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Google Says No to Search Results List as Indexable Pages

In case we wondered why search results are littered with pages that contain predefined list of search results, Google has made a statement through Matt Cutts and was given extensive coverage and awareness.

In some ways, these results are beneficial to users searching for related terms. Danny Sullivan’s example of dvd players search produced results for Amazon, Bizrate and Shopping.com. Each of those mentioned shopping sites displayed a list of DVD players as if the user used its internal search engine using the same phrase. But it’s not. Nevertheless, I don’t see it as a very bad practice at all. If I am looking for a DVD player online and found those pages, I could still find time perusing over those results. If they are list of DVD players and not search results, the reaction will be different. But whether they are intentional or accidental, the fact that those sites allowed their search results to be indexed says something.

I can relate this with HSBC Hong Kong’s homepage. Whether you type www.hsbc.com.hk or www.hsbc.com.hk/1/2/this_directory_does_not_exist. the same page appears. With no proper “404 Error Not Found” errors in place search engines end up indexing URLs that don’t exist and I think that is similar to the case of these sites in question.

The remedy to prevent search results from getting indexed is to place a directive in robots.txt:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /search

But as Danny pointed in his blog, if it’s a plain page that purportedly appears as search results, then the above remedy will not work. This becomes more complicated as Google or any other search engine discovers pages by way of links before indexing them. If a page visited from a link elsewhere is a “search results” page (something I really see very often), it becomes a very messy situation to deal with.

It is not fair to brand them as spam pages but because many page results emulate search engines, producing results whose quality is questionable turns off users. This is common on hotel bookings, airline deals and even obsolete terms (taking advantage of the long tail principle).

Google warning sounded like global warming to me.

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Elmer W. Cagape is an SEO consultant based in Hong Kong. Into Seinfeld, Toad the Wet Sprocket, space exploration, comedy films, digital marketing and travel. Follow him on Twitter (@elmercagape).

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