.

To optimize a website’s crawl budget, there are several factors to consider. These are the site structure, XML sitemap file, robots.txt file and website content. Optimizing these factors can help improve indexing and ranking in search results.

In short, the crawl budget is important to your technical SEO strategy because it determines how much of a Web site’s content a search engine can collect and index. Optimizing the crawl budget can help improve indexing and ranking in search results. For this reason, it is important to work on factors that can improve a website’s crawl budget.

The importance of indexing for a technical SEO strategy

Indexing is also critical in a technical SEO strategy, as this process ensures that website content is stored in the search engine’s database. This is necessary to retrieve this content quickly when a user performs a relevant search.

Without indexing, search engines cannot display your website in their search results. This will not work even if your website is well crawled and its content is of high quality. Therefore, it is important to ensure that search engines can index all pages of the website.

Some factors that can help improve website indexing are:

  • Content: the content of your website should be high quality and relevant to users’ searches.
  • Metadata: Metadata means things like titles, descriptions and tags. These help you describe the content of your website. Use them to help a search engine understand what it is about(5).
  • Site structure: ensure a website with a clear and logical structure , so that search engines can easily understand and index its content.
Site structure matters when crawling
  • User experience: make sure the website provides a good user experience. Thus, users stay on your website longer and exhibit more interaction there. This can help increase the indexing of your website.

In short, indexing plays an important role for your technical SEO strategy. This process actually allows search engines to index all the pages of your website and understand the content. This helps make the website visible in search engine search results. The result is better visibility and findability, which can ultimately lead to higher conversions.

The importance of ranking for a technical SEO strategy

The third factor, ranking, is also an important aspect of your technical SEO strategy. This is because it determines where the Web site appears in search engine search results for specific searches. A high ranking in search results can lead to more traffic to your website. It is becoming more visible and well-known.

To improve a website’s ranking, there are several technical factors to consider, including:

  • Website speed: a fast loading time contributes to a better user experience and can help improve ranking in search engine results.
Website speed
  • Mobile-friendliness: when your website is responsive and thus works well on mobile devices, it contributes to better ranking in search results.
  • Security: a website with an SSL certificate and an HTTPS connection is a secure website. This factor also affects ranking in search results.
  • Website structure: a website that is well structured and easy to navigate also obtains a higher ranking in search results.
  • Content: high-quality, relevant and well-optimized content on your website will get you a higher ranking in search results.

By working on the above technical factors, your technical SEO strategy can get you a better ranking in search results. It is important to remember that a website’s ranking depends on several factors. These include competition, search terms and search engine algorithms. As a result, it may take time before you see results. Still, it is important to optimize these technical factors. It increases the ranking of your website and therefore your visibility and findability on the worldwide web.

Conclusion

In this article, I explained what crawling, indexing and ranking mean and and how they differ from each other. I hope I was able to help you understand these different aspects of technical SEO and their impact on the organic findability of your website in search engines. As a website owner, remember that SEO is an ongoing process and you must constantly stay up-to-date on the latest trends and developments.

By working on different aspects of SEO, such as crawling, indexing and ranking, you make your website visible to users. In this way, you help them find the information they are looking for. Need more help improving your website’s (technical) SEO? If so, as an SEO specialist, I can help you identify opportunities and develop an effective strategy.

Senior SEO-specialist

Ralf van Veen

Senior SEO-specialist
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I have been working for 10 years as an independent SEO specialist for companies (in the Netherlands and abroad) that want to rank higher in Google in a sustainable manner. During this period I have consulted A-brands, set up large-scale international SEO campaigns and coached global development teams in the field of search engine optimization.

With this broad experience within SEO, I have developed the SEO course and helped hundreds of companies with improved findability in Google in a sustainable and transparent way. For this you can consult my portfolio, references and collaborations.

This article was originally published on 15 September 2023. The last update of this article was on 22 November 2023. The content of this page was written and approved by Ralf van Veen. Learn more about the creation of my articles in my editorial guidelines.