We know how indexing works.
Google crawls and indexes pages on your website, and those indexed pages are eligible to show on Google as organic search results. Website owners can create and submit a file called a “sitemap” to Google that communicates information about the pages on your site. This can make the indexing process easier for Google. It’s a great idea to create, edit, and submit your sitemap via Google Search Console.
But what can you do after you’ve done that and Google says all your pages are indexed, but are *not* submitted in the sitemap? Assuming you have submitted your file correctly (and it’s a good idea to read the previously linked blog to make sure you have), it poses a very mysterious and frustrating dilemma. What does it mean? Can you even fix it? Keep reading if you would like to learn more about what happened when we faced this exact issue on the Root and Branch site.
Disclaimer: The following solution worked in our case. However, that does not mean it will work in every case.
Indexed, But Not Submitted in Sitemap: Can It Be Fixed? (YES)
The embedded video explains what you can do when all the pages on your site are indexed, but not registering as submitted on the sitemap.
If you’d prefer the text version, please read on below.
Exploring The Coverage Report in Search Console
The Coverage Report in Google Search Console (GSC) shows us how Google is viewing the pages of our site in terms. We can see what pages have been “Excluded” from indexation through 301 redirects, 404 errors, noindex tags, and various other reasons. We can also see what pages are “Valid” and are eligible to show on the Google SERP. These “Valid” pages are broken into two groups: those pages that have been submitted via a sitemap and are indexed, and pages that are indexed, but have not been submitted in a sitemap.
We can see that second group of Valid pages for the Root and Branch site in the screenshot below. As of February 18, 2022, we had 466 pages that Google was showing as “indexed, [but] not submitted in sitemap”.
Then all of sudden that number decreased significantly. How did that happen? Likewise, why was Google previously not recognizing the fact that Root & Branch Group had submitted a sitemap? Every single page on the site was showing up ‘not submitted in the sitemap,’ despite the fact that there was a sitemap!
Pages Indexed, but Not Submitted in the Sitemap
So if we look in Google Search Console and head to the index Coverage feature, Google says there are 466 valid pages that exist on the Root & Branch site. However, all 466 valid pages show up as indexed pages that are not submitted in the sitemap.
As we said before, this is not the case if you look under Examples in the Root & Branch Group Coverage feature. There are real pages on the Root & Branch site such as social media services, location customizer for google ads, squarespace blogs publishing, and so on.
If we head to the Sitemaps feature, where we normally go to submit a sitemap, we can see submitted sitemaps and discovered URLS at these sitemaps. So, what the heck is going on?
What happened: Google Sitemap Submission
This error began back in the fall of 2021. The Root & Branch Group site uses WordPress as its CMS platform. A virus known as the Anonymous Fox virus hacked the website and started generating a bunch of spam URLS. This is why we see the total number of indexed URLS declining over time.
Website Hosting Quicktip:
Changing your hosting environment to WPEngine should negate the security vulnerability to such a virus.
Google Indexing and Sitemap Impact
Unfortunately, Google indexed them and now some of these pages are slowly falling out of the index. This is due to Google crawling the page again and realizing it no longer exists. These blanks pages can have a negative impression on Google and how the site is viewed. Fortunately, Google just sees a 404 error or a 4-10 page status code, which means the page is not there. These removed 404 pages move from Valid data and into the Excluded data set in the Index report. Yet, we still have our original problem of unrecognized indexed pages in the sitemap. Let’s fix it with the steps below!
Step-by-Step: Submitting Feedback
- If you scroll down in Google Search Console, you will see there’s a Submit Feedback feature on the left hand side.
- Click on the feature.
- Submit a screenshot of the issue (indexed, but not submitted error).
- Give Google a detailed paragraph on the issue along the following lines:
- I have a submitted sitemap
- The Coverage feature shows site pages as indexed but not submitted in the sitemap
- The site was hacked (changed host server)
- Can you help me out?
- Wait roughly1 to 2 days for Google to handle the issue.
Watch it Work: Valid Pages
Once we submitted the feedback to Google, we can see in the Coverage feature that valid pages went from 466 to 72 overnight. It worked!
Note: Backdated Sitemap Data
It appears as if Google has backdated the data to February 18th, as the request was submitted on February 21st. Additionally, there may still be some pages indexed, but not submitted in the sitemap. This is likely fine, as these should be pages you do not want on the sitemap.
Google Search Report After Feedback Submission
If we look at just the Performance report in Google Search Console, we can see total click volume has clearly improved since Google reviewed our feedback submission.
Keep in mind, fixing this issue is not the only reason click volume is improving. Yet, the data indicates it was hampering previous click volume to a certain extent.
Now that this issue has been resolved, pages are getting indexed day of or the day after a new piece of content publishes. Making sure your pages are indexed and the sitemap is properly submitted can play a huge role in the traffic of a website. If Google is constantly crawling pages that do not exist on the site (404 errors), the reputation of the site will diminish overtime. Google is always searching for the most reliable and authoritative content to give its users a seamless experience. We hope you enjoyed this article, you can check more out here. In the meantime, have fun and keep on learning!
About Root & Branch
Root & Branch is a certified Google Partner agency and focuses on paid search (PPC), SEO, Local SEO, and Google Analytics. Learn more here, or hit the button below to check out YouTube for more digital marketing tips and training resources.