The “About 260″ Problem: Google Site: Command Glitch

Results 260 Problem Figure

Dave Naylor noted yesterday that Search Engine Watch appears to have largely disappeared from Google, at least when performing a site: command search. Today, Marketing Pilgrim notes a weirdly similar thing happening to another site and points to an interesting Webmaster World thread on what could be called the "About 260" problem that appears to have started early last month. (NOTE: Google is now commenting on it here).

I’m calling it the About 260 problem because several sites have seen that figure come up in obvious site: errors that have happened. For example, consider this search for Search Engine Watch:

site:searchenginewatch.com

It brings up this result:

Results 260 Problem

Only 260 pages from a site with thousands of pages? And all those pages considered to be the same?

If you "open up" the "omitted results" like this, all’s fine — you get a healthy 93,000 pages indexed.

I’ve seen a similar error like this happen before, where only five pages from our own Search Engine Land site were considered unique. The were seen as similar to each other.

The culprit in that case was our meta description tag. By accident, it was set the same for every page in the site after our new design went up (hey, it happens to the best of us). Google, seeing the same description for each page, considered all the pages to be the same.

Here’s the key thing. The pages were seen as the same by the Google "snippets" process, not by the Google search process — not as duplicate content or alternatively, supplemental results. What I mean by that is that Google — for display purposes — will try not to show the same pages over and over. To do this, it looks only at things like meta description information or the first text on the page, to decide if the pages are the same for DISPLAY reasons.

Backend, the pages are NOT seen as duplicates. Despite our "display" problem, those pages were still pulling in traffic. They were seen as unique for ranking purposes.

With Search Engine Watch, it’s a different situation. The pages aren’t being consolidated because they all have the same meta description tag. They don’t. But the behavior is similar. The pages seem to be consolidated based on some display issue, rather than them being see backend by Google as all the same. I say that because if I do a search like this:

miserable failure

I can see pages from the site ranking just fine (two, in fact, both in the top ten).

I’ve got a message out to Google about the issue. I’ll postscript when I hear back.

Postscript: As noted above, Google Webmaster Central has now done an official blog post on the issue, Using the site: command. From the post, confirming the problem, noting it’s not an impact on ranking and that it will be resolved in the coming weeks:

Historically, Google has avoided showing pages that appear to be duplicate (e.g., pages with the same title and description) in search results … However, with a site: command, searchers are likely looking for a full list of results from that site, so we are making a change to do that. In some cases, a site: search doesn’t show a full list of results even when the pages are different, and we are resolving that issue as well.

Note that this is a display issue only and doesn’t in any way affect search rankings. If you see this behavior, simply click the "repeat the search with omitted results included" link to see the full list. The pages that initially don’t display continue to show up for regular queries. The display issue affects only a site: search with no associated query. In addition, this display issue is unrelated to supplemental results. Any pages in supplemental results display "Supplemental Result" beside the URL.

Because this change to show all results for site: queries doesn’t affect search rankings at all, it will probably happen in the normal course of events as we merge this change into the next time that we push a new executable for handling the site: command. As a result, it may be several weeks or so before you start to see this change, but we’ll keep monitoring it to make sure the change goes out.

Postscript 2: Elisabeth over at Search Engine Watch now has a story up about the issue. As I pointed out above, it was indeed just a display thing, not something likely hurting the site’s rankings. Elisabeth confirms this: "Rest assured, at SEW, we do still have a vibrant pulse, and have not experienced any significant drops in traffic due to this problem. So, it’s too early to plan a funeral. I am happy to report that traffic is normal at Search Engine Watch."

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: SEO | SEO: Duplicate Content | SEO: Titles & Descriptions

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • http://searchenginewatch.com Elisabeth Osmeloski

    Nice Danny- wish we had gone into this a bit futher on IM earlier today;)

    We’ve also been working Google on the issue to determine the underlying cause, since we too, identified several other sites with similar results.

    It’s definitely been confirmed as a glitch in the site command function, and noted that the sites/URLs in questions are not actually in the Supplemental Index.

    More to come on SEW…

  • http://www.xuru.com Xuru

    I’m don’t know if the two issues I mentioned in the MarketingPilgrim blog post are related, but I can almost guarantee they are bugs as I am dealing with the 1-2 of 260 issues on multiple sites. None have meta tag issues either.

    I haven’t been able to find anyone else that is having the duplicate identical url issue I found.

  • http://www.seo4fun.com/blog/ Halfdeck

    “I haven’t been able to find anyone else that is having the duplicate identical url issue I found.”

    Jeez, that’s twice in a row Marketingpilgrim pulled my leg this week. First I hear Adam Lasnik “says I wish nofollow didn’t exist”, which turned out to be a lie, and now I hear about this so-called “duplicate url” site bug which doesn’t exist.

  • http://blog.achille.name/ Sante

    Hi Danny,
    I had actually stumbled upon this problem in reviewing some web sites for proposals. Was baffled at first. I did find some kind of pattern in the sites I reviewed. One site had duplicate content: they had statically mapped dynamic content that was already indexed, hence pages were indeed duplicate, BUT they differed in titles and descriptions.

    Another site was suffering from bad template architecture: the content was less than menus, page headers and footers but the titles and descriptions were unique.

    More information at:

    http://blog.achille.name/2007/02/27/how-should-we-interpret-the-supplemental-results-in-google/

    Cheers,

    Sante

  • http://searchenginewatch.com Elisabeth Osmeloski

    thanks danny for noting that. also, as I just posted on DaveN’s blog-we’re actually up in traffic since January 1… Which I must attribute to our news editor Kevin Newcomb and the bloggers who have come on since then, all are doing a great job. maybe I will do a traffic sharing report at some point soon (a la your style).

  • http://www.emlakilanlar.com erdogduemlak

    Anyway, Google Reader is very nifty. I like being able to save news searches which you can refer to later.

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